Newswise — The fast-approaching holiday season is rife with opportunities for enjoying delicious, rich foods and engaging in bouts of self-indulgence. Yet, younger millennials (ages 27 to 23) and the emerging Generation Z (ages 23 and younger) are likely to refuse the Christmas ham or mom’s holiday meatloaf in lieu of specialty food items. According to the Specialty Food Association, the industry grew 15 percent in 2014-16, as opposed to only a two percent growth in tradition food retail.

Associate Professor of English Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A., who is also director of writing studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, is the author of three books on specialty foods and eating trends. Darlington attributes the recent success of specialty foods to young consumers. “Millennials drive the speciality food industry, especially cheese,” says Darlington, “and I expect Gen Z to do the same.”

Under her pseudonym Madame Fromage, Darlington often writes about cheese and hosts a number of cheese events and workshops worldwide, putting her in contact with a lot of young foodies.

“Because they live online, Gen Z has been exposed to broader food culture — at least visually — than their parents,” she says. “They are adventurous eaters in search of new flavors and experiences.”

Darlington teaches Food Writing, an advanced, undergraduate English course that immerses writers in the practice of and trends in food writing. Her 20 Gen Z students revel in opportunities to sample specialty foods. “When I bring my students artisan cheese, it gets devoured,” she says. “They taste it and then run out to share it with their friends.”

Though Darlington says Gen Z gets labeled “the convenience food generation” by food writers, she doesn’t see them eating traditional fast food. Instead, young consumers are visiting specialty stores for unique items.

“They are very curious eaters and love to talk about food,” says Darlington. “This semester, we’ve devoted much of our class time to talking and writing about plant-based eating, which is a huge trend on Instagram.”

Darlington’s students recently wrote a major paper on their choice of one, very simple ingredient. Their topics exemplified young millennials’ and Gen Z’s affinity toward conscious, fresh choices and unique items: coffee beans, butter, avocado, grapefruit, lentils, strawberries, mango, tomato, cauliflower and beets.

“It is certainly easy to get Gen Z to eat their fruits and veggies,” says Darlington.