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COLUMN: Eating through the ages


While gelatin was invented in 1845, it became popular in the mid 1900's.  Tribune News Service Buy Photos


Everywhere I turn lately, I’m bombarded with nostalgia culture. "Stranger Things" just came back for a second season, I definitely spent an entire weekend binge-watching "Mindhunter" and recently paid money to get scared by a clown when I went to see ‘IT.’ That’s just the beginning of the list. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a TV show or movie set in the present.

When watching shows like "Mad Men" or the ones mentioned above, I can’t help but notice how different people seemed to eat in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Yes, somehow I’m making nostalgia culture about food. But there's definitely a reason why Eleven eating her Eggo waffles has become such an iconic image. 

Why aren’t things like meatloaf, tuna casseroles and beef wellington as ubiquitous as they were a few decades ago? Why did chocolate pudding used to be in a can? What is Big Red soda? 

Starting in the 1950s, ready-made and convenient foods became all the rage with housewives across the country. The first Swanson TV dinners were sold in 1954 and it seems like as a country we never looked back. This was also the decade when the microwave entered households for the first time, so Americans really experienced a food revolution. It's also when we began the era of crazy things ending up in gelatin, like ham and turkey. 

In the 1960s, Julia Child made French food accessible to food-lovers and chefs stateside.  That’s where fondue, beef wellington and complicated dishes with French influence came in. It’s also when Americans started becoming curious about vegetarianism and ethnic foods. "Mad Men" is full of interesting takes on cuisines from foreign lands, from Betty Draper’s “trip around the world” dinner party and Chinese food in Manhattan.

The 1970s is when our beloved Eggo waffles became popular, and our favorite supernatural being Eleven came along in the '80s to wolf them down by the dozen. The '70s also saw the grapefruit diet fad and for some reason, a trend of not only putting pineapple in a ton of dishes, but also molding other foods into the shape of pineapples. I'm personally glad this trend didn’t stick around.

The 1980s was the time of any sort of pasta salad you can imagine, sloppy Joes, Capri Sun and Lean Cuisine. The government tried to count ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program. Americans were still stuck in the realm of processed and sugary foods at every meal. 

Since then, America has fortunately come to its senses on what gelatin belongs in and what simply should not be heated up in the microwave. We like to try foods from countries other than France and you can find vegetarian and even vegan dishes on many menus. We’ve tried to cut meat more and more out of our daily diet and replaced it with vegetables and grains. 

Kids and adults alike still love to eat sugary snacks, but (most of us) are reasonable on quantity and quality. I can very firmly assure you ketchup is still not a vegetable. 

While I’m thankful I don’t have to eat the same foods as some of my favorite TV characters, it’s definitely fun to see. It makes me realize how much our perception of healthy food and mindful eating has evolved just in the past few decades. I’m certainly happy to leave ham aspic and jellied beef far in the past.

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