Every generation has its signature foods. It's what makes up our collective food memories at any age. If you're a Boomer, you'll remember tuna noodle casserole, onion dip, Tang and Chiffon cake. You may also remember French Chef Julia Child and the advent of continental cooking later in the decade. Gen-Xers will likely think fondly of fondue, quiche, and beef wellington. And Millennials are already making memories out of the rise in reduced fat foods and healthier entrees like yogurt and kale.
Changes in food tastes and cooking styles came slowly during the first part of the twentieth century and then took off like a rocket in a space race in the second half. By the way, Tang, that powdered orange drink, was a NASA invention as was Teflon. The 1960s was all about processed foods and convenience as women began to enter the workplace. Julia Child, meanwhile, was showing American women that when they had the time, they could cook with the creativity and flair of a French chef.
By the '70's, our kitchens had acquired more appliances, including Radar Ranges, the first iteration of a microwave oven. Home economists on local TV were showing us how to use all these new things. We began to discover ethnic foods like Chinese and Italian and our waistlines grew.. Gyms started cropping up everywhere and we all started "getting physical" to work off all that fettucine Alfredo.
In the go-go '80s, everything was to excess. We bought expensive culinary gadgets like Cuisinarts and juicers and we started eating out more and exercising more as convenience and junk foods flooded the market. We began a parallel obsession with fad diets. As we slipped into the '90s, reduced-fat foods hit the market and family meals became a quaint lost tradition. We were eating out so much now, it was no longer considered special.
We marked the 2000s with a national obesity epidemic, 9/11 and the Great Recession. But amidst all the doom and gloom, food began a positive evolution back to the future. The farm-to-table movement exploded. Interest picked up in basic knife skills, canning and pickling. Forgotten vegetables like kale and brussel sprouts are all the rage and craft beverages are enjoying a renaissance.
Where food history goes from here is anyone's guess, but you'll enjoy my lively conversation with registered dietician Carolyn O'Neil about food through the decades: