Food Trends Through My Life
Breast Milk: A Healthy Food Trend
I'm quite certain in my 60+ years I've eaten several tons of food-- has it all been nourishing and healthy cell-building? Alas, of course not. Although I have been vegetarian or vegan for a good many years, most of what I have consumed over the years have been comfort foods-- and certainly a lot of what I eat is reflective of what I will call food trends, foods that are popular for a time and then usually fade in their novel appeal. What I really aim for is something I call healthy comfort foods-- foods that are nutritious and so delicious and/or satisfying that eating them is both comforting and good for me.
I was born smack in the middle of the last century-- 1950, that is. I beg your indulgence as I journey through my life a decade at a time, itemizing the food trends of that time in my part of the world and in my own particular cultural and personal experience.
Food Trends: My Earliest Years
My mother bucked a trend in the early 50s to bottlefeed her babies and she was diligent in breastfeeding me "to the cup" (meaning that I didn't ever drink milk from a baby bottle?). Unlike LaLecheLeague children who are often breastfed until they can unbutton their mother's shirts to signify a desire to be nursed, I have absolutely no recollection of breastfeeding. I'm assuming it was a positive food trend. Apparently I have breastfeeding to thank for a pretty sturdy immune system, according to some reports, and maybe premature cessation of nursing to thank for having sucked on filthy cigarettes for 25 years?
When I went on to nurse my own infants my mother said "Breast milk and mashed banana for little human babies and little monkeys for the first year" so I am assuming that a personal food trend was that rather sweet and restrictive diet of milk and bananas. I am not a big fan of the banana today-- it's not one of my healthy comfort food choices! But I do continue to like sweet, creamy stuff and get comfort from puddings and the like.
My pre-school memories of food are pretty typical of the 50s food trends that I have seen on the Internet and read about. We ate a lot of sugary, dairy-infused, meat and potatoes type meals. My Mom was never too proficient in the cooking area, but we did eat quite a lot of mashed potatoes and I recall that my brother and I hated turnips but that my mother would try to blend them into the mashed spuds thinking we would eat them then... NOT.
My paternal Grandmother made her own root beer (stored in a cool root cellar, no less) and my maternal Grandmother was famous for her rhubarb-strawberry pie, her lemon pie, her feather-light buns (were they really called that?), and I loved her shepherd's pie and corned beef and cabbage (I still love cooked cabbage and would probably scarf down corned beef if I weren't currently vegan).
I remember eating ice cream cones as a special treat, turkey and ham and trimmings at the high holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), popcorn in greasy brown bags at the movie theatres, and Vico (chocolate milk) delivered by the milkman in squat glass bottles. But I don't recollect green salads. I don't think they were 'big' in the food trends of rural Saskatchewan in the 50s... or not in our neck of the woods. And let's not forget chocolate bars. They made an early appearance in my life because I do believe my mother may have been addicted to them (she grew up in a 'store' family in a small town and had many stories that revolved around working in the store and being paid in chocolate bars).
Grandpa Always Delivered
50s & Early 60s Food Trends: The Magazine Meals
My mother was a big consumer of "ladies' magazines" so I'm guessing that a lot of our family's more urbane food trends came from there: Chile con Carne was the first of the fancy recipes I remember. It basically entailed frying up hamburger in our electric fry pan (that always lived on the countertop in the kitchen in whichever house we lived in), adding in a big can of stewed tomatoes and exotic (to us) spices like ground chile pepper (or maybe a package of chile con carne seasoning more likely), a can or two of beans, and corn niblets. I believe my Dad still enjoys this dish cooked exactly like this.
Zsa Zsa Gabor must have divulged a recipe for Hungarian Goulash during this period as well, because my mother really glommed on to "goulashes." For a few years there was always some sort of 'goulash' for one of the day's meals. Again, basically fried hamburger with other stuff mixed in like tomatoes, mushroom soup, onion soup, lots of paprika, sometimes cut-up stewing beef instead of hamburger, occasionally elbow macaroni (the only pasta we cooked from its firm state, spaghetti originating from a can, already dressed), Minute Rice, canned mushrooms, creamed corn, beer(?).
There were also some forays into Oriental Food, but I will spare you the "recipes" (generally fairly reliant upon hamburger and a can of chop suey vegetables, the reason I detest those teeny-tiny corn cobs to this day).
I believe we began to eat more hot dogs and see "the weiner" as a staple in a number of thrown-together meals at this time. I wonder, does anyone still eat cut-up weiners in macaroni and cheese? Cut-up weiners with canned sauerkraut? How about the cute little "cocktail sausage" on a toothpick for grown-up parties? There were weiners you had to peel the plastic from that came in long links, and were warned not to eat "raw" and weiners that came in packs with no individual plastic sheaths that you could eat "raw" (or in my rather permissive and preoccupied household you could so do). And the hotdog was our hamburger... covered in ketchup, mustard, cheese, beans, sauerkraut, it was the full meal deal of the day.
At my Grandparents' homes I still managed to eat the old standby from-scratch foods: real macaroni with clumps of melted cheese glued onto it swimming in stewed tomatoes, shepherd's pie, fruit preserves, porridge that stuck to your ribs. Toast and homemade saskatoon berry jam. Milk Toast if you were feeling poorly (hot milk and sugar soaking into a slice of white bread). Raisin cookies. Raisin pie. Pumpkin pie. Cinnamon Buns. Hot fresh biscuits.
One year in the early 60s I boarded at a French-Canadian convent and ate gruel (very thin porridge) for the first time. I have no memory of what else I ate there that year.
My parents' generation was eating a lot of steaks during this, the advent of the barbecue about midway into the 60s. That was one food trend that didn't really gel for me. Maybe I was just too lazy to chew gristly meat, or perhaps it was a portent of my impending go with vegetarianism. One Christmas my mom's sister, my Aunt Pat, introduced us to the Shrimp Cocktail-- we felt so sophistocated. I think we also drank Cranberry Cocktail in wine glasses. It was the Cocktail Food Trend in our family I guess.
Up until I was around ten my maternal Grandfather would return from the village grocery store-- an evening's outing to 'shoot the bull with Donnie Chow'-- bringing with him a treat for me just before bedtime-- a frozen ice-cream bar covered in a crisp veneer of plastic chocolate, on a stick, called a Revel. Can I blame my late-night eating habits on this?
The Middle-to-Late 60s: The Coming of the Junkfood Kingdom
When I look back to the middle and late 1960s, it seems to me that the big Food Trends of period were the "food" of the Drive-in Fast Food restaurants and the McDonalds Start-ups. There was definitely a broader merge between my personal food choices and the food trends of the North American Boomer generation. While I was stuck back in small-town-Saskatchewan in the summers for my teen years, we did occasionally go to the lake, and drive into Prince Albert, a city, to go to the A&W for burgers.
For a couple of years I boarded in a convent in Prince Albert. Most of us had our own personal ("hands-off-suckuh!") block of Velveeta "cheese food" and SunUp Orange Breakfast Drink, neither of which I ever consumed again after leaving the convent... must just have been peer pressure.
By the end of the 60s, I had moved to Vancouver to go to College where my life and my experiences with food changed dramatically.
A Basic Tomato Spaghetti Sauce
the 70s: Early Adult Food Trends
When I arrived in Vancouver at 18 I stayed with one of my Mom's younger sisters, my lovely Aunt Joan. She had a beautiful apartment in an old mansion in Vancouver's West End, a really happening place in 1969. She was an independent young professional woman who had somehow accumulated all her success without a husband for support. This was a new concept to me. Besides introducing me to the Arts, etc. scene (plays, a friend who made jewelry, people who traveled around the world and people who were politically involved), she set about teaching me to cook and bake (and to iron drapes and bed linens, something else I was clueless about and don't think I have done since leaving her place).
I learned to bake bread and roast meat. I even learned how to make spaghetti, although it was a hard learning process: left one day to make supper, scheduled to be spaghetti, I cooked up the pasta, then cooked up the sauce (thanks to her Fanny Farmer and The Joy of Cooking cookbooks). I proceeded to pour the sauce over the pasta and homogenize it so that it was just like the canned spaghetti I was brought up on. Oops! It's a blessing that she gasped and taught me (in a rather scary way, but taught me nonetheless) to serve the pasta and the sauce separately because as a young married it became one of my most successful dinner party offerings.
During the first couple of years of marriage I learned to prepare hamburger in about 100 different ways (and, as a friend pointed out, "it still always tastes like hamburger"), learned to make chili (different from my mother's Chili con Carne in that I used more spices), ramped up my spaghetti sauce recipe until all of my best friends replicated it and were also making spaghetti a couple of meals a week, and learned how to make a few Indian-type foods from an Anglo-Indian friend who actually went on to become a chef.
At some point in my mid-20s I bought the book Diet for a Small Planet and began to experiment with vegetarian food. My husband and I attended Simon Fraser University and lived on Campus where we were members of a food Co-op. The Diet for a Small Planet recipes tended to be ovo-lacto vegetarian meaning that we went through a lot of cheese, butter and eggs along with the nuts, flour, grains, fruits and veggies called for in the recipes. Those recipes were (maybe still are) my ideal for healthy comfort foods.
Towards the end of the 70s we moved back to Saskatchewan and I took my younger son to a world-renowned pediatric allergist who pointed out that he had all the classic symptoms of a dairy allergy. Goodbye Cheese. Goodbye Ice Cream.
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the 80s & 90s: Raising Up a Family
Much of the focus for the food trends in our family in the 80s and 90s was on what we felt were the healthiest ways to equip our kids with strong bodies and immune systems. We always had an organic vegetable garden with berries and a couple of small apple trees. We stuck to vegan-vegetarianism as we began to notice how much better we felt and how much less flu and sickness we incurred when we were more disciplined and eliminated dairy and were higher plant-based.
As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we had good role models in our faith community who enjoyed vital good health well into their old age, who had an excellent quality of life beyond what we saw in many of our older family members and older friends. We took advantages of opportunities to learn more about the plant-based lifestyle.
Food Trends: The Grandparent Stage of Life
My husband and I feel amazed and blessed that we have had the great privilege to grow up with an abundance of food choices. Although much of what we ate in our childhoods was not good for us, many of the fruits and vegetables that we ate were grown in richly mineralized and unsprayed soil back in the day when "organic food" was just called "food". The greatest privilege is to be able to make food choices in our sixties that will influence our health positively as we age.
I love having the opportunity to influence the food trends of these next generations in some of the same ways my grandparents influenced the choices I make... both of my grandmothers cooked from scratch and were gardeners, as was my mother-in-law. I have a great appreciation for what I learned from all of my foodie mentors as I grew up. I hope that as my husband and I work to keep our own health in order, we are careful to model lifestyle habits (plant-based diet, Christian principles, exercise, etc.) that our children and grandchildren will want to emulate.
Over these past ten years we have built more raw vegan food into our diets and recognize the benefits of eating at least one 'high raw meal' every day, and of doing a juice fast from time to time over the course of the year to rest and detox our over-burdened bodies. There is still lots to learn about being healthy. I'm not sure what the next big food trend will be, but if it adds to my health in my twilight years, I'll be there-- especially if it involves healthy comfort foods!