Ever get the urge to go “retro”? We all do sometimes. But sometimes the counterbalance to nostalgia is a reminder of why the past should stay in the past. That can be especially true for food. How often do we hear criticism of this food or that—or of the whole food industry writ large—without any historical perspective? To listen to food-police commentators and professional dietary scolds tell it, modern America offers the world’s worst food environment ever. But maybe the “good ol’ days” weren’t such halcyon times after all. Take this website for example, featuring a set of “Weight Watchers” recipe cards from the 1970s. Author Wendy McClure found the cards in her mother’s basement and wrote a book about them. Here’s just some of what our evil, modern food economy has replaced. (Disclaimer: We don’t suggest you try these at home.)
Rosy Perfection Salad (think “gelatinous cabbage”)
Chilled celery log (filled with…something)
Jellied tomato (in brandy snifters)
We hope you ate before looking at those pictures.
Obviously, the Weight Watchers program has come a long way in terms of culinary appeal—Italian turkey burgers beat the stuffing out of celery logs any day. But the entire category of “weight loss” food—from point-counting programs to low-cal frozen meals—wouldn’t be possible without advances in technology from the food industry. Thankfully, 21st century Americans have a smorgasbord of appetizing ways to eat healthfully.
So for all the media noise about how we’re supposedly killing ourselves with food, the reality is that consumers have more choices than ever—and most of those choices can be part of a sensible diet. Of course, some things never change (like fish, which seems to have always been a health food). But other food fads come and go at the whim of self-anointed activists who want to control our meals one forkful at a time.
Bad news for them: The everyday foods we rely on to stay fit and healthy have gotten a lot better over the years. We have options our grandparents could only dream of. And the most important one still involves topping off our lunches and dinners with some exercise.