Ever Wondered Why Food From The 70s Is So Cursed? Here’s Why.
If you sat down for dinner and were served up bananas wrapped in ham and then drenched in hollandaise sauce would you eat it?
That was a dish you could expect when sitting down to dinner in the 1970s but by today’s culinary standards it sounds pretty unappetising.
So how did we get from thinking this food was mouth wateringly delicious to turning our nose up at a crown of roast frankfurts?
The food I’m talking about is mostly white people food in Australia during the 1970s and these bizarre culinary treats were amplified and created by Australian food media like The Women’s Weekly.
Of course there were lots of communities eating all different types of dishes but the dominant media in Australia regrettably popularised cursed jelly salads among other things.
Nick Jordan is a freelance food writer and chatted to me about some of the key characteristics of this peculiar food. Some highlights included aspic, meals in jelly and dishes created to catch the eye.
“There were lots of things in jelly and aspic. Lots of things that were mass produced and then reformatted into something which looked pretty. I say pretty but what I really mean is just bizarre,” Nick tells me.
He reminisced on ingredients like spam and dinners being centred around gelatin. Ready-made meals were popular, as well as using food as a medium to craft and create something elaborate.
It was fashionable to make food look like the ingredient it was, like a salmon mousse in the shape of a salmon, and we’d actually seen this trend before way back in the Middle Ages.
It’s called subtleties and it’s the art of giving food another appearance. Lords and nobles would get their chefs to whip up some dishes like pork roasts looking like hedgehogs. These weren’t necessarily to eat but for the nobility to flex how much money they had.
This flex then carried over when subtleties trended again in the 1970s.
“The food was more theatre, but now we have middle class people serving that food at dinner parties. And the idea isn’t just to look at, it’s not meant to be a table piece it’s actually to eat,” Nick said.
During this time Australia witnessed an emerging middle class and food became a medium to perform class and culinary craftsmanship. Nick recounted that Instrgram is a modern example of this.
“People aren’t Instagramming their $3.50 coffee on their way to work, they’re Instagramming their meals at really fancy restaurants. And it’s just like another performance of what your life is and what your class is,” he said.
In post-war Australia there was a huge proliferation of fruits and vegetables that people gained access to without the knowledge of what to do with it. Without the internet on hand, a primary place to go when searching for recipes were magazines like The Women’s Weekly.
These magazines were writing recipes for the emerging middle class and sometimes they didn’t get it quite right with the food they cooked up in the test kitchens.
The amount of recipes brought to life, lifted off the page and onto the plate during this era demonstrates how much power food media had in the 1970s.
“In the 70s a lot of that food had nostalgia from a time of the past. People had gone to war and eaten spam and other preserved foods, and now it was being repurposed in different ways,” Nick noted.
“You have bananas wrapped in spam, covered in hollandaise sauce now. Woohoo. You can get a lot of them cheap now because they’re grown in Queensland with industrial agriculture, and you can get spam because all of these returned soldiers love it from the war.”
Another thing to note about 70s food is that we had quite a different idea of what constituted good nutrition back then.
The food pyramid was invented in the 1970s and cooking meals based around this idea of nutrition was incredibly popular. However we now we have a much clearer idea on how to get a better range of nutrients from the food we eat.
Looking at this food 50 years on and it truly remains a spectacle, probably something we should leave to enjoy with our eyes over our mouths.