A Blast from the Past
April 23, 2015
One of the national television channels here in the UK has been broadcasting a season of programmes taking a close look at many different aspects of food and the impact and effect it has on our lives. A particular favourite of mine has been a series where a family were taken back to 1950 and had to eat the food of the day right up until 1999. Every new day was in effect “New Year’s Day”” for them and they only spent 24 hours in any one year, spending ten days in each decade.
As a bit of a nostalgia fan this “blast from the past” became my “must see” show of the week and I initially tuned in thinking it might be a gentle programme that would give me an insight into how things were for mum and dad before I came along.
It would also remind me of my childhood in the 1970s; my teenage years in the 1980s; and my independence adulthood in the 1990s and beyond.
To begin with it was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. The kitchen of the 1950s stirred long-forgotten memories of my great grandmother’s house which stayed “in the fifties” while the rest of the world were well “into the seventies”. The clothes of the 1960s instantly made me recall photographs of my mum (now tucked away in not-often-looked-at albums), and the programme on the 1970s saw me drive Lovely Husband mad with my constant comments:
“we had that carpet”
“we had wall paper”
“we had those canisters but ours were orange not brown”
But as the series made its way through the decades, as well as providing good entertainment it did actually provide some serious (pun intended) “food for thought”.
I recalled my childhood, getting home from school feeling hungry but being told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t have a biscuit or a jam sandwich because tea would be ready in an hour and I would just have to wait.
I remember flouncing and wailing that “I was starving”… I obviously wasn’t as I always managed to survive the hour and when Dad got home from work a little under an hour later we would all sit round the melamine topped table tucking into home-made hotpot (with home baked crust topping) or pork chop and mashed potatoes.
I also remember that Friday was absolutely “chip shop day”. It was a highlight of the week and I would always leave my decision as to what I wanted with my chips until the last minute. It was usually a single small sausage, a fishcake or mushy peas. It really was something I looked forward to each week (although I could never understand why mum insisted on “plating up” the food - eating out the paper always seems so much more exciting…).
When I was watching the part of the programme where “the Vesta curry” was unveiled, the excitement within the television family was obvious… it was the first convenience food they had eaten for a few weeks…
and I was instantly transported back to childhood again when my dad would have a “Vesta night”. I used to love the “Chow Mein” nights best because the way the noodles fattened and curled up just by being put in the chip pan was like magic to me.
I also recall that mum wasn’t a fan… and Dad would let me and my twin have a crispy noodle each (but quietly and out of sight of mum who didn’t want him “feeding the girls that rubbish”…).
The appearance of the sandwich toaster in the 1980s edition made me remember that, having moved out of the family home at the age of 18, my twin and I pretty much lived off “toasted cheese-and-something” sandwiches for the whole of our first year - with the cheese being the thinly sliced bright orange versions that they remarked on during the show.
In fact, the entire series was so close to my own experiences that I did wonder if I had been part of some strange “Truman Show” reality show without even realising it.
It was only when I was talking to family and friends about it, it became obvious that, although at the time we thought we had been brave and adventurous and trying out new and exciting foods… what we were actually doing was allowing ourselves to be steered by those strange things we know as “market forces” and “trends”.
I am not a fan of the “Big Brother state” but even I had to admit that during the times of rationing and when the government of the day exercised a degree of control over pricing and availability of food (when “the national loaf” formed the staple to most of the meals in most of the homes in the UK), it did appear that we ate the food we needed, when we needed it, in the quantity we needed and that, from a health and wellbeing perspective, we were being kind to our bodies.
It also made me realise that “meat and two veg” may now be a colloquial term, but it did in fact represent good sound nutritional basics.
The lack of fat and sugar in the “daily diet” was obvious; the fact that the children “played outside” (and played robustly) was in stark contrast to the 1990s edition of the show where “the computer game console” was now the focus of the small amount of energy expended by the youngest member of the family.
I like to think that I understand the wisdom behind WLR. “Eat Less Move More” is often repeated... but because it reminds me that it doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing… just apply a few simple rules can make all the difference when it comes to reducing my waistline. What I didn’t understand until I watched the series, was just how unconsciously I allow myself to be “persuaded” by the packaging and the pamphlets; by the bargains and the “BOGOFs”.
I didn’t consciously register just how quickly a “treat” becomes a habit… (when I was going out to work in the late 1980s I seemed to manage to get out of the house and into the office without the need to stop off for an energy-boosting “coffee on the go”… ); or just how easy it is to let a “bit of what you fancy” turn into “a lot of what you fancy”.
It was fascinating to see in “fast forward” format just how much the eating habits of the nation have changed and to be shown that, whilst the choices in the 1950 and 1960s may have been limited and times may have felt austere, the reality was, in terms of our health and wellbeing… maybe there is some truth in the adage “we never had it so good”…
With a big hug