For thousands of years, humankind has relied on agriculture. Communities would raise their own livestock, grow their own crops, and fish for their own seafood. Women were houseproud, and the kitchen was the centre of the home.
Then the second world war hit, and the female of the house was limited to feeding her family on rations. At its worst, households were reduced to just one egg per week! Enter SPAM, the canned meat with an indefinite shelf life. This staple of soldiers’ diets became popular among civilians and has to date sold more than seven billion cans.
Enjoying the freedom that the workplace afforded while the men were away, 1950s women were reluctant to go back to the kitchen. Over the next several decades, as more and more entered the workforce, more convenience foods and technological gadgets appeared.
The Kroc Brothers founded McDonald’s, making it acceptable for mothers to grab food for her family ‘on the go’. Fun fact: the Krocs were pals with Walt Disney, hence why toys appeared in Happy Meals.
During the 60s, kitchens were transformed by technology. With a rise in disposable income, fridges began to appear in households. The food itself, meanwhile, became more colourful and decorative. Cheese and pineapple on sticks, anyone?
By the 70s, 50% of women were working, which marked a rise in convenience foods and highly processed foods. The invention of the microwave meant TV dinners could be prepared in minutes, whilst 70s kids loved Angel Delight. Jelly was also a salad staple. That’s not so bad, we hear you say? Try adding mayo, coleslaw or fish.
All of this processed food seemed to catch up to our waistlines by the 1980s, the diet conscious decade of aerobics mania. Pre-prepared “healthy” food options appeared and Diet Coke took off.
By the nineties we had gone fat free, because how else were we expected to squeeze into those crop tops? Fat-free Pringles and biscuits promised the cure, though we remained oblivious to the amount of sugar substituting the yummy taste. Meanwhile, Starbucks was spreading like wildfire across the US.
The Atkins diet became huge as we entered the new millennium. The Magnolia Bakery made its cameo on Sex and the City, causing the interest in cupcakes to explode. The trend is still going strong today, as if the preoccupation with celebrity chefs – Jamie Oliver’s book sales have topped over £126,000,000.
Which brings us to 2016. Today’s shopper is increasingly diet conscious. We’re more clued up on so-called “healthy” food options, and the current trend is towards clean eating; that is, the idea of being more mindful about food’s pathway between its origin and our plate. And it seems to be working.