I recently received a gift of several grapefruit, a fruit I rarely eat and one I associate with my childhood. It was the staple of my family’s breakfasts, along with orange juice and seemingly unlimited amounts of milk. Several decades ago, I stopped drinking OJ when a doctor told me it had too much sugar. And I stopped eating grapefruit when I found out it interfered with a medication I was taking.
Is nothing sacred? Although we grew up being told that we needed milk for strong bones, now we’re told that milk and other dairy products are the top source of saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
In my 70-plus years of living, I’ve witnessed more change than I care to, maybe the biggest being how technology has drastically changed our lives. Although our food evolution isn’t as big a deal, when I read about the latest food fad, I’m astounded, like avocado toast, or is that already unfashionable and I missed it? For how many decades have I been putting slices of avocado on bread without knowing I was being hip?
It’s not just food tastes that are changing, but restaurants, too. I was recently in a restaurant that, in earlier decades, was one of the most popular in Boulder, where friends would meet to sit in tall leather booths meant for lingering over coffee and conversation. It was cozy and comfy and smelled of the restaurant’s trademark spiced tea. But that’s not what younger generations like, and it’s now a taco place, where the tables are small and made of metal—not a place to linger. It’s meant for a quick bite or for grabbing food to go.
Maybe this says it all: we don’t have time for sitting around; everything is quick. That was not true when I was growing up. Even though my siblings and I had to get to school, my mother made sure we had plenty to eat before we left for the day: scrambled eggs and bacon, waffles (not frozen but from a waffle maker), french toast smothered in maple syrup, oatmeal topped with brown sugar and raisins.
But the height of breakfast luxury (and depicted in popular movies from the 1950s and ‘60s) was soft-boiled eggs. You used a timer to boil the eggs for just the right amount of time, then carefully placed them in a china cup made specifically for that purpose. With just the correct tap of a spoon, you peeled off the top half and then slowly spooned out the rest.
Americans today apparently don’t have time for such niceties. One survey I read said the average American eats breakfast only three days a week. Many working people don’t have time to sit down and eat, so they might grab a piece of toast or bagel, along with a cup of coffee.
The dinners we ate as children are now as quaint as green bean casserole (with canned onion rings) or marshmallow fruit salad. Back in the 1950s, my mother followed the rules that a good dinner should include: starch, often in the form of potatoes; vegetables, usually canned green beans, corn or peas; a salad (iceberg lettuce plus tomatoes overseen by French dressing); and, of course, meat: roasted chicken, pork chops, or meatloaf.
We never heard of tacos, green curry or falafel. Growing up, the most exotic food I remember was from German restaurants: Hungarian goulash, schnitzel, sauerbrauten—food that no one eats anymore because it’s too heavy and rich. When I first moved to Colorado, there were probably 10 well-known German restaurants in the area; now they’re all gone.
Because my diet is mainly vegetarian now, I welcome the availability of fresh vegetables and veggie dishes in restaurants. But I still crave Hungarian goulash: the tender beef, the soft noodles, the rich sauce with paprika and butter. But I won’t eat factory-farmed meat, can’t eat gluten, and the sauce will hurt my digestion. I guess I’ll have a piece of avocado toast (on gluten-free bread) and call it a day.