I just had to read the whole, lengthy article on heraldweekly.com . I took the title: “Tragically Gross Foods Baby Boomers Wont Let Die” as a personal affront – and a challenge. Some of the dishes are, admittedly, abominations. But others are classics!
SPAM: An unfairly maligned food that’s become a staple the world over.
Deserves accolades solely on historical and sociological grounds…
Authormust have spent a lot of time researching the more than 100 ‘Boomer’ foods and phenomena she lists in her ‘exposé’. But if she’d just taken a few more moments to talk to some Boomers about it, she might not have condemned all those dishes.
“[W]hen it comes to their impact on food, let’s just say that legacy is a bit perplexing, if not horrifying,” Salen declares. She tars the 50s, 60s and 70s with one broad brush as: “…an era infamous for the nastiest food trends the world has ever seen! Read through the list below, and prepare to be shocked or fascinated in equal measure.”
By association, Salen also slurs all Boomers with blanket condemnation for inventing and/or simply putting up with the dishes she’s chosen to feature.
Well, it’s my turn, now. And I’m going to set her – and the rest of those Xs and Zs who believe as she does – straight.
True Boomer Food disasters
I need, first off, to explain to Ms Salen that many of the the dishes she identifies as, “[T]he nastiest food trends the world has ever seen!” are not the fault of Boomers, themselves. The gelatine, mayonnaise and cheese molds she so eagerly vilifies are almost exclusively the red-headed culinary stepchildren of the test kitchens run by purveyors of gelatin, mayo and and dairy products.
I know I’m exaggerating, but it seemed as though you couldn’t open a ‘family’ or ‘women’s’ magazine at the height of the Boomer era without seeing some recipe suggestion or other on every second right-hand page.
Foods that deserve criticism
Processed Cheese ‘Food’ rightfully leads the list of man-made products that can be said to fall within the ‘tragically gross’ category. As I’ve explained before in this space, ‘American’, or ‘Processed’ Cheese isn’t really cheese at all. Sure there’s some cheese in it, but it’s mostly added milk solids, colouring, vegetable oil and preservatives. Yuk.
Fake Wipped Cream gets my thumbs-down for many of the same reasons as Processed Cheese. And I defy you to hold a side-by-side blind taste test of the fake stuff with real whipped cream. Nobody I’ve tried this with ever claimed they tasted the same. Much less chose the fake over the real stuff.
‘Lite’ Beer gets a slap from Salen, too. Okay, I agree that once you’ve tried really good craft beer or imported classics, American style ‘Lite’ beer seems pretty lame. But there are millions of beer lovers who would turn their noses up at the strong-flavoured, dark coloured brews some of of us covet.
Conventional condiments – especially Ketchup – get a losing grade from Salen. “Boomers slathered ketchup on everything, from scrambled eggs and lunch meats to steaks or pork chops,” she correctly states.
Well, wait a minute: I recollect it was my parents, who grew up in the Depression, lived through the Second World War, and struggled to rebuild some sort of life in the 50s, who did that. Many of them had destroyed their taste buds via heavy smoking and needed something to give their foods flavour. My dad once admitted as much.
People my age use ketchup only on fries and as a dressing for burgers or hot dogs. Oh, yes – and a dip for grilled cheese sandwiches. Though I have used Marinara for my Grilled Cheese since I first tried it in that role, 20-some years ago.
Boiled Vegetables are a travesty against healthy eating. Once you’ve boiled them long enough to make them fork-tender, you’ve boiled all the goodness out of them. And there’s nothing more unappetizing than a pile of over-boiled, mushy, tasteless veggies on your plate.
On the other hand, the vast majority of veggies can benefit tremendously from oven-baking on a sheet pan or cohabiting in the roasting pan with your Sunday roast or holiday turkey.
Unfairly maligned conventions
As I scrolled down the list in Salen’s article. I noted with dismay that she had unfairly tagged some products and service models as Boomer-fave fails.
I was particularly surprised to see her condemn chain restaurants. Gen Xs and Zs are infamous for their addiction to convenience. Even though they claim to have healthier, more cultured eating habits than their parents.
She also has issues with the traditional ‘meat and potatoes’ meal. Does she realize that meat and starch (and hopefully, some veggies) constitute the basis of most of the cuisines of the world? Going back thousands of years?
I agree with her negative appreciation of Bologna and the sandwiches featuring it that were ubiquitous in the early Boomer era. But the stuff was cheap and many 50s families needed it just so they’d have some kind of protein at lunch. Ditto, hot dogs and SPAM. But I had to giggle when I looked closer at the photo she choose to illustate her Bologna rant: It shows Mortadella, not Bologna! And for those you who don’t know, there is a considerable difference. I say, Bologna, no; Mortadella, yes.
Come to think of it, SPAM deserves a thumbs-up, on both the cultural and dietary fronts. There are those (and they don’t all work for Hormel, inventor of SPAM) who claim the Allies won the Second World War on a diet of SPAM and Coca Cola. I won’t go that far, but the unbiquitous canned pork product did make its way around the world – and was integrated into traditional cuisines from Paris to the Philippines – thanks to its role as a staple of American GI field rations. From as sociological standpoint, SPAM is still a starring as a dependable fallback in times of crisis, such as the recent Maui wildfire disaster.
Salen uses Ham Salad as her poster-dish representing all such mayo-based spreads. As you know, I’m a fan of these salads, especially as stuffing for quick, easy, hearty sandwiches. My fave is Erin’s Salmon Salad (see photo, top of page), but I also love a good Chicken Salad. Tuna salad I can take or leave.
Just scratching the surface
As I mentioned at the top of this post, Ms Salen lists more than 100 ‘Boomer’ dishes she has no trouble labelling ‘tragically gross’. But I totally disagree with her assessment on about 25 percent of the dishes and service conventions she slurs. And I’ll be glad to debate relative merits of English Fruitcake, Curly Parsley, Pot Pies and Scotch Eggs. And another dozen or so entries on Salen’s list!
Go have a look at her handiwork and see what you think!
~ Maggie J.