In this article I not only got to research through facts and history (which I love) around 1900’s -2000’s, but I also got speak with the people who were living through those times, my mum and nana. Speaking with them about how things were in comparison to today’s lifestyle was so thought provoking and I hope it gets you thinking too. It is evident that convenience plays a prominent role in the food choices of today’s consumers. A trend having begun throughout the Western world, consumer demand for convenience foods is now on the rise around the globe. The growing presence of drive-thru windows, microwave dinners, take-out meals, home delivery for groceries and internet shopping, all demonstrate the importance of convenience in determining food choices . This begs the question… could eating like our grandparents make us healthier?
Convenience has an immense impact on the food choices of today’s consumers. This suggests that food products offering less convenience will be deemed less preferable even if it is a healthier option. Convenience foods are generally full of added sugar and salt which in turn can lead to a number of health issues that we are seeing now such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name but a few. Below are a few charts dating from 1900’s – 2000’ published in the BMC Public Health Journal 2010 showing how obesity has significantly grown and it correlates with the amount of sugar and grain we are consuming.
Can we learn anything from our grandparents that could help us today by offering ways to help us reduce the obesity levels across the world, which in turn will make us healthier?
Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s
On 8 January 1940 bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. This was followed by successive ration schemes for meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk, and canned and dried fruit . To buy most rationed items, each person had to register at chosen shops and was provided with a ration book containing coupons. The shopkeeper was provided with enough food for registered customers. Purchasers had to take ration books with them when shopping, so the relevant coupon or coupons could be cancelled.
For one adult, it consisted of: 100g bacon or ham (about four slices), a portion of fresh meat (equivalent to two small lamb chops), one shelled egg, two to three pints of milk, 50-110g cheese, 110g margarine and cooking fat and 50g of butter per week . Fish and fruit were popular because neither was rationed. There was limited tinned meat – such as spam and corned beef – but no pasta and very little rice. A typical day’s menu consisted of: porridge for breakfast, corned beef sandwich for lunch then meat or fish with two veg for dinner.
Homes didn’t have fridges so nothing was made to keep for long which meant things were homegrown, natural and always in season. Milk was delivered daily to keep it fresh.
NANA – “My dad had a big garden and an allotment for fruit and vegetables to grow. There were also hens and rabbits, we were well fed”.
There was no nibbling between meals because there were no crisps or chocolate available. At the time, the average woman’s weight was 8st, now it’s 10st.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s
Mum: “I remember as an eight year old, being driven to my swim class for 6am, swimming for an hour, walking home 5 miles to have breakfast and then head out to walk to school 4 miles. I would then walk home after school. If I wasn’t walking then I was cycling”.
- Breakfast – Porridge with local full fat milk and either brown sugar or golden syrup OR an egg on fresh local white bread and butter.
- No fizzy drinks, crisps or chocolate apart from special treats or Christmas.
- The fizzy drink was lemonade and made locally down the road. The crisps were plain and you could add salt from a little packet.
- Lunch – A main with meat (normally two slices of something and usually all the fat and gristle included), vegetables and running mash potato.
- Pudding would be rice pudding, or some sort of fruit tart with custard. Fish on Fridays at school.
- Snack – Homemade cake when in from school.
- Dinner – Around 6pm and would be a pie, stew with dumplings or shepherds pie.
- Treats would consist of going to the local sweet shop and buying 4 liquorice black jacks with pocket money. Takeaway food consisted of going to the local curry house with your own saucepans for them to add your order in. There were no takeaway plastic/ polystyrene containers.
- Always playing outside and walking to and from school and activities.
- Only 1 car per family if you were lucky enough to have a car.
- The TV would not have anything showing in the afternoon, only a test card until it cam back on in the evening and then the news.
A lady use to cycle around the houses and collect people’s food orders for the week and place orders in all of the local places such as bakery, grocers and butchers.
- School put the wasted food into pig bins at a local pig farm. If there were too much waste then the teachers would divide the food up again to share amongst the pupils until finished. MMMMMM lovely way to share!
- Local shops would collect people’s glass bottles to re-use and in return would pay them a penny per bottle.
- If it was a Sunday then there would be roast dinner and the meat joint would be dragged out over 3 meals. This would be for a family of 6.
- Any food left on your plate after a meal would be reused for another meal.
MUM: “I remember mum and dad always having a cigarette and they drank a lot as well. When guests would come round for a coffee they would be offered a cigarette rather than a biscuit. There were beautifully elegant silver cigarette dispensers all over the house”.
After research and interviewing my mum (aged 60) and my nana (aged 83) around their lifestyle and food when they were growing up, it seems that their way of living was not so much about convenience but more about getting the most from what they had. Snacks were not common, food was seasonal and local, portions were small and they would walk everywhere. Their socialising was not orientated around food but more around actually socialising, yes over coffee, alcohol and a lot of cigarettes. This side is not so healthy but cigarettes were very cheap and freely available. They act as appetite suppressors so would help get through the hunger phases.
Professor Theresa Marteau of Cambridge University, an author in the British Medical Journal states ‘Reducing portion sizes across the whole diet to realise large reductions in consumption may mean reverting to sizes of portions and tableware similar to those in the 1950s’.
Little data exists for average diets and portion sizes in post-war Britain but the experts predict that consumption of energy-dense foods has more than doubled since then . Do we need to consider getting back to basics?
Do you think eating like our grandparents make us healthier?
What do you think? Could eating like our grandparents make us healthier? Or, do you think our abundance is healthier? Let us know in the comment box below!