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A Brief History Of Food
By JAMES GROB
Ottumwa Post Columnist
The other day my wife opened up a big bag of M&M's and poured some of them into a bowl, because she knows that I firmly believe that it is important to have bowls filled with M&M's placed in strategic locations throughout our home -- at least as important as family photographs and deer antlers on the walls, air conditioning, cable TV and indoor plumbing. Those are the things that make a house a home, in my opinion.
But back to the M&M's ...
They were, evidently, patriotic M&M's, because they weren't the usual M&M colors -- they were red, white and blue. They tasted exactly like any other M&M (I'm thinking that a single M&M should actually just be called an "M," but I am not sure about this) but there was something about the odd color that was a wee be disconcerting. I'm not accustomed to seeing those colors in the candy dish. They look weird.
My first instinct was to take a photo of my America-loving candy and put it on Facebook, and tell all my Facebook friends that they should like and share this picture, because if they don't, it means they hate America and our troops.
As a society, we take a lot more pictures than we used to, and a lot of them end up on Facebook, because it's so easy. There was a time, in my younger years, when it seemed like a lot of work to take a photo, so you only took photos of very important occasions -- such as weddings, graduations, family reunions -- or if someone caught a really big fish.
These days, people take pictures of lunch. And dinner. And dessert. And they put them up on Facebook.
And it occurs to me that photography isn't the only thing that has changed substantially in my lifetime, but food has as well. You would have never seen red, white and blue M&M's when I was a kid. That would have been outrageous. The food variety these days is astonishing.
I was born the same year as the Big Mac. McDonald's, obviously, has been the most successful innovator of fast food in my lifetime. These days, the menu has a variety of salads and ice cream desserts, several chicken options and 100 other things. When I was a kid, it was mostly burgers, fries, Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, a Filet-O-Fish and shakes. The Chicken McNuggets didn't arrive until the early 1980s.
I do recall a few other products they had then that they do not have now. For a while, they had a thing called Onion Nuggets, basically the same as the chicken nuggets, only it was an onion on the inside instead of chicken. Also, back in those days, McDonald's fried their hot apple and cherry pies. I feel sorry for the current generation, which has never experienced a fried apple pie from McDonald's. The filling felt like molten lava as it burned the living hell out of your mouth, but the taste buds that survived the scorching were in for an amazing treat. The baked pies today don't even compare.
When I was a teenager, they had the McDLT -- with the hot side hot and the cool side cool -- but for some inexplicable reason they discontinued that in the early 1990s.
I can rattle off a list of fast food items that did not exist when I was a child.
There was no such thing as popcorn chicken at KFC -- which, by the way, we either called "Kentucky Fried Chicken" or "Colonel Sanders." I had never heard of a stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut, or sweet potato fries anywhere. I was 18 before I tasted my first Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
I was the same age the first time I crunched into a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Speaking of cool ranch, what is the deal with Ranch Dressing? When I was a kid, it was the salad dressing that no one asked for because it was awful, now it's the most popular condiment in the supermarket, people put it on anything. I've seen people dip everything from veggies to breadsticks to pizza to hamburgers into ranch dressing. It's insane. Don't people know it tastes like sour milk?
Mexican restaurants? These days there are five or six in every town, but there were no such things as Mexican restaurants when I was growing up, at least not in my immediate area. A couple of my good friends were of Mexican lineage, and so I experienced Mexican food as prepared by their mothers -- and that was still better than any meal I've ever had in a Mexican restaurant.
Also, I was in my 20s before I had ever heard of Dippin' Dots. And I was 40-something before I ever heard of a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Actually, I was probably in my 40s before I ever heard of any kind of latte, or frappe, or any other kind of fancy coffee drink.
And speaking of drinks, yes, there was Gatorade when I was a kid -- but first, there was Gator Gum. And Gatorade was about the only sports drink you could get, and it came in one flavor -- I think it was actually gator flavored, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we rarely could afford it, so our sports drink of choice was water. And it didn't come in a bottle, it came out of the sink, or maybe the hose in the backyard. Backyard hose water on a hot day is still the best drink of anything I have ever drank.
No one drank Mountain Dew back then -- it was the crazy uncle of the soda-pop family, hidden in the basement. No such thing as diet soda, either, although Tab had just one calorie. And Pepsi-Free had a twist of lemon.
And while we're on the subject of beverages, I don't believe I ever rode in a car with a built-in cup holder until I was nearly 30.
And did you know that the only country in the world that doesn't have any Coke or Pepsi products is North Korea?
I'm guessing that's one of the reasons that the Dennis Rodman-loving crazy little guy over there wants to nuke everyone.
He just wants a taste of "the real thing."