While food is part of our daily lives and naturally provides sustenance, it’s become so much more than that when we look back through the years. The food modern man has enjoyed over time, has formed part of our identity, it’s taken on a life of its own and become iconic markers on our timeline. Professor Rebecca Earle, a food historian at Warwick University, has identified foods that have come to define the decades in the last century – here courtesy of the Independent, is her take on those UK markers.
1920s – Industrial Food
British inventor, Bryan Donkin, is the man that helped bring tinned food to the masses. In the early 19th century, he bought a tin can patent from Frenchman, Philippe Girard, and spent two years refining the patent so that mass production became possible. By the 1920s tinned food had hit its stride with many foods being canned – even lamb sweetbreads.
1930s – Public Health
Up until the 1930s less than 4% of the poorest Britons drank milk at breakfast. In 1934 the ‘Milk for Schools’ campaign began providing milk for school children, it saw their milk consumption more than double, led to an increase in height amongst boys and even helped improve their academic performance.
1940s – Patriotic Eating
During World War II, meat was increasingly hard to come by, so the Ministry of Food began to push potatoes as a healthy, nutritious and filling substitute. Potato Pete (a cartoon mascot) featured heavily in war time recipes, ranging from ‘potato and vegetable pie’ and ‘cheese and potato dumplings’ to ‘carrot and potato mash’ and ‘potato and lentil curry’.
1950s – Postwar Gloom
Despite the fact that WWII ended in 1945, UK food rationing continued into the 1950s – tea was rationed until 1952, sugar and eggs until 1953, and cheese and meats until 1954. By Earle’s account, tinned pineapple became a highlight – a little ray of exotic sunshine in an otherwise grey British world. SPAM – tinned leftover pieces of pork shoulder – which was used heavily during the war to feed the troops and the nation, remained popular in the 1950s and continued to appear on the dinner table.
1960s – Italian Food
Elizabeth David, a British cookery writer, who spent much time abroad prior to WWII, attracted favourable attention with A Book of Mediterranean Food in 1950. Her recipes called for ingredients – aubergine, garlic, and olive oil – scarcely available, much less known, in Britain; and her 1963 book on Italian Food helped transform pasta from an exotic import into the staple food it is today.
1970s – Britain Dines Out
This decade saw the rise of the food chains. Sophisticated dining became popular and the meal de rigueur while out and about was prawn cocktail, steak and chips (‘steak garni’), and Black Forest gateau. The food writer and journalist, Nigel Slater, wrote that this ‘Great British Meal Out’ added just the right amount of sophistication (using words like cocktail, garni and gateau) to the meal without being something that the average Briton did not recognise or struggled to pronounce.
1980s – Indian Food
The 1980s saw Britain’s great love affair with Indian food truly begin. There are said to be more than 12,000 curry houses in the UK, the Brits spend more than £250m a year on Indian food, and one in seven curries sold is a chicken tikka masala – making it, according to foreign secretary, Robin Cook, a true national UK dish.
1990s – Conspicuous Consumption
Earle speaks about the hedonism of the 90s – this is perfectly personified in the British show Absolutely Fabulous. But, another term that made its appearance in the 1990s was the ‘gastropub’. Coined by David Eyre and Mike Belben when they took over a traditional pub in Clerkenwell, London; the gastropub combined pub culture and good quality British dining, unheard of before then. On homegrown soil, the early 1990s is also when N1 first opened their doors supplying the best quality meat Cape Town.
As we move into the 21st Century, Earle sees the 2000s as the coffee revolution, the 2010s as the age of austerity (where over a million UK households now use food banks to get by) and foresees the 2020s to be all about sustainable eating. Important to remember is that while food trends may come and go, what never goes out of fashion is quality food – so, for the highest quality meat call Cape Town meat wholesalers N1, who are well into their 3rd decade of business and surpassing expectations with each year.