There has been much ado about avocado toast, the eminently Instagrammable breakfast food. Here’s the thing, though: every generation has had their own version of avocado toast. Every era has had an It food that has seized the popular imagination and taken a supersized bite out of people’s wallets. According to a recent article in Taste magazine, for example, “celery was the avocado toast of the Victorian era”. Yes, celery. That stringy green stuff that doesn’t taste of anything and gets in your teeth. Victorian hipsters spent all their salary on celery, apparently, meaning they couldn’t afford to buy houses or save for retirement. And the Victorians weren’t the only ones throwing good money at bad meals. Here is a short but sweet sampling of the changing tastes of our times.
Pineapples: the pinnacle of Georgian pizzazz
The best way to win friends and influence people in Georgian England was to find yourself a pineapple. The fruit only started to become available for purchase in the 18th century and quickly became a status symbol. One pineapple would cost as much as the equivalent of £5,000 today – which would buy you about 700 pieces of avocado toast.
Spaghetti: mid-20th-century modern cuisine
“Spaghetti is not a widely eaten food in the UK and is considered by many as an exotic delicacy,” notes a BBC article from 1957. Believe it or not, a plate of pasta was once a good way to demonstrate your cosmopolitan credentials. Indeed, spaghetti was so mysterious that, on April Fool’s Day 1957 the BBC broadcast a spoof Panorama documentary about spaghetti bushes in Switzerland and quickly received hundreds of calls from viewers wanting to buy their own. Sadly, pasta doesn’t grow on trees. If it did, the world would be a much better place.
Fondue: peak 70s cheesiness
The 70s weren’t just characterised by disco fever, but also by fondue fever. Groovy young things would spend their weekends dipping stale bread into communal bowls of bubbling fat. By some accounts, the fashion for fondue in the UK and US was down to a Swiss cheese cartel; according to National Public Radio, the cartel popularised fondue around the world with “big ad campaigns of good-looking Swiss people in ski sweaters partying it up over pots of cheese”.
Gin: definitely a food group
Gin may be in at the moment, but the current taste for craft gin pales in comparison with the great gin craze that swept London in the 18th century. It got so out of control that, between 1729 and 1751, parliament passed five major acts attempting to control the consumption of gin. Avo toast may be the modern millennial’s ruin, but it’s nothing compared to the havoc mother’s ruin once wreaked on the UK.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010