Back In Time For Dinner, 1980s

I posted about the 1950s and 1960s, and the 1970s. Here are the 1980s. Kitchens are higher-tech with more gadgets, especially a microwave oven which changed not only the food the Robshaws ate, but family dynamics. There was more variety of food compared to decades previous, and more food generally. People spent about a quarter to a third of their income feeding themselves in years past, now just a tenth.

This is the decade where people became more self-focused. (Paul Roberts talks about this rise of the self in his book, Impulse Society… how impulsive, short-sighted actions, not just by individuals but by politicians, executives, and other leaders, are fracturing the institutions we need to survive.) It’s the decade where the needs and whims of the person rose above the needs of the family. In the 50s, 60s and early 70s, families shared food and often mealtimes. If you wanted to eat, you had to wait until a meal was prepared and served, and you had to gather around a table and eat the same food as everyone else. With the rise of convenience foods, fast-food chains, and appliances like the microwave, electric sandwich makers, and coffee makers, each family member could eat what they wanted, when they wanted.

With an increased focus on the self, people began to follow fad diets (Brandon wasn’t fond of his grapefruit diet) and engage in body-sculpting exercise. They joined exercise classes or followed an instructor on the TV, they jogged while listening to a Walkman, they wore colorful body-conscious clothing. Brandon noted a more visible schism in society between the haves and the have-nots, more conspicuous consumption. The haves were purchasing expensive cars, eating nouvelle cuisine at expensive restaurants, drinking more wine and more alcohol in general. The have-nots were returning to the food of the 50s and 60s … potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables, and less meat. There was increasing discord in the community, and less intimacy in the family.

5 thoughts on “Back In Time For Dinner, 1980s

  1. Bix Post author

    As you follow Britons’ food habits from the 1950s onward, one thing comes into focus … food was not consumed outside of mealtimes, not so much. People didn’t appear to be eating sandwiches or snacks or take-out while they were working, at their desks, while they were shopping. Maybe we eat less at mealtimes today? To offset the calories we take in between meals? I remember when a hardware store near me built a hot dog and snack stand in the foyer. It was new to me … to buy or eat a hog dog when you were just stopping in for a part for the lawn mower or some potting soil.

  2. Melinda

    Two things: 1) “impulsive short-sighted actions”–the worst ones are by our giant corporations, who are the real govt. in the US, imo, and certainly not for the better.
    2) When I went to Britain first in the 1960s, A) no one was fat; almost no one had refrigeration, so they went shopping for perishables frequently (more exercise); they didn’t overeat. Sounds like a generalization, but I was mainly in London (HUGE) and never saw anyone fat.

  3. Bix Post author

    I wanted to mention … The garish 80s, as I think Polly referred to them, gave the Robshaws their first extract-o-fan, as I thought I heard Polly say. She more likely said extractor fan, an exhaust fan over the hob. Removing cooking odors, smoke, heat, and moisture made the kitchen a place where the family could hang out more, she said. How I wish the US would have embraced this idea.

  4. Mike Byrne

    While I would agree there was a general change this didnt just happen as soon as 1980 came it was a gradual change you could argue those ways of thinking were also in the late 70s. I grew up in the 80s and many 70s things had overlapped including decor. it gradually changed. we for example couldnt eat in the kitchen throughout the 60s 70s and 80s as it was too small many families couldnt and I do feel the family looked at it through a narrow class perspective as a working class family we didnt even think or really care of how more middle class families lived we simply didnt live near them but we were very happy. At Christmas etc we very much shared food, microwaves were much later for us although I had a walkman by 1985. While I agree self focused attitudes were there even to a degree in the 70s, it took a while to filter down. Women we very much stuck in the kitchen and the kitchen her domain in previous decades men and children started to use it more which was a good thing. While I get that snacking isnt good, when you were served a meal (even if you hated it) you had to eat it. My mom thankfully is an excellent cook and I learned lots from her. Although I never remember in the 80s having srparate meals and I never ate ready meals this was more 90s as it filtered down (after all in the programme it was 1987) not sure it represents the whole of the 80s. Snacking was available in the late 1970s, Mcdonalds for me in the 80s was a treat at Birthdays not an everyday food as now. Even now I see KFC, Burger King and McDonalds as treats unlike most kids today. I would argue much of change happened due to change to working. Indeed when my mom got a job in 1987 at homecare all she had to do was clean the house and have a cup of tea ten years later she had to do medicine, basically more nursing, as people were busier and had to work longer do more in their jobs they want to cook less and have less time with family. I don’t think most people are utterly self centered. I do agree Thatcher etc promoted that but not everyone bought into it. we didnt, we continued to live like we did before. work got more multitasking more pressured than previous decades as in the 70s the 3 day a week meant less work so more family time so they were happier and had more control on kids but that was down to less work more balance which we should all strive for. I agree much has to do with corporations and less control. As a kid I had a fun time lots of things to do whether it was electronic, outdoors, playground games, board games and less rules, kids have become more indoors on games on their own but not simply the 80s fault.

    1. Bix Post author

      What a great commentary. Thank you!

      I see that my video was taken down 😦

      Your comment brings back lots of memories. The kitchen of my youth was also too small to eat in. It was about as big as a bathroom is today. We had an ice box. That’s what we called it. It was the size of a dorm refrigerator. I forget if my parents bought ice for it or if it had a built-in freezer. This was 1960s.

      We didn’t eat between meals. If you didn’t like what was on the menu, you ate it anyway because that’s what there was to eat. It’s not that my parents were strict or were depriving us, it’s just the way it was. The only thing I recall eating between meals was a candy bar after school (not often) or an ice pop during the summer. If a truck came down the street. How we kept watch for that truck!

      Speaking of trucks … It’s how we bought food during the day. I don’t think we had a car, many people didn’t. The food came to us. A milk truck would come early to take away the empty glass bottles and leave some full bottles. A truck came down selling bread and pastries.


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