Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RD
The nineties has to be the decade of the celebrity chefs. This was mainly made possible by the Food Network with shows entitled Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis, and The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Alton Brown explained food chemistry with the aid of graphics; Bobby Flay traveled America to clambakes and a stew called burgoo in Kentucky. Mario Battali ate his way across Italy.
A shy young Austrian chef named Wolfgang Puck opened a restaurant called Spago in West Hollywood, California. Puck reinvented pizza by using food from worldwide cuisines such as goat cheese, smoked salmon, duck sausage, chili oil and chicken. He began his own show on the Food Network in 2001.
Emeril Lagasse, a Portugese-American from Massachusetts developed a tremendous following by using signature phrases like “Kick it up a notch” and “BAM” as adds spices to his food. He owns several restaurants, his TV show, a line of spices and sauces, cookware, and cookbooks.
One of the most popular shows on the food network was Iron Chef. This show pits chefs against each other. Each show centers around a theme food that must be used in the preparation of gourmet dishes. It can be from clams to eggplant to pumpkin and the cooking and preparation is presented as a contest in spectacular ways.
The Rise of SnackWells
Back in the real world, manufacturers were busy finding ways to make food fat-free, low-fat, or reduced fat. Scientists even made a fake fat, Olestra which reached the market with the hope that we could then binge on foods that contained it. It was not successful – we continued to gain weight and turned to carbohydrates instead since they were low in fat. One problem: many of them were full of sugar. One popular product was called SnackWells, an array of fat-free cookies that suggested that you could eat all of them and not consume any fat. Introduced in 1992, the problem remained that they still contained calories.
The Internet or the World Wide Web opened up a whole new world of food with access to recipes from around the globe. All you had to do was search for a certain dish and voila – an abundance of recipes would appear for your choosing. Most recipes were reviewed by “real” people who offered suggestions for improving the dish or warned you ahead of time what to expect from the ingredients. Recipes were rated from one star to 5 stars with 5 being the bes
Dieting and Diabesity
Although weight loss diets had been around for decades, people began to be obsessed with dieting in the 1990’s. The diet industry exploded with diet books, diet pills, dieting gimmicks, fat blockers, calorie counters. In 1994, the FDA mandated that food labels must include detailed information about calories, fat and fiber. In 1996, it was estimated that six million Americans are either taking fen-phen (the appetite-suppressant, fenfluramine) plus the amphetamine phentamine. The products were pulled off the market when the FDA reports that “fen” might cause fatal heart problems. In 1996 the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports that 40 percent of nine and ten-year-olds are dieting and trying to lose weight. In 1999, Nutrisystem began selling its pre-made food and its products on TV and the Interne
A new word was coined – diabesity. As the world became more overweight and obese, diabetes type 2 began to reach epidemic proportions. From 1990 to 1998 diabetes increased by one-third in the U.S. The vast majority of this increase – 76% was among people aged 30-39. The two major causes are an increase in obesity and a lack of exercise. Sixty percent of Americans do not exercise regularly and 25 percent do no exercise at all.
Survivor Foods and Y2K
On December 31, 1999, the world waited to see if the coming year (2000) would disrupt computer systems that controlled phones, traffic lights, electricity and communications. Many were panicked and stockpiled food for survival in case the world shut down – None of the fears came to pass.
New products continued to be introduced to the American consumer that included:
Cream of Broccoli soup (Campbells)
Mcdonald’s McLean Deluxe (low-fat burger that flopped), Homestyle entrees (Stouffers, frozen),
Boca Burger (soy burger product), Snackwell brand (low fat cookies),
DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza, Turkey bacon (Louis Rich)
Lay’s Baked Potato Crisps, V8 Splash (beverage)
—SOURCES: The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, Beverly Bundy [Collector Press:Portland] 2002 (p. 172-189) & The Food Chronology, James Trager [Henry Holt:New York] 1995 (p. 694-721))