October 12, 2011

Dining and Drink: Mmmm... maybe not

In some ways, the '90s was to gastronomy what 'Jersey Shore' is to Shakespearean drama. Now pass the SnackWells, yo.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In 1990, we had just completed a decade in which we boiled our frozen dinners in a bag and discovered our national obsessions with sushi and The Silver Palate cookbooks.

click image to enlarge

A lot of "treats" – such as SnackWells, Lunchables, supersized fast-food meals and more debuted in the '90s.

Courtesy photo

The 1990s continued the '80s trend of convenience at home and exploring our inner gourmands when dining out. And we discovered other national obsessions: fat-free food and food TV. Tan M&Ms were tossed in favor of blue (after a national runoff with purple M&Ms), and everyone carried around a pack of Altoids.

But it wasn't all good. Here's a taste of food-related trends of the '90s that thankfully went the way of the garbage disposal (or should have):

• ZIMA -- Perhaps the most mocked beverage in American history, this carbonated, clear "alcopop" was introduced in 1993 by Coors as an alternative to beer. Yes, it was "Zomething Different," but not zomething that men with an ounce of testosterone would be caught dead with in a bar. After David Letterman started making fun of Zima, it didn't have a chance, and production in the U.S. ended in 2008. But hey, they still drink it in Japan.

• CRYSTAL PEPSI -- Also on the "clear beverage" marketing bandwagon of the '90s was this short-lived dud. (At least it had a more palatable name than Tab Clear.) The CEO who came up with the idea for Crystal Pepsi said in a 2007 interview: "It would have been nice if I'd made sure the product tasted good."

• LUNCHABLES -- Parents, if you're too lazy to slap some processed cheese and meat onto a cracker yourself, please don't reproduce in the first place. We don't need your genes playing in our pool.

• STUFFED CRUST PIZZA -- America's obsession with industrial, cheese-like substances reached its zenith with this horrifying creation that answered the question: Where else can we possibly put some mediocre cheese?

• MENTOS -- Mentos have been around since the 1950s, but it wasn't until 1991 that Americans discovered them through the product's lame commercials and "Up With People"-style jingle. Just by popping one of the "freshmakers" into your mouth, you could instantly solve seemingly any prosaic predicament, from a broken heel to a bad parking situation.

• SUPERSIZED FAST FOOD -- McDonald's started this trend with 7-ounce portions of fries and gigantic 42-ounce soft drinks big enough to bathe in. Wendy's followed with its "Biggie" deals, and it all helped turn us into a supersized nation.

• SNACKWELLS -- Before Atkins and South Beach, there was fat-free. In the '90s, people felt entitled to eat entire boxes of cookies because they had no fat in them. But they forgot about all the sugar that made these tasteless products edible. Oops.

• RICE CAKES -- If you were on a diet in the '90s, this is all you ate.

• TOFURKEY -- The first mainstream meatless meat, this "turkey" made of tofu was supposed to make a vegetarian feel like less of an outcast at Thanksgiving. It was shaped like a turkey and kind of tasted like one too, leaving us to wonder, what's the point?

• ORBITZ -- This fruit-flavored beverage with the little colored balls floating in it was marketed as a "texturally-enhanced alternative beverage." If you think about it, the drink was ahead of its time -- kind of a cross between molecular gastronomy and bubble tea. But consumers couldn't help but compare it to a lava lamp, and it quickly died.

• OLESTRA -- This fat substitute developed by Procter & Gamble is still around in potato chips, mostly as an excuse to use the phrase "anal leakage."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 

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