With the recent passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we thought we would take a look back at how our eating habits changed throughout her 70-year reign. As Her Majesty held the title of the longest-reigning British monarch, she was a constant throughout the past century’s progress, and was there to see her beloved nation innovate and develop. Continue reading to discover how our nation moved with the times.
The 1950s may have been a time of celebration as Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, but Britain was still in a sombre post-war mood. Wartime rationing was still in place until 1954, so when it came to our nation’s eating habits - austerity was commonplace. Eating out was limited to a Friday night Fish and Chips, and there were no such things as supermarkets or frozen food.
Saying that, as the decade progressed, things started to look brighter, households started buying into new kitchen innovations such as automatic kettles, non-stick frying pans and even deep fat fryers. Tinned foods were in abundance, as there were no freezer options - hence the decade being renowned for Spam Fritters and tinned peaches served with Carnation milk. And how could we forget, in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her namesake coronation chicken dish was rustled up by a florist named Constance Spry and the cordon bleu chef, Rosemary Hume, to celebrate the coronation.
Fast forward to the ‘60s, and we Brits were venturing out of our comfort zones completely, thanks to the introduction of package holidays and affordable air travel. As we racked up the air miles holidaying abroad, our taste palettes were introduced to a plethora of new flavours. From Mediterranean and French to Indian and Chinese, Britain really was in the midst of a food overhaul. This is highlighted even further with the arrival of the first Indian and Chinese convenience foods, who can forget those infamous Vesta Curries and Vesta Chow Mein?
When it comes to what we were buying, our country was being inundated with new kitchen technologies centred around convenience; pressure cookers, the microwave oven and that oh-so-retro Teasmade. 33% of households even owned a fridge, so we had a way of making our Angel Delight and Black Forest Gateau last for longer.
And, if you’re wondering who we looked to for our culinary inspiration? That was the iconic Fanny Cradock.
It may have been dubbed “The decade that good food forgot” by a certain Heston Blumenthal, but the ‘70s were all about comfort food, dinner parties and convenience cooking. Although food prices rose due to a global oil crisis, that didn’t stop us from making the most of what we had. Kitchen innovations such as food processors, fondue sets and slow cookers meant we could achieve restaurant-quality meals at home. At-home entertaining was en vogue, inspired by the film ‘Abigail’s Party’, so prawn cocktails and lemon meringue pie rose to fame. Even ice cream was becoming more of an everyday normality than a special treat, thanks to freezers becoming more and more de rigueur by the minute.
From the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana to Margaret Thatcher becoming British Prime Minister, the 1980s were a decade of epic change for the U.K. In response to this, food habits were slightly up and down this decade. On one hand, there was an increase in convenience and takeaway foods, with the much-anticipated launch of Pizza Hut. Whilst, on the other hand, vegetarian food surged thanks to Linda McCartney launching her very first cookbook in 1989. Hot on the shelves to follow suit were retro kitchen icons such as salad spinners and soda streams, so healthy eating habits were easier to manage from the comfort of the family home.
After the past few decades of excess, the ‘90s saw a surge in healthy eating in Britain. Consumers were becoming more and more conscious of diet and unhealthy eating habits, spurred on by the introduction of kitchen gadgets such as the ‘Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine’ and the bread machine. Eating became more considered, the coffee and wine sectors grew, and we even saw the very first gastropub open - ‘The Eagle’ in Farringdon.
Chef of the moment Delia Smith launched her ‘90s classic cookbook ‘How to Cook’ and was seen as a culinary bible for amateur chefs.
As we move into a new millennium, consumer choice has never been greater. World cultures have fully embedded themselves into Britain’s cooking, supermarket and restaurant scene, so much so that the ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ was the national restaurant dish of the year in 2001. The cupcake phenomenon was born, and for the first time in 30 years, tea sales almost halved thanks to the emergence of coffee chains on British high streets.
Healthy eating continued to be a major player across the country, with the government instilling its ‘5 portions of fruit and veg per day’ recommendations for the first time. Not only this, but the ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ campaign was also launched. This inspired families to get creative with their leftovers and reduce food waste as much as possible, something just as imperative for us in 2022. To correlate, kitchen appliances such as powered juicers and smoothie makers were the must-have product of the decade.
As we moved into the ‘10s, healthy eating was going nowhere, in fact, it was bigger than ever. Healthy home cooking and sustainable diets such as veganism were skyrocketing, with products such as spiralizers hitting the shelves (and kitchen cupboards) to critical acclaim. The spiralizer wasn’t the only health-focused kitchen innovation to launch either, as Phillips unveiled the cult Air Fryer in 2010. This must-have cooking tool allowed people to achieve the same, delicious results with less than half the fat.
To the future...
The 20th century, as you can see, was a time of progress and innovation, not only within the food and kitchen sector, but in all manners of life, and for half of it, Our Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reigned.
Even back in 1922, Britain paved the way with an invention by Birmingham-based company Bulpitt & Sons, which was the first electric kettle to contain a submersible electrical heating element. It was thought up by one of the company's employees — Leslie Large. Move forward to 1946, and yet another piece of kitchen technology hit the market — the microwave oven. The introduction of this, what we know it today to be, kitchen essential was in essence a culinary gateway for families to incorporate ‘convenience cooking’ into their daily lives.
The latter half of the century followed suit when it came to design innovation; improved technologies and breakthroughs continued to reinvent the family home for the better. You may wonder how all of this ties in with Our Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, but in essence, she was a constant presence throughout and her own achievements mirrored the same level of progress. She was a steadfast monarch who moved with the times and made us a better nation and Commonwealth. Her guidance and presence will be truly missed by us all, but we can rest in the knowledge that she left the world a much better place, and we look forward to what is yet to come.