Throughout history, food trends have attracted swarms of enthusiasts, only to subsequently peter out. To modern eyes, the food trends of the past can range from the merely unfamiliar to the downright ridiculous. Looking at the failed food trends of the past makes us wonder what we're eating today that our descendants won't recognize. Here, then, is a short list of some of the biggest failed food trends of the past.
The Great Breakfast Cereal Boom
Breakfast cereal is such an everyday part of our lives that it's hard to imagine that it was once a hugely popular health-food craze. Created by Battle Creek Sanitarium director Dr John Harvey Kellogg at the turn of the 20th century, breakfast cereals became a nationwide craze after former Sanitarium patient C.W. Post marketed his own cereal, Grape-Nuts. Entrepreneurs flocked to Battle Creek to found new cereal companies, creating products such as Per-Fo ("the perfect food"), Corn-o-Plenty and Flak-ota. Advertised with optimistic claims about their health benefits and their connection to Kellogg, these fad cereals were sometimes ordinary corn flakes and sometimes inedible mush. In time, most of the fad cereals died away, leaving cereal an ordinary part of the morning routine rather than a speculation-fueled fad.
Developed in 1849 by Massachusetts horticulturalist Ephraim Wales Bull, the Concord grape was a sensation in 19th-century America. Large, juicy and capable of withstanding the cold climate of New England, the grape was an enormous commercial success. Families all over America were eating Concord grapes. Unfortunately for Bull, his competitors used purchased grapes to plant their own vines. His profits from the grapes dried up. Eventually, so did the fad for Concord grapes, partly because they failed to produce good wine. Today, Concord grapes are used in grape jelly and to make grape juice, but it's extremely rare to see it as a table grape outside New England.
Olestra, also known as Olean, was a food additive intended to replace certain types of fat in snacks such as potato chips and crackers. When it was introduced in the late 1990s, early sales were brisk, but they quickly slumped. One of the main causes was the warning label required by the Food and Drug Administration, which advised consumers that Olestra could cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea. This unappetizing warning kept customers away; today, Olestra is found only in a handful of products in the U.S. In some countries, such as Canada and the U.K., it was never approved for sale.
Quiche -- a simple dish made from eggs and milk in a pastry crust with a variety of added ingredients -- has been part of French cuisine for centuries. Quiche began to grow in popularity in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s; it was regarded as a trendy and sophisticated food. In the 1980s, eating quiche became a symbol of a pretentious, effete social climber, an attitude captured in the title of the 1982 book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche." Like most cultural attitudes about a particular food, this one faded. Today, people continue to eat quiche, but its inexplicable heyday as a cultural phenomenon is over.
For a short period in the early 1990s, a new product was added to soft drink shelves across the U.S.: clear colas. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola launched clear beverages, complete with massive marketing campaigns and confusing slogans (Crystal Pepsi's tagline was "You've never seen a taste like this," for instance). Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. Pepsi tried to launch a second clear cola, simply called Crystal, in 1994, but met with even less success than it had with Crystal Pepsi. Today, clear colas are a nostalgia item, as inextricably linked with the 1990s as parachute pants.
Originally a Swanson brand name, the term "TV dinner" came to be applied to all single-tray meals cooked in an oven. It was never clear what exactly they had to do with television; they could be eaten while watching TV, of course, but so could sandwiches. Whatever the origin of the name, TV dinners survived in the market for decades despite being notoriously bad. Only the advent of the microwave killed them off by supplanting the oven as the go-to appliance for quick cooking.
Like TV dinners, boil-in-the-bag meals were an attempt to create a complete meal using a simple method; in this case, boiling a plastic bag containing the ingredients in a pot of water. Popular in the 1970s, they waned with the coming of the microwave. Today they can still be found in some countries as a form of military ration; hikers and backpackers similarly make use of them. Critics have sneered at the trend for sous-vide cooking as merely a modern form of boil-in-the-bag.
Graham bread was one of a number of foods promoted by the Reverend Sylvester Graham, a 19th-century advocate of vegetarianism who also felt that refined flour was harmful to the health. In particular, Graham believed that improper diet led people to have more sex than was good for them. Graham bread was one of a number of foods he invented as part of his ideal diet. Graham's diet was briefly popular between the 1860s and the 1880s, but faded away by around 1890. Graham's name survives in Graham crackers, even though they contain refined flour and have little to do with his work.
Fletcherism, popularized by Horace Fletcher in the late 19th and early 20th century, was not a strange food but a strange way of eating. Fletcher, known as "The Great Masticator," recommended that all food be chewed until it had turned to liquid and "swallowed itself." Diners who had chewed their food 100 times should then spit out whatever had not been reduced to liquid. Fletcher attracted a substantial following, but Fletcherism's appeal gradually faded following Fletcher's death in 1919.
Last Chance Diet
Less a food trend than a no-food trend, the Last Chance Diet was a notorious fad diet. Developed by Dr. Robert Linn, the Last Chance Diet required total fasting broken only by occasional drinks of Prolinn, a protein drink made from ingredients including slaughterhouse scraps. The Last Chance Diet was popular in the late 1970s; Linn sold over 2.5 million copies of his book. However, deaths believed to be connected to the diet prompted a Food and Drug Administration investigation that drove Prolinn off the market and put an end to the fad.