I grew up in a area of Sydney filled with ‘disadvantaged schools’ and housing commission flats, often occupied by alcoholics and drug addicts living alongside struggling families who had nowhere else to live. In the other houses there were a lot of young families, particularly European and Middle Eastern migrants, who moved into the area because it was cheap and it was the only way they could afford to buy a house. And on top of all that, it was an area where the government decided to temporarily house hundreds of Vietnamese refugees. In short, the phrase ‘melting pot’ was used every time the area ended up in the newspaper. Which was often.
My family was, comparatively, reasonably well off. My mum grew up in the area long before the migration and government housing boom started – in fact the area was mostly bush – and my parents built a house in the 60s in what was then an exciting new housing development. Although it could be a rough area, it wasn’t like that where I lived. There was, however, still a fair amount of poverty in the area – people who struggled to make ends meet and who relied on government unemployment or disability benefits.
As is always the case in lower socio-economic areas, people didn’t eat particularly well. Added to that, it was the 70s and fresh vegetables really weren’t always the big deal they are today – and even when we had them, it was normal for them to be boiled to a limp, tasteless, sloshy mess. Convenience foods and packaged foods, however, were still fairly new and exciting. As a result, I ate a lot of what I would call non-foods when I was growing up.
These are, to my surprise (ar ar), still available. I know what you’re thinking… frozen peas. Oh, if only. These are dried peas. I can still remember the sound of their dessicated little bodies rattling around in that packet. Now, the whole concept of dried peas confuses me. I know that peas can be purchased fresh, but in reality hardly anyone buys them that way. We buy them frozen. When you want to eat them you chuck a handful into boiling water (or, these days, the microwave) and a few minutes later they’re good to go. So how are dried peas more convenient? Surely they would take longer to cook because they have to rehydrate as well as heat up. I can understand these peas might be convenient to take camping, or to use if you didn’t have a freezer, but otherwise? They seem like a waste of effort. And thus began my lifelong dislike of peas.
(We, by the way, did not go camping. And our freezer worked perfectly well.)
Although I remember seeing this in our pantry, I don’t particularly remember eating it. Deb Instant Mashed Potato. I actually had to Google it because I wasn’t sure how they worked. Apparently, instant mashed potatoes are made of real potatoes that have been cooked, mashed and dehydrated. To prepare them, you add hot water or milk, “producing a close approximation of mashed potatoes”, but with more salt and much less dietary fibre or nutrients. Well, win! I’ve also just checked the price online. A 115g packet (I’ve no idea how much this makes, reconstituted) is $1.94, or $16.87/kg. Brushed potatoes, on the other hand, are currently $1.98/kg. Add $1.25 for a litre of milk and $1.49 for a block of butter and you could still make mashed potatoes for a large family for a fraction of the price of Deb. And, you know, they’ll be actual mashed potato, not “a close approximation”. But hey, with Deb you can probably save a good… ten minutes. Totally worth it!
Ah, Tang. Not orange juice, not orange cordial, not… anything. Tang stands alone. I can still feel the grittiness at the bottom of the glass when it didn’t dissolve properly. Which was always. It was… strange. I really have nothing else to say about Tang, but in ‘researching’ it I discovered that the scientist who invented Tang also invented Pop Rocks. Remember that gritty stuff that exploded in your mouth? Oh, it was so cool. There was, and probably still is, an urban legend that eating Pop Rocks and then drinking Coke will cause your stomach to explode. Like all good urban legends, there was even a rumour of a child actor who OMG DIED!!! doing exactly that. The rumour was so widespread and persistent that the FDA in America set up a hotline to answer the questions of concerned parents, and the manufacturers sent letters to school principals, created an open letter to parents, took out advertisements in major publications and sent the inventor on tour to explain why the rumour was false. That’s one awesome urban legend. Hats off to whoever started it.
I will admit here that I do still buy milk powder, but not to drink. I use it in bread recipes, and it’s great. Although oddly yellow – is that to make it look like “creamy” milk when you drink it? Anyway, I can kind of get why you might have this around, if you run out of fresh milk or something. But honestly, that’s no excuse for making me drink the stuff. Drinking fresh milk does not agree with me these days, but when I was a kid it was my drink of choice. I loved it, and drank several glasses a day. So when we ran out of milk and my mother helpfully made up a jug of powdered milk, I was excited. Yay, milk! Except, NO. It does NOT taste like milk. That moment of tasting it remains one of the bitter disappointments of my life. Right up there with carob. It’s not chocolate… so why does it look like it?? So disappointing.
Those are some of the non-foods of my childhood, which are partly the result of living where I did and partly the result of living in the 70s. What awful excuses for real food were you forced to eat as a child?