I noticed it recently whilst looking at a photo of president Kennedy in the Cadillac, just before he approached the grassy Noel. It wasn't him who caught my eye as such, it was the crowd. They were thin. All of them. Not one fatty in the bunch.
There are a myriad of explanations as to why our 1960s and 70's counterparts were so much thinner than us and so much healthier. Is it sugar? High Fructose Corn Syrup? Trans-Fats? Processed food? Or could it be more simple than that? Human behaviour. Back then there simply was no temptation. People could refrain from fatty, sugar laden junk because it was much harder to come by. They were no better than us. No more well behaved. They didn't have super human will power, they just didn't have the means to get fat.
My father grew up in 1950s New Zealand on a produce farm. Processed food was relatively scarce. Families were larger and family income was lower as less mothers worked. The most common breakfast food was porridge, followed closely by weetbix. For lunch it was simple sandwiches of cheese or golden syrup and fruit plucked from fruit trees in the backyard. Dinner was meat and three veg. The latter came from the veggie garden, while the former probably from the local butcher or someone's home kill. There were no after school stops at the shops for lollies because there were no shops for miles. There was no quick nipping in to grab a burger at the diner because there was no diner.
My grandmother told me of when she was younger. For a treat her and her siblings would dig deep into the brown sugar bag and search for the big congealed lumps. They were their lollies. Their special treats. Other than that and at Easter (where they got an orange and a small bit of chocolate at church) and Christmas (where they had an annual feast) that was it.
Of course there was baking. That was the only way you ever got to eat baked goods. But baking wasn't quite the same as it is today. Nowadays there are ready made boxes of mix for sale at the store. Full of choc bits or M&Ms. Back in the day you'd be lucky if you added some dried fruit to your scones. And if you dared heat up the oven you made damn good use of the cost of that electricity! You made scones, cakes, loaves and biscuits. It was a full days work and all the girls in the family had to help.
In the 1950s in America there were limited eatery options. The first fast food chains to open were Carl's Jr (known then as Carl's Drive in Barbecue) and McDonalds (Formerly McDonalds Bar-B-Q). There were only a few of each of these restaurants at this time, both of which were in California. Other than that there were independently owned diners. But not many. No where near as many as there are today, where temptation of some kind lurks around every corner.
Today we have donut stands. At the Supermarket there are ready-to-eat baked goods (my Achilles heal). There are coffee houses offering cake, pie, coffees full of sugar. There are croinuts. There are Double Down burgers at KFC. There are things out there no one should eat. Ever. But they are out there, so we can. And sometimes we do. Too much.
We are human. Our ancestors were human too. The only reason that they were thinner than us is because they didn't have all the high calorie, artery clogging, waistline enhancing treats on offer like we do. If they did they would have fallen victim to said treats just the same.
We have it harder that our forebears, for we must learn restraint. It is much harder to abstain from something when it is right in front of you all day long. When at every turn we have choices like whether or not to add cream to our cappuccino or how about some vanilla syrup in that latte? First world problems yes. But problems none the less.
Personally I try to remind myself that eating crap makes me feel crap. And eating like my grandparents do makes me feel great! That's my general motto. If my Grandmother wouldn't have put it on my fathers plate, then do I really want it on mine? It's good to try new things and to have treats, but that's what they are -treats. A sometimes food.
Right now, I am trying to be grateful that I live in a time where I can buy my kids Easter eggs for Easter, instead of having to make them myself. But I am also trying very hard to forget that said Easter eggs are in the pantry. I can't see them, but I know they're there.