Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016

It’s the New Year, traditionally a time to look back in reflection and ahead with hope. In that spirit, please enjoy some of Mister B’s hand-picked favorites from 2016.

Boomers and Torn Jeans: The Evolution from Time-to-Replace to High Fashion
Our mothers fretted over our torn “dungarees” only to find a decade later that torn jeans were part of the fashion scene.

Boomers Twisted the Night Away
Mister Boomer explored the origin of the Twist.

Boomers Loved Gene Pitney Songs
Early to mid-boomers probably count Gene Pitney among their favorite singers of the ’60s.

Boomers Heard the Quotes of Their History
We were there, man!

Boomers Benefited from Space Products
Are you aware of space technology in your everyday lives?

Boomers Will Recall 1966
Fifty years ago from the year that just passed, the times they were a’-changin’.

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now
The local pharmacy sure has changed since we were boomer kids. Here is a comparison.

Boomers and Bikinis Just Went Together
The role of the bikini in boomer-era movies is iconic and undeniably modern for the time.

Boomers Have Lived Through Many Eves of Destruction
The song reverberates even today.

Boomers Gladly Went Where No One Had Gone Before
2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the original Star Trek on TV.

Boomers’ Diets Have Changed Over 50 Years
Boomers watched the era of convenience foods enter the picture, and the American diet.

Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”
The technology employed in The Flintstones mimicked the space-age devices that were common in boomer households. The major difference was instead of electrically-powered devices, the action of the devices was powered by animals.

Here’s to another great year, and hoping your 2017 is boomer-ific!

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Boomer Families Stretched A Meal

Recently, Mister Boomer came across a report that flatly stated there was an uptick in sales of meal extenders — those “food accessories” designed to bolster a family budget by stretching a meal’s protein with spices, grains and/or sauces. The report did not attempt to explain the increase in sales, though one might conclude the cost of feeding a family has something to do with it.

It got Mister Boomer reminiscing, that stretching a meal was nothing new in his family … and he thought other boomers might agree. Boomer families tended to have more children than today, which is a reason in and of itself to try and extend the food budget. Even when families could afford more than the generation before them, boomer parents lived through the Great Depression, and a good many had the mindset that extending any and every food was the natural order of things. Rationing during World War II reinforced their practices, so they continued their frugal ways into the Boomer Era. In Mister B’s experience, mothers of boomers regularly stretched a meal by creatively using leftovers, adding grains such as rice, egg noodles or pasta, or making soup.

As the Boomer Era progressed, there were three store-bought meal stretchers that became household words in boomer families: Rice-A-Roni, Hamburger Helper and Manwich.

The first of these meal extenders was Rice-A-Roni, created by Vince DeDemenico in 1958 for his family’s noodle business. Based on a rice pilaf, he concocted a recipe of dried chicken soup mix combined with rice and macaroni (today the product consists of rice, vermicelli pasta and seasonings). All a consumer had to do was add water and chicken to the box mix to create a meal. Originally sold in the Northwestern United States, the product went national in 1962, prompting the tagline, “The San Francisco Treat.”
Mister Boomer’s mother, always wanting to be up with any trend that would save her time in the kitchen, tried Rice-A-Roni once, and that was enough. She didn’t like it, and neither did Mister B and his siblings.

Basically Sloppy Joe mix in a can, Hunts introduced Manwich in 1969. Libby’s had a Sloppy Joe can mix in the 1960s also. Some say the Sloppy Joe sandwich was an off-shoot of loose meat sandwiches popularized in 1930s, while others say WWII food rationing set the stage stage for Sloppy Joes. Tomato paste, dehydrated onions, oregano, garlic and red and green peppers in one can made the Sloppy Joe not only economical but also quick and easy to prepare.

Mister Boomer’s mother made Sloppy Joes fairly regularly, because it was a cheap meal. Before there was Manwich, she sauteed some onions, hamburger and green peppers, and stirred in tomato paste. Mister B and his siblings constructed their own, grabbing hamburger buns and scooping the stuff on the bread until it oozed over the sides. There didn’t seem to be a need to buy Manwich.

Hamburger Helper
In the 1920s, hamburger was not a favored meat. It was considered “unclean” by the nature of its contents and grinding. This is why, in the 1930s, White Castle was so named and its employees dressed in all white — to change public perception. The company even commissioned a scientific report on the wholesomeness of its hamburgers. The success of McDonald’s (founded 1948), Burger King (1954) and Wendy’s (1969) forever sealed a place for hamburger meat in the American cuisine. By 1971, more women were in the workforce, and the need for quick meals was peaking. General Mills debuted Hamburger Helper, advertising that all that was needed was one pan, a pound of hamburger and their box. Very quickly there were several flavors, all of which combined macaroni or noodles with a sauce and the consumer-added hamburger. It was immediately successful, so a Tuna Helper version joined the original in 1972.

Mister Boomer does recall his household having Hamburger Helper every now and then, because his sister liked it, and she was a picky eater.

Stretching the proteins was a normal part of each week’s meal planning for Mister B’s family. Yet the packaged goods that promised quick and easy meals didn’t hold much sway in his household. Mister Boomer’s mother, like many other boomer mothers, preferred the old methods of adding rice as a side dish; making hot dogs and a can of pork and beans; shredding leftover chicken in chicken cacciatore; making scalloped potatoes casseroles with leftover ham, and using the ham bone to make pea soup.

How did your family stretch a meal, boomers?

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Boomers’ Diets Have Changed Over 50 Years

While the average American is one and a half inches taller than fifty years ago, we weigh about 25 pounds more. There are many culprits that have contributed to this increase, of course, most notably our intake of sugar, salt and fat, and penchant for less activity than people expended in the world we grew up in as young boomers.

Think back to 1966, and what your family was doing and eating. More meals were served in the home than eaten outside the home; a good portion of boomer fathers were involved in manufacturing jobs, which were far more physical than today’s desk assignments; kids spent much more time outside in physical activities; and consumption of sugary drinks and desserts, though much higher than they were in the decades before the War, were a fraction of what they are now. Food was more locally sourced, and by definition, fresher.

Enter the big food companies. Since the dawn of food commercialization, food manufacturers have been making claims that their products were good for you, or even better for you than the fresher counterparts. By the 1950s, many companies were funding studies that would suport their claims. Chief among them were studies by the vegetable oil industry. These studies concluded that polyunsaturated vegetable oils were actually better for the American diet than butter, lard and other saturated fats. Even the American Heart Association jumped on the bandwagon in the early 1960s. However, other studies as far back as the early 1950s pointed to the increase in cardiovascular disease and subsequent deaths that were occurring as proof the claims were false.

In 1900, cardiovascular disease was practically non-existent in the population. Fifty years later at the dawn of the Boomer Era, it was killing one third of Americans. Contradictory studies were showing that an increase in polyunsaturated fat consumption was contributing to higher cholesterol levels and clogged arteries, leading to an increase in heart disease not seen before the beginning of packaged foods and polyunsaturated fats.

In 1966, the American Medical Association sponsored and aired a program combating the health claims put forth by the vegetable oil industry, but for the most part, it fell on deaf ears. If your boomer family was anything like Mister Boomer’s, packaged foods and modern formulations represented progress and prosperity, so what could be wrong with that? Besides, they brought convenience and longer product shelf-life, and that allowed for more time to spend with the family.

As time went on and we boomers aged, we became addicted to the fast food that was a novelty for many of us in the 1950s and ’60s. The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recent study states that the average American consumes nearly a ton of food per year; twenty-three pounds of that is pizza alone. And according to the Huffington Post, the average restaurant meal is now FOUR times larger than it was in the 1950s. In other words, we are eating much more than we did fifty years ago.

Like the lobster in the pot of water that is slowly reaching a boil, we were lulled into thinking everything was fine, even though information was available to tell us otherwise. In a time before the Internet, getting that information wasn’t as straightforward as it is today — and now we find ourselves in the realization that the Boomer Generation’s youngest members are over 50. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, blood pressure, and more, are increasing at an alarming rate. Is this our way of checking out early, so “Hope I die before get old” becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy? Or should we now grasp the freedom we said we always wanted to control our own destiny, and overcome another seemingly insurmountable challenge?

What are you doing to improve your diet and health these days, boomers?

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Boomers Had Sunday Family Dinners

Mister Boomer is feeling nostalgic again. This time it was a smell that triggered it. He picked up a cooking aroma wafting through the air that was hard to identify in particular, yet got Mister B’s flashback machine in gear. Of course food smells have always been able to click the nostalgia meter for boomers, and everyone else for that matter. Mr. B can’t imagine sniffing a certain brand of bread crumbs without immediately being transported to his grandmother’s kitchen, and ultimately to her breaded pork chops. That led Mister B to recall Sunday dinners.

When most boomers were growing up, every night was family dinner night, but Sunday dinners were often more special. In Mister B’s case, Sunday dinner in the 1950s and early ’60s were spent at his maternal grandparents’ house. Meals were wholesome and simple, and were shared family style with aunts, uncles and cousins. It was the addition of family that extended the meal from simple sustenance to something more meaningful.

The dinners also spoke very much of the expected roles in early boomer days of parents, children, men and women in the preparation and eating of the meal. Women were expected to prepare all of the food, while men were expected to stay out of their way, which generally meant drinking beer in the backyard, and possibly playing cards in the process. Mister B still remembers his mother and each of his aunts donning an apron as soon as they entered the kitchen. Sometimes the kids set the table, knowing where grandma kept the regular dishes and flatware. Naturally cloth napkins and a cloth tablecloth were part of the table setting; in Mister B’s family, paper products were used for camping trips and outdoor grilling.

When the meal was ready, the kids were separated from the adults in the formal dining room. Depending on how many cousins arrived, the kids could be at one end of the long dining room table, or have a kids’ table to themselves. As a general rule, parents did not speak to their children during the dinner, unless it pertained to the food. Likewise, children were expected to speak among themselves, and not interfere with the adult conversation in any way.  For good measure, the aunts and uncles might speak in their parents’ native tongue to be sure to keep the conversation away from young ears.

After the meal was finished, the men and children went back to what they were doing before dinner, while the women set up a dish washing process. No one in Mister B’s family had a dishwasher until the late 1960s, and even then, it was the aunt and uncle who bought the new house with the built-in appliances. Nonetheless, Mister B could observe a jovial and spirited conversation — in another language — among his aunts, grandmother and mother while the work was being done.

While John Kennedy was president, both of Mister Boomer’s grandfathers passed away, causing both grandmothers to move from their houses. The family dinners didn’t happen as often any more, as space became an even bigger factor. That’s when Mister Boomer’s mother cooked up her own Sunday family dinners.

Sunday dinners in Mister B’s house consisted mainly of chicken, prepared the way his father liked it, and chicken soup. It was not really to Mister B’s liking, as his mother was cooking-challenged. He preferred the Sunday spaghetti dinners with the tomato sauce and meatballs that had been on the stove all day.

Unlike the earlier Sunday dinners at his grandparents’ houses, at home the family did talk to each other during dinner. The TV, however, was always turned off. Mister Boomer’s sister was good at controlling the conversation to discuss the goings on in her life, from Barbie accessories to spats with neighborhood kids. School was rarely a big topic at dinner. Mister B’s parents didn’t have to ask if the kids had done their homework before heading to school on Monday, because the chances were good that any weekend homework would have been done on Friday evening.

When the meal was finished, it was the kids who cleared the table and washed the dishes. Mister B’s mom would tackle the bigger pots and pans later.

These days, during the week, each family member goes their own way, even at an early age, so family dinners are already on the endangered list. Sunday dinners, for some families, are the last stand for family gatherings, and from what Mister B hears, are becoming rare. The presence of distractions like TVs, tablets and phones during the dinner — that were not there when boomers were young — adds to the disconnect among family members.

For Mister B, Sunday dinners were about more than a meal, and the meals became memorable, too. Did you have memorable Sunday family dinners, boomers?

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Mister Boomer Turns Six

It’s our anniversary! We’re starting our sixth year of talkin’ ’bout our generation at misterboomer.com. A look back at the posts that marked the beginning of each of our new years reveals our mission to explore the personal connections we boomers had to the historical revolution that was the post-war years. This week, click the title of these previous postings and recall where you were when …

2010: The Sweet Taste of Success
Remember when we were young, and sugar was a good thing? Companies, in fact, thought so much of sugar that they could openly advertise their products as made with the real deal. No one advertised with more gusto than the cereal companies, and of course, we all remember those classic commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks.

2011: Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Yes, we are old enough to remember when air conditioning first began to be popular in new cars.

2012: Boomers and Pens: A Nib and a Click
Boomers lived directly in the path of the changeover from fountain pen to ballpoint pen and on to disposable pen.

2013: Boomers Said: “A Penny for Your Shoes”
Legend has it placing a “lucky penny” in a shoe was derived from the practice of putting a penny in a bride’s shoe on her wedding day to give the couple good luck and wealth. The penny loafer became a big deal for early boomers when Ivy League students began wearing them with their khakis.

2014: Boomers Said, “Let’s All Go to the Movies!”
Going to the movies was a real event for Baby Boomers. Movies and matinees and drive-ins … oh my!

2015: The Boomer Era Had Its Scandals
It’s hard to see any media these days without running into some sort of corruption and scandal. Yet we tend to forget that this is nothing new; the boomer era had its share of political, corporate and personal scandals as well. Two of the most famous involve the entertainment industry: the Quiz Show Scandal and the Payola Scandal.

Keep coming back to misterboomer.com each week for a look back at the way we were, how we grew, and who we became because of it all. Subscribe to the RSS feed and get notification whenever a new post is published. And, tell all your friends and neighbors to drop in through the Facebook link, too! Thank you for five memory-packed years!

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Boomer Food Habits Are Changing With the Times

While the Millennial Generation has now surpassed the Boomer Generation in sheer numbers, boomers are still a force to be reckoned with, as marketing executives admit. The entire country is slowly but surely shifting its eating habits as people are embracing healthier choices (however they define that) and more organic products. This has some big brand companies in a tizzy. After decades of ruling the roost as boomers grew up with them, some of their products are now in danger of disappearing altogether. Newer generations are eschewing the big brands in favor of smaller, more innovative companies with products that speak to their tastes.

Now word comes that unless intervention is undertaken, Campbell’s Soup is on the endangered species list. More than likely there wasn’t a boomer household anywhere that didn’t keep a few cans of Campbell’s soup in their pantry; tomato, chicken noodle and mushroom were only three of the many super-popular choices. Mothers of boomers relied on Campbell’s soups to use in their family recipes, from tomato soup on a meat loaf; to the big daddy tradition-king of them all, cream of mushroom soup, green bean and fried onions Thanksgiving casserole; and beyond. In a pinch, especially when moms headed back into the workforce in the late sixties and early seventies, Campbell’s Soup was a quick and very economical way to feed a growing family.

Campbell’s, recognizing the needs of growing boomer families, advertised their wholesome taste with a popular, decades-long “M-m-m-m Good!” ad campaign that made it a household name. Boomers’ moms loved the convenience of the can and versatility of the product. No one was watching the sodium content at the time. Nowadays, phrases like “salt in a can” have been used to describe the very tomato soup that many a boomer gladly consumed with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cereal is another boomer staple that is endangered. Sales of cereal have been steadily dropping for twenty years. True, we were served up a heaping helping of sugar in many of the most popular brands, but there were others, such as Cheerios, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies, that would actually fit well in the less-sugar-and-salt society we are becoming — if Gen Xers and Millennials were interested in cereal, that is. They do not share the same level of attachment that boomers did to their morning food ritual. They prefer breakfast sandwiches, smoothies and yogurt. When they do consume cereal, it is more often than not whole grain, organic granolas or hot cereals.

Some companies, like Hormel, are looking to replace the negative “big brand” label imposed by later generations by acquiring younger, more nimble companies. Others, such as General Mills, have stated they aren’t ready to give up on the boomer market just yet. Nearly half of all boomers say the brands they knew as kids are still among their favorites. In General Mills’ case, Honey Nut Cheerios has been a growing product for the company, both among boomers and younger consumers. You will see the company’s two-pronged approach to this multi-generational marketing in their current commercials. One line talks about keeping boomer hearts healthy with Cheerios while the other drops the touch-of-honey taste theme for Honey Nut Cheerios.

Kellogg’s, a ubiquitous cereal brand for boomers, is also reinvesting in the boomer market and is predicting an increase in cereal sales this year. Boomers could hardly envision a day when they would see Special K — the brand many boomer mothers chose as a diet aid — now having a line containing quinoa.

Others, like Pillsbury, Green Giant and even “late-comers” like Häagen-Dasz, are working to retool their products for America’s changing tastes, with an eye on keeping their share of the boomer market intact.

How all this will work out is not at all certain. We may see a day, soon, when products we loved as kids will no longer be available. We saw that happening with Twinkies recently, destined for the history bins until a smaller company decided to buy the rights and keep it going. What is certain is that today’s generations do not share the same likes as our boomer generation; nor do they share the brand loyalty we picked up from our parents, and, for a good many of us, kept going with our families.

Are you still loyal to the brands you enjoyed as kids, boomers? Do you still buy Campbell’s soup?

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