A sampling of the screwball comedies, sob stories, and sci-fis that anticipated our culinary moment
At a time when chefs, restaurateurs, and recipe-makers are racing to bring back the trends of yesteryear or to put contemporary twists on old comestibles, it’s striking when their pop culture genealogy gets overlooked. Sift through the annals of screwball comedy, fantasy adventure, and science fiction, and you will discover a secret history of zany, pop cultural accounts that foreshadow the current culinary moment. Here is just a handful of our faves.
Your Show of Shows (1950-54)
Years before Nordic food genius René Redzepi shocked the world with edible floral arrangements and meals made of seaweed and vegetables he discovered near his Copenhagen restaurant, Charles (Sid Caesar) discovered the joys of foraging at the table while eating at a “Health Food” restaurant with his doting wife, Doris (Imogene Coca). And to think, he didn’t even have to wait six months for a reservation.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71)
Though her Beverly Hills neighbors were left nonplussed, Granny Moses (Irene Ryan), the beloved matriarch of the Clampett clan, was way ahead of today’s 100-mile diet trend. Her boiled buzzard, gopher gravy and possum pot pie ingredients were sourced straight from the backyard. Now that is local.
Gilligan’s Island (1964-67)
Long before vegan cupcake shops populated the American landscape with their agave-sweetened, faux-bacon crumble topping, Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells) turned the tropical bounty surrounding her into Gilligan’s (Bob Denver) favorite desert isle dessert. The irresistible appeal of Mary Ann’s vegan coconut cream pie became a running gag on the show, though it would’ve never occurred to the modest Winfield, Kan., farm girl to blog about her recipe.
Genetically Modified Foods
Long before genetically modified food created supersize produce and factory farming led to the growth of chickens with double D breasts, there was Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) in a future maybe not even 200 years from now.
Three’s Company (1977-84)
Before Jack Tripper (John Ritter), people would look at you twice if you were an American male chef. Nowadays, Michael Voltaggio, Curtis Stone, and Spike Mendelsohn make it easy to forget that Tripper was deconstructing culinary conversations around gender—not to mention, regaling his two female roommates with chauvinistic repartee more than 30 years ago.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
In the 1970s, a movie character drinking a shake made of whipped liver, alfalfa sprouts, bean curd, and spinach just had to be from Los Angeles. So was the case with LA Rams quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty), who consumes one of these potent potions before an overeager angel preemptively books him a one-way ticket to the pearly gates—even though the gridiron great hadn’t actually died. Thirty-five years later, protein shakes account for nearly 50 percent of the sports nutrition market, proving that the titular character of Heaven Can Wait was ahead of his time in more ways than one.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Despite Willie Scott’s (Kate Capshaw) utter revulsion to the platters of bugs served to her during a feast at Bangkok Palace, Temple of Doom at least acknowledged the fact that outside the confines of North America eating bugs can be quite common. Thirty years after the fact, artisanal producers in North America and organizations targeting hunger in developing nations are increasingly advocating for the use of cricket or grasshopper flour as a high-protein, cost-effective ingredient. As of now, chilled monkey brains have yet to catch on.
Illustrations by Nathan Huang