It’s easy to overlook the 80s; remembered through shoulder pads, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding, and Hollywood. Nothing changed Britain more in 10 years than the jump to the 80s. It was ‘the Birth of Modern Britain’; a decade of ambition and anarchy; challenges and individuality; where out of the chaos came creativity and greed.
The decade truly began on May, 4th, 1979 with the control of Margaret Thatcher. It may have been Queen Elizabeth’s reign, but the 1980s belonged to ‘The Iron Lady’; a phrase fitting for the prime minster who took back the Falklands in 1982. Thatcher’s Britain was a controversial leadership in the UK’s economic history; where socialism didn’t work, but extreme Capitalism definitely didn’t work either.
Britain was scarred by rapid change; like the strike of 1984, the boom of unemployment, the destruction of working communities across Britain - all for a self-serving interest. The experimental economic policies of Thatcher’s government shattered the manufacturing base of the UK, with its aggressive privatisation of public sector companies. Thatcher understood Britain was changing as she came into power, and with her rule plunged Britain into a world of big egos, mass unemployment and class war.
The Birth of a New Era
Fittingly enough, the culture of the 80s was revolutionary. The pop gods and goddesses, the eccentric clothing; shell suits and PVC. Youths were made up of the androgynous heavy metal scene, along with the endogenous ‘pop’ scene. The peacocks of London; the ‘New Romantics’ - were born at the start of the new decade and a new leadership for Britain, not just in terms of politics. Food in a box was about to become infamous.
Ready Meal Appeal?
After the VESTA revolution, all kinds of exotic flavours and foods decorated the supermarket shelves, leaving the hassle of ‘dinner-party’ food for more eclectic eats. The stigma of the domestic goddess had dehydrated like a pack of reconstituted eggs, while the need for convenience food was in massive demand over home-cooking. Not only VESTA, Marks and Spencer and Findus launched a tantalising variety of frozen minute-ready wonders.
With the majority of women under employment, ready meals were a relief to labour-intensive cooking. They pioneered convenience and reflected the increasing curiosity for foreign food thanks to the packaged holiday.
Rising divorce rates meant companies could capitalise on the expectancy of males turning to easy access meals, as homes were fully equipped with fridges, freezers and microwaves – all the gadgets and gizmos needed to create meals in a flash. Recognising the universal affluence of storing frozen food, companies invested in the commercial opportunities associated with it.
Marks and Spencer
1979 not only brought with it Mags and her monetarist policies, but also the beloved crumb-coated, garlic breast. Marks and Spencers released its ready-made chicken kiev; a never before seen ‘chilled’ meal that pleased consumers and their growing awareness towards fresher food.
A year later Marks and Spencer re-launched their sandwiches but pre-packed, first introduced in 1927 served from their ice-cream counters. It was the ideal quick-eat solution for workers, popping out of the office to enjoy the convenience of freshly made sandwiches of the day.
Turning a great profit, Marks and Spencer marketed its most popular sandwich flavour the following year in 1981 – prawn mayonnaise. There’s been a dramatic change of favourite sandwich flavours, BLT, chicken mayonnaise and tuna and cheese are traditional preferences of sandwich fillings.
The Fashion of Fast Food
American diners from the 50s were just the beginning of fast food. Up until the 1980s, Chinese and Indian cuisine had dominated preference of accessible ready meals. The market for convenience food was soaring and this decade saw the goldmine of fast food chains arriving from overseas.
The first overseas branch landed in Preston, Lancashire in 1965, with the second largest favourite fast food industry – KFC. Fried chicken challenged the notorious dominance of diner burgers, adding diversity to the strong preference of fast food. The question as golden as their succulent chicken is, what exactly are the 11 secret spices that insatiably take hold of our taste buds? Many have speculated and the most-sensical ingredient we can name is MSG.
Reigning supreme as king of fast food is none other than McDonalds. Children and foodies of the 1980s could instantly recognise the golden arches and the horrifying experience of meeting Ronald McDonald. McDonalds became surrounded by the youths of the 80s, opening its first franchise in the UK in 1974, and soaring into the world’s favourite fast food.
The Televised Appeal
Television could make things happen for everyone, not just MTV. Part of the appeal of marketing fast food were the aesthetics and presentation. Readers can easily watch Supersize Me to know that the first ever fast food chains originally did use actual ‘meat’ and fresh produce.
Bar what actually consists of McDonalds chicken nuggets or KFC’s chickens, there were many tricks of the trade to make food look fresh, appetising and edible. Once food is cooked, food looses steam or shine, or the gleam of melting cheese can dull before the shot is filmed or taken. Sometimes food just doesn’t fulfil what the camera wants, and consequently props are used.
Milk can make cereal soggy in a matter of minutes. Similar in consistency and colour – glue, shampoo and sometimes yoghurt were used as a substitute for milk. Each of these handy items can be used to keep cereal afloat and looking crisp. With just the smallest layer of milk on top, a massive layer of glue or shampoo would be underneath to keep the cereal intact.
Steam from food fresh out of the oven or a pot can cleverly be substituted with micro waved cotton or sponges hidden somewhere in the food. Fresh grapes dripping water and condensation deeming them fresh actually aren’t. Hair spray and spray on deodorants liven up all kinds of veg. A favourite amongst many photographers, is mashed potato to stuff out burritos, ice-cream and useful to inject into meat to ‘plump it up’. (Ironic, compared to what factory farms stuff their animals with - more on this in the 1990s).
Which Way Next?
It appeared fast food was becoming a comfort for Britain, undergoing such change, economically and politically. Thatcher’s tenure brought a cascade of societal shifts in Britain, leaving many struggling to prosper in the vastly changing country. Tarnished by the bitter miner’s strikes and aggressive privatisation, the decade was remembered by two divides.
One, was a support of her economic renovations for an aging economy, seeing her re-elected for three terms. The other was a mass unemployed deteriorating belief in the blood sport of politics; Thatchers was loathed by the working class and unintentionally inspired a new era of youth and culture.
Though fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC opened in the 1970s, they exploded into popularity in the 80s. Seen in films of the decade like Grease (1979), Diner (1982) and Footloose (1984), fast food was quickly evolving into a controversial industry of health concerns by the 90s.