Strolling down bad-food memory lane

Bill Mann
Posted 2/21/24

You may not want to read this if you’ve just eaten. 

My family was from Indiana, and here were some of the things that were the mainstay of our Hoosier diet. They may look familiar to …

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Strolling down bad-food memory lane


You may not want to read this if you’ve just eaten. 

My family was from Indiana, and here were some of the things that were the mainstay of our Hoosier diet. They may look familiar to you; I hope not.



Pop Tarts

SwansonTV dinners (Salisbury steak!) 

Instant mashed potatoes

Cranberry sauce, canned only 

Fried bologna sandwiches, with mayo

Peanut butter and mayo (yes, mayo) sandwiches

Oleo (never butter)

Canned soda 

Chocolate milk

Vegetables and fruit, but only canned, or occasionally frozen

Iceberg lettuce

Grilled cheese sandwiches, with Wonder Bread and, of course, Velveeta

Hamburgers and hot dogs, with catsup

Pre-sweetened cereal


My wife’s mother, on the other hand, baked all their bread and had a vegetable garden. My mom, you’ve probably guessed, wasn’t much of a cook or gardener. More like a food reconstituter and assembler. This was the cringeworthy menu many of us nutritionally deprived Boomers ate while growing up. You may have been among us. Come on, admit it! 

We lived on Army bases; Dad was a career officer. I can’t remember ever eating at a restaurant, with one exception, kind of: The base mess hall, where we ate with the troops and where there was usually this sign over the entrance: “Take All You Want. Eat All You Take.” I took, and I ate it all, happily. 

Many of us with such sketchy culinary (so to speak) roots have come a long way since those nutritionally stultifying days. These days, I actually eat such things as kale, chicken, carrots, actual non-boxed potatoes, and many other fresh vegetables. It’s been an uphill nutritional climb, but I credit my wife, plus a recent diagnosis of diabetes, for flattening the learning curve. (Psst … I still keep one relic of my childhood, Spam, in the house. But I hide it from my wife and don’t eat it when she’s around.)

I now try to avoid the middle of the grocery store as much as possible. I can’t remember the last time I had a donut, chips, a soda, or even a piece of cake. Do I miss these things? Not really. Nor do I miss the 25 pounds I’ve dropped. I credit my wife to a large degree. I can’t imagine anyone eating a more consistently nutritious diet. But it took me decades to notice what she was eating.

She does much of our shopping, not surprisingly, at the Co-op. I never had granola, yogurt, or whole-grain bread before I met her.

There were drawbacks along the way. When we lived in Montreal in our 20s, I discovered fine French pastries. I could eat four mille feuilles (Napoléons) at one sitting. Plus, Montreal has what is arguably the best deli food anywhere. If you’ve ever had viande fumée, or smoked meat, you know what I mean. I ballooned up to 260 pounds in Montreal at one point. I was so fat I had to have my shower curtain let out. (Rim shot!)

There’s an old observation that most countries have one distinctive ingredient in their cuisine. Italy has tomato sauce, France has cheese, and Canada has … starch. Canadian kitchens also have an appliance called a blander. I still like bacon and meat loaf, however. Occasionally. Some food habits die hard. 

San Francisco comic Larry Brown has a funny line about his girlfriend chiding him for eating meat. “Plants are MEANT to be eaten,” she tells Brown. To which he responds: “What the hell’s a cow meant to be, an air-traffic controller?” 


You can reach slimmed-down PT humorist Bill Mann at