15 Weirdest Food Trends of the ‘80s
The ‘80s were a crazy time for everyone, from the most powerful Gordon Gekko clones to those who were just trying to get their groove on but nevertheless had to wear stupid neon pants, and perhaps no one was more confused than food companies. Over the course of this decade that was mostly fueled by cocaine and hairspray, they apparently figured that what we actually ate didn’t much matter and took the opportunity to get weird with it.
After its much-hyped launch in 1985, New Coke crashed and burned so bad its name has become synonymous with failure. Everyone can learn a lesson here: Do not buckle to the Pepsi Challenge.
The success of Diet Coke in 1982 perhaps led the company to fly too close to the sun. It kicked off a whole slew of “light” drinks, like Crystal Light and Bud Light, in response to the burgeoning health craze. Sure, they’re not actually much better for you than their non-diet counterparts, but you can’t blame people for being desperate. Those leotards were not forgiving.
Likewise, Stouffer’s launched their line of “healthy” frozen dinners in 1981, and within two years, Lean Cuisine was so popular that grocery stores frequently ran out. It’s not clear whether this was because a tiny squirt of reconstituted potatoes and a fistful of salt are so unsatisfying that you had to eat five at a time or people actually liked them.
If all that Lean Cuisine and Diet Coke left you sobbing for even one slice of bacon, there was a product for that, too. Sizzlean was a Frankenbacon of various meats pulverized beyond recognition, but at least it -- yeah, nope, it still had almost as much fat as regular bacon.
The height of commercialism brought with it the height of pop culture or celebrity tie-in products. You could eat your Pac-Man cereal with some Star Wars cookies on the side and an Ecto Cooler and never worry that someone wasn’t trying to sell you something every second of the day.
At some point in the mid ‘80s, McDonald’s realized that if they could just work out the only American favorite they didn’t yet serve, they could be gods. Fortunately for all of us, they never managed to get the price low enough or the cooking process fast enough for the McPizza to be sustainable in the long term, and by the ‘90s, the whole thing seemed like a drunken fever dream.
Taco Bell Burgers
While McDonald’s was busy trying to take over the world, Taco Bell used the distraction to weasel in on the burger business with, so help us God, the Bell Beefer. Everyone was trying to be something they weren’t.
Hubba Bubba Soda
The madness of brands veering wildly out of their lines continued with Hubba Bubba Soda, because who wouldn’t want to drink bubble gum? Everyone, it turns out. Incidentally, it was also available in diet, because just because you were chugging chewy sugar didn’t mean you had to be intemperate.
Dr Pepper Gum
Even though their soda failed, Hubba Bubba remained determined to get into the soda game and finally found a winner (?) in soda-flavored gum with liquid centers, answering the question, “What if Gushers, but it lasts way longer than anyone wants?”
The ‘80s were a wild time for the chewing gum business, which also insisted on announcing “Have some practice chaw, kids!” with the introduction of Big League Chew in 1980. The shredded strands of stickiness looked just like that weird-smelling stuff all their favorite baseball players and least-favorite uncle were always chewing.
In the mid ‘80s, beverage manufacturers discovered an untapped market of people who couldn’t handle a dry white wine or hoppy beer that nevertheless wanted to get fucked up, so they went all in on the wine cooler. Early wine coolers were more like bottled mimosas, but in true ‘80s fashion, they got more and more extreme until purveyors realized they didn’t even need to contain wine, making way for hard lemonade and cider to become the stepping stone of choice between baby and big kid drinks for high school shoplifters.
All the way back in the ‘60s, a Spanish barbecuist and history buff got the idea to marry slow-roasted meats with live jousting, and twenty years later, his weird fetish came to life in the form of the first Medieval Times restaurant, which opened in 1983. Of course, it was in Florida.
Arguably the unholiest food to rise to power in the ‘80s was the Steak-umm, a thin slice of frozen beef that went national when it was acquired by Heinz in 1980. Sure, you could just grill a steak in the time it took to thaw, but the concept of beef doesn’t have a sassy Twitter account, now, does it?
The award for the most thoroughly ‘80s product, however, goes to the McDLT, a McDonald’s hamburger that came in a special polystyrene container that separated all the cold ingredients from the hot ones, to be assembled just prior to eating by the customer so as not to wilt those crisp, fresh veggies McDonald’s is known for. It was obscenely wasteful, totally unnecessary, and mostly ineffective. It was perfectly ‘80s.
Fast Food Buffets
In the days of the universal salad bar, every fast food restaurant wanted in on the bar action, and we don’t mean hotel mini fridges stashed in PlayPlaces for weary parents. Pizza Hut, of course, had a buffet to accompany their obsolete dine-in service, KFC offered trays of pudding and chicken gizzards, Taco Bell challenged diners to all-you-can-eat cheap burritos, Burger King’s traditional salad bar went largely ignored, but the Wendy’s Superbar was the true MVP, offering salad, pasta, and a “Mexican Fiesta.” Honestly, we should bring this one back. Two words, friends: Wendy’s nachos.
Top image: YouTube