The American Plate: Dining in the 70’s

Updated 10/2/2020

West Coast Cuisine: Alice Waters

The 1970’s ushered in many new innovations in the world of food. In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley, California and changed the definition of salad. Instead of the old iceburg lettuce wedge of previous times, she used everything from fresh mixed greens to goat cheese. A three-course meal costs less than $8.00.

She also had a passion for Mediterranean cooking, not yet popular in the U.S. She went against the previous decades of prepackaged foods and her mantra was fresh foods, simply prepared. She promoted a new concept dubbed “California Cuisine” which spread through the rest of the country. She shunned factory farms, and promoted food that come from the farm to the table as quickly as possible. This philosophy is growing currently as a national movement.

A standard at health food restaurants across the country, carrot cake was ubiquitous, Grated carrots made it  a nutritious choice, or so the thinking went.

Another landmark in food in 1971 began when three friends opened a coffee house in Seattle, Washington. They named it after a character in Herman Melville’s 19th century novel, Moby Dick – Starbucks, the chief mate on the Pequod, a whaling ship .

Fat Attack and Veganism

In 1977, an American committee of the U.S. senate led by George McGovern published the first Dietary Goals For The United States in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease in the country at the time. The trend still exists in that heart disease still is the number one “killer” in the U.S. The guidelines generally suggested that fat was the culprit in our diets; soon food manufacturers began removing the fat and when that happens, sugar is added. So carbs were in and fat was out.

A young doctor named Dean Ornish recommended that heart attack patients change their diets drastically and promoted “heart-healthy” recipes. The American Heart Association adopted these recommendations and soon restaurants were soon displaying heart symbols on menu items that were approved to be healthy. Dr. Ornish stressed a change in lifestyle approach to treat and prevent coronary artery disease (CAD).  Beginning in 1977, he conducted clinical research studies showing that lifestyle changes could not only stop the progression of CAD but could actually reverse it. These lifestyle changes included plant-based diet, smoking cessation, moderate exercise, stress management techniques including yoga and meditation, and psycho-social support.

In 1973, the Moosewood Restaurant, a collectively owned vegetarian restaurant opened in Ithaca, New York. It featured vegetarian cooking that was spicy, ethnic and exciting. Cookbooks such as The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest soon followed. These new innovations gave vegetarianism a new life since its first boost of energy at the end of the 19th century.

For meat eaters, one very popular dish of this decade was Beef Wellington, a fillet of beef tenderloin coated with pate de foie gras and a duxelles of mushrooms all wrapped up in a puff pastry crust. Dinner parties with friends featured more complicated menus and Wellington was considered the most difficult because of its preparation.


The War of the Diet Books and a Murder

The weight loss craze was in full swing and the “diet wars”and books  began to appear in earnest. In 1972, Dr. Atkins introduces his “Diet Revolution” featuring a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet. The anti-fat gurus were appalled.  In 1978, Dr. Herman Tarnover introduces the “Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet”, another version of the high protein low carb diet. “The book would have been quickly forgotten if Tarnover hadn’t been shot four times and killed by his 56-year old female companion, Jean Harris on March 11, 1980, a few days before his 70th birthday”.  The murder became the subject of numerous books and two films.

“Harris was a headmistress of an exclusive school for girls and a summa cum laude graduate of Smith College. On February 25, 1981, a trial began that caused a media frenzy.  Harris was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At the time of his death, Tarnover had just begun outlining a new book about how to achieve and enjoy longevity.” All he would have had to say was,  “Stay clear of zealous  jealous mistresses” seeking revenge. (note from me who saw one of the films).

SOURCE: The Hundred Year Diet: America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight, Susan Yager. As of this writing,  Yager is a adjunct instructor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University.


The decade of the 70’s was also time for indulging our tastes with eclectic appetites. We indulged in Buffalo chicken wings, Pasta Primavera to goat cheese salads to Crock-Pot Chili in the course of a week. Brunches with quiches became Sunday morning fare, but soon men rebelled by saying “real men don’t each quiche.” We worked our way through the Vietnam War, rampant inflation, Watergate, and President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Jerry Ford became the President.

New At the Market

Hamburger Helper, Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn, Celestial Seasoning Herbal Teas, Snapple fruit juices, Cup O’ Noodles, Stove Top Stuffing, Miller Light, Yoplait Yogurt, Perrier, Ben and Jerry’ s Ice Cream, Resses’s Pieces

Trivia Timeline:

1970 The first overseas Dunkin’ Donuts opens in Japan. Later, MacDonald’s opens its first international site in Tokyo.

1970  Resealable plastic bags and Reynolds Oven Bags are introduced.

1970  Morton introduces Salt Substitute and, in 1973, brings out Lite Salt.

1971  The nation’s first salad bar is laid out at R.J. Grunts, a singles bar and Chicago restaurant. Wendy’s hamburger chain introduces salad bars in 1979.

1971  Rival trademarks the Crock – Pot.

1972  “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” Two older brothers get Mikey to try the family’s new cereal, Life, in a commercial that ran for 12 years on TV.

1973  MacDonald’s introduces the Egg McMuffin, the first fast-food breakfast item.

1973  When introducing the expensive ($140) Cuisinart food processor, it was viewed as an indulgence. It soon became mandatory equipment for anyone who considered themselves a good cook. The product becomes so hot during  the 1976 Christmas season that retailers sell empty boxes as promises for future delivery.

1975 American consumption of soft drinks surpasses that of coffee.

1976  Tom Wolfe calls the 1970s the “Me Decade” and Burger King follows with the “have it your way” campaign.

1977  The term “comfort food” first appears in the Washington Post magazine. The author uses the term in reference to grits, but by 1980, the food has grown to encompass the food of childhood such as meatloaf, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and gelatin dessert.

1977  The plastic grocery bag is introduced to the supermarket industry. It is now an environmental nightmare.

1978  General electric offers the first over the range microwave oven, the SpaceMaker.

1978  For the first time, more women then men enter college.

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