Relic of the past—or shape of things to come?
When I was a kid in the 1970s and early '80s, processed food was everywhere. I remember TV dinners, fish sticks, Tater Tots, Hamburger Helper, canned pear halves in sugar goo, and more. And that was in my house, where my mom used processed food to supplement her habit of cooking from scratch two or three times a weeks.
In at least one friend's house, heat-and-serve fare seemed to have replaced cooking altogether, starting with an unholy (although quite coveted by me at the time) frozen pancake-and-sausage breakfast product made by Jimmy Dean.
Since then, we've seen the explosion of farmers markets, CSAs, cooking shows, and celebrity chefs. Cooking from scratch is cool, and processed food is on the way out. Right? Turns out, processed food is more popular than ever. Check out this chart, part of a package of fascinating ones from NPR's Planet Money team, generated from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, on how we spend our grocery dollars:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR