It’s been a long time since I had Jell-O salad.
This dish was once a popular dish, but I don’t remember eating it – or even seeing it – for at least a decade and probably much longer.
Nothing to say about this dish made of gelatin and fruit cocktail. It was simple to make and a staple at church potlucks and family gatherings. The kids loved it and it provided some variety to the meal.
The salad dates from the early 1900s and is still seen on occasion, but it is becoming rare. Tastes have changed and I’d probably get some weird looks if I showed up to the next potluck with a molded Jell-O salad.
The looks would get even weirder if I brought a delicious platter of liver and onions to a potluck. Once a fairly common dish (although not at potlucks and banquets), it has long since waned in popularity.
Changing food tastes aren’t the only area where I can see dramatic changes over the decades.
I always have a thin leather tie hanging in my closet, but I can’t remember when I last wore it. This tie was one of the fashion trends of the 1980s, but styles from 40 years ago look rather dated these days. I might be persuaded to wear it if I’m ever at an 80s-themed party, but more likely it will remain out of sight, abandoned and forgotten, a relic of a bygone era. Likewise, the large hairstyles of this era, achieved by using large amounts of hairspray, are also a thing of the past, not of the present.
While I don’t see many people wearing leather ties or ’80s hairstyles, some elements of the past still linger.
Some of the music from the 1970s and 1980s is still part of today’s playlists. I will hear the songs from that era when I am in the stores or at certain public events. Some people around me insist that this music is the best ever. Although the sounds may evoke warm memories, the world today is not the same as it was 40 or 50 years ago and the lyrics deal with issues from an earlier time.
Some call for a return to older, more traditional values, and the familiarity of the past has a certain appeal. But anyone longing for yesterday should remember that the past was not a time of idyllic, trouble-free happiness. The same era that produced incredible music also had its own conflicts and struggles. Then, just like now, some were upset by the changes in their world and wanted to return to a nostalgic past.
Today’s heightened level of polarization, manifested in online disagreements and other forms, is an unpleasant reality of our current times. But not so long ago, some racist and homophobic slurs were heard much more frequently than today, and some demeaning stereotypes were voiced.
If a return to the norms and values of an earlier era includes the prejudices of the past, I don’t want to be part of it. I could choose to celebrate the best parts of the early years by cooking liver and onions, making a Jell-O salad, then enjoying that fine dining while wearing a thin leather tie and listening to rock classics from the 1960s. 1980.
On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Nostalgia can help recreate warm memories, but it cannot build a better world for today and tomorrow.
John Arendt is the editor of Summerland Review.
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