“THE FOODS OF TODAY’S LOWER MIDDLE CLASS ARE THE FOODS OF YESTERDAY’S TYCOONS.” I often reflect that I eat much better than Louis XIV (who, for example, never had a chance to eat Chinese food).
Megan McArdle had an article on the Bloomberg website (link via Instant Pundit) which traced the improvement over time in the variety of food and the changes in consumer tastes. People eat better today because food is comparatively less expensive. But there are also reasons of status that affect food tastes.
McArdle says: “The foods of today’s lower middle class are the foods of yesterday’s tycoons.” She gives the example of gelatin. Before the 1890s, gelatin was a food that only rich people could regularly have because its preparation was so laborious. Then around 1900 powdered gelatin (Jello) became available. (This wikipedia entry describes the commercial development of Jello, which was first trademarked as “Jell-0” in 1897.)
McArdle says that the rich “stopped eating so many jello molds and mayonnaise salads when they became the mainstay of every church potluck and school cafeteria. That’s why eating those items now has a strong class connotation.”