Certain delicacies rocket Adam Richman, the host of television shows like Man v. Food and Amazing Eats, straight back to his childhood in the 1980s. There’s the addictively chewy fruit candy called Bonkers, known for its wacky commercials, that his mother forbade him to eat. Vintage soda cans with questionably safe pull tabs, which could slice your finger right open. Or, his particular favorite, Big League Chew.
“Specifically the grape flavor,” Richman told Delish, referring to the iconic shredded bubble gum designed to mimic chewing tobacco. It was the ‘80s, O.K.?
“I was what you would call a terrible baseball player,” he recalled of those days. “[But] I was able to get Big League Chew and suddenly all was forgiven—because I was the kid that was sharing Big League Chew with everyone on the team.”
Richman’s newest show, Adam Eats The 80s, which debuts February 27th at 10PM ET/PT on the History Channel, pays homage to these foodstuffs and more. From mainstream favorites to forgotten gems, Adam Eats The 80s seeks to pull back the curtain on the decade’s most beloved and reviled culinary exploits.
But there’s a lot more to the show than mere reminiscing about Auntie Anne’s pretzels (which, don’t worry, feature prominently in the first episode). The show goes one step deeper, exploring how the era’s infamous consumerism trickled down into the culinary world and gave rise to the wild world of 1980s food.
“Reaganomics pumped a bunch of money into the economy, so you had a lot of people doing very well,” Richman explained. “It made room for culinary entrepreneurs, so people weren't afraid to try stuff, food wise.” The result? Beloved fast food mainstays like the McNugget from McDonald’s, the Original Chicken Sandwich from Burger King, and the intoxicating scent of Cinnabon—all born in the 1980s.
President Ronald Reagan also cleared the way for advertising to be directed at children for the first time, Richman noted, which led to a boom of ads for sugary cereals with cartoon characters as mascots. “The shows that kids love began manifesting themselves in foods and treats, and we started seeing Mr. T's cereal, E.T. cereal and Pac Man cereal, and Donkey Kong candies,” he said.
An increase in divorce rates and the explosion of women in the workplace also had a huge impact on the decade’s cuisine. “Suddenly, women had opportunities that they didn't have a decade prior,” Richman said. Many households suddenly had two working parents, which, combined with the rise of the microwave, greatly impacted dinnertime. “Foods that were easy for latchkey kids to make or easy for parents [to make became] prominent—and they weren't always the most healthy thing.”
But Richman has an ulterior motive with Adam Eats The 80s: He wants to redeem the era’s food—and eat plenty of eye-popping ‘80s fare along the way.
“I think [‘80s food] gets unfairly maligned because people forget the historical context,” he reflected. “If you just want to see really insanely delicious food, we've got you. If you want to learn a little bit about U.S. history and U.S. culinary history, we've got you. We talk about the commercials, the fashion, the movies, the television shows.”
And don’t worry if the 1980s are only a hazy memory—or if you weren’t even born yet. “I think there really is something for everyone,” Richman promises.