1950s cuisine often brings up images of drive-in hamburgers, casseroles with cream of mushroom soup, and ghastly Jello salads. I found my stereotypes shattered one afternoon when I happened to come across some menus from the Santa Fe Railroad.
Dinner menus showed plenty of meat and potatoes, with lamb and veal as common fare. However, menu after menu also offered fish dishes, usually broiled or baked. Salads were common, even if they may have been iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing. Tomato juice was a regular appetizer option. Half of each menu was dedicated to a la carte items that offered a range of fruit and vegetable dishes. Many menus noted that special diets and unique requests were welcome.
The patrons of a dining car on the Santa Fe Chief may have been unusually sophisticated and well heeled. However in this setting, those who wanted healthy, vegetarian, and even vegan options would have had several alternatives for meals that were elegant and tasty. Such meals would have likely seemed odd to fellow diners but they were a far departure from the prefabricated options found on Amtrak today. That’s food for thought.