What's it like when your house becomes a time machine?
How the Back in Time For Dinner experiment changed this family's dynamic, and their relationship to technology
The Campuses, a regular Canadian family from Mississauga, Ont., lived 60 years of Canadian history in six weeks while filming Back in Time for Dinner. They experienced the food, fashion, and lifestyles of middle-class Canadians from the 1940s to the 1990s. Their diets went from 1940s rationing to 1990s convenience foods, and their pastimes went from throwing darts at Hitler cartoons to getting lost in video games. And their house got a period-specific renovation every other week.
The Campus parents, Tristan and Aaron, sat down to talk about their favourite decade, what it was like to not recognize their own home, and what they've learned from the experience.
What was it like seeing your house transformed like that?
Tristan: We had no concept of how much the house was gonna be transformed. We had no idea there were gonna be new walls.
Aaron: You go in with a preconceived idea of what you think is going to happen. We originally thought it was going to be just a small portion of our main floor. Then when we finally walked through the front door, we realized it was everything. It was the entire main floor. We were completely transported somewhere else.
Tristan: You don't see our fireplace until, I think, the '90s. Our fireplace was completely blocked off. It was unbelievable what they did with the house. I can't believe people can actually do that. But they did a fabulous job.
Aaron: Our turnover from one decade to another was very short. Like, six days [to transform the house] each time.
Did you work during the experiment? Did the kids go to school?
Aaron: We couldn't work during shoot weeks. We took that time off. Thankfully I own my own business, and I have the best clients, so I could do that. The kids did have to go to school.
In those outfits?
Tristan: They wear uniforms. So they weren't able to. There was discussion. [The production company] wanted them to, but the school board saved the kids. They have to wear the uniforms for security reasons, so it never would have been allowed.
What about their lunches?
Tristan: I packed them in the morning.
Aaron: Period lunches. They weren't too thrilled about that.
It was just eating to make the growl go away so you could get on with what you had to do. Realistically, in 40-some-odd years, I've never had a day where I was eating just to get something in my stomach.- Aaron Campus on what it was like to eat with 1940s rationing restrictions
Was the experiment as intense as you expected it to be?
Tristan: I didn't understand how the food was gonna change. I thought, you know, "There's always a Pop Tart."
Aaron (to Tristan): I think we were three or four days into the '40s, and you'd made us Wheatabix, and we were starving that morning. It was just eating to make the growl go away so you could get on with what you had to do. Realistically, in 40-some-odd years, I've never had a day where I was eating just to get something in my stomach.
Tristan: The '40s was awful. What did we always say? "What's for sandwiches?" Because that was all that was really available. That and carrots. That's what our snacks were. Carrots. And there was no frickin' dip. It was just raw carrots and celery with no dip.
Aaron: By the end of the '40s, I did not want another piece of carrot or celery.
Tristan: What I don't think people get is that what we ate on the show — say, the lamb kidneys in the first episode — if you didn't eat it, there was nothing else to eat. That breakfast that I ruined, when I put salt instead of sugar? Nobody had breakfast. There was no second breakfast. That was our food. If you didn't eat it, you were waiting for lunch.
What was your favourite dish from the experiment?
Tristan: Right at the end of the '40s. The meat roll.
Aaron: Since we've been out of the experiment, we've had it a couple times. It's a flank steak that's wrapped around stuffing, and baked like a roast. And it's so good. We figured it was so good at the time because we were starved for food. But we've had it since and it's actually a really good meal.
What was it like having modern-day food during the breaks in shooting?
Aaron: There was a point [during an off-week] where we had decided we were gonna go to McDonald's. We're going to go through a drive through and have McDonald's.
Tristan: The whole week, we were all like "What are we gonna eat!? What are we gonna eat!?"
Aaron: And everyone felt so gross after. We were super, super ill.
Tristan: We were so sick. Everyone went straight to the bathroom. Because it was like having done a cleanse for a week! Eating all those damn carrots.
What was your favourite decade?
Aaron: The '70s. In the '70s we actually started spending time together as a family. It took that many decades before we could spend time together.
Tristan: And I was allowed out of the kitchen. Going into it, I didn't want to do the '70s. But the '70s food was great, the house was great, we were together as a family, there was no technology.
Aaron: And then it was for one decade. By the time the '80s came along, we were starting to make our own meals. And technology showed up and we all started doing other stuff.
If you could create your ideal future decade, what aspects would you keep from the decades you experienced?
Tristan: I'd keep the '70s house.
Aaron: I didn't realize how warm it was. Just how nice a space it was to live in.
Tristan: We loved that area. At one point, there was a whole search that went on. Valerie went to feed the ducks in behind our house and after about an hour we couldn't find her. There was this huge search for her. And she had fallen asleep in there in a pile of pillows.
She was just camouflaged in?
Aaron: Well nobody thought to look there!
Tristan: We were checking everywhere! We were all screaming her name, not knowing where she was.
Aaron: We definitely want to have that hi-fi with the big speakers from the '80s.
Tristan: Oh! And the '80s music. They gave me a Milli Vanilli tape! And Paula Abdul!
Aaron: Music was constantly going. It really did help you travel to those times. It's just something about having that period sound, along with the clothing and the foods. So, we definitely want to have that in the future house.
Tristan: Robert would have kept the Nintendo.
What are some of the habits you picked up into the experiment that have worked their way into your modern life?
Aaron: As soon as we got out of the experiment, both Jessica and Valerie went out and got record players. They started buying vinyl. They started buying current vinyl and even some older vinyl. That, and we have this thing with technology. Any time TVs are on the background now, we have to mute it. It's too much.
Tristan: It's overstimulating.
Watch one modern Canadian family live through six different decades on Back in Time for Dinner, Thursdays at 8pm (8:30 NT.)