Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us Cod, Salt, and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process revolutionized the food industry and American agriculture.
A Nineteenth-Century Man
Clarence Frank Birdseye II was born in Brooklyn on December 9, 1886. Both the year and the place are significant. In 1886, Brooklyn was a separate city from Manhattan and, in fact, was the third-largest city in America and one of the fastest growing. Between 1880 and 1890 the population grew by more than a third to 806,343 people.
One of the forces that made this dramatic growth possible in Brooklyn and neighboring Manhattan was refrigeration. Because of this new technology a large population could live in an area that produced no food but rather brought it in and stored it. Natural ice, collected in large blocks from the frozen lakes of New England and upstate New York, was stored in sawdust-insulated icehouses built along the Hudson that shipped all year long. New York City used more than one million tons of natural ice every year for food and drink. While the pleasure of iced drinks in the summer had been a luxury of the wealthy ever since Roman ...
Throughout this smart, eloquent and sometimes troubling biography, Kurlansky celebrates the restless and particularly American energy that animated Birdseye: no experience or opportunity was wasted. Birdseye lived the way he ate, digesting everything. He was a curious adventurer eager to discover the next big thing, and he always looked forward. And though Birdseye lived and worked unworried by the consequences of what he did and what he made, people today must struggle with the repercussions of his inventions.
(Reviewed by Jo Perry).
Full Review (1009 words).
In his preface to Birdseye, Mark Kurlansky faces the issue of whether or not Clarence Birdseye made what we eat better: "Eating frozen food instead of fresh represents a decline in the quality of food. But very often people are eating frozen food when they would have been eating canned, in which case frozen is an improvement." Kurlansky shows how Birdseye, along with other creators of and manufacturers of new processed foods, transformed sometimes-inferior products into those Americans preferred to eat.
But Americans are re-evaluating their relationship with frozen foods. In 2007 the word "locavore" was the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year. Locavores, who believe in eating foods grown or harvested locally (as opposed to ...
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