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 being frozen or canned and transported), point to industrialized food's deleterious impact on the environment through long-distance shipping and its ecologically unsound farm practices. They look at processed food's negative effect on the environment and personal health, and to the widespread use of antibiotics and pesticides as powerful reasons to eat organic foods grown close to home. The idea of eating fare that is produced or harvested locally has gone global, and even the White House now has an organic garden that produces fresh vegetables and herbs used in the White House kitchen. (Watch the video below for a peek at the White House garden and to hear Michelle Obama talk about her goals in having started it.)
The Locavore doctrine is almost completely antithetical to what Birdseye's flash-freezing process introduced to the world - the ability to industrially and artificially preserve and transport edibles - and seeks to promote ecologically sound food production and reconnect human beings with the seasons. Locavores - and, in particular, people belonging to locavore organizations such as Eat Local, and Locavores.com - often grow fruits and vegetables in their own gardens; purchase goods from local farms and co-ops rather than huge corporations; rely on farmers' markets rather than supermarkets, and plan meals around seasonal ingredients. They often can or freeze fresh produce (rather than purchasing similar goods that come from miles away) and support restaurants that strive to uphold the same ideals. Locavores seek to help the environment, their local economies and themselves by rejecting industrialized food.
For more information and to hear Mark Kurlansky talk about Clarence Birdseye's culinary inventions, listen to the NPR interview entitled "Birdseye: the Frozen Food Revolution". Also of interest: An op-ed by Mark Kurlansky in the Los Angeles Times about Birdseye and his legacy.
This article was originally published in May 2012, and has been updated for the
February 2013 paperback release.
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