The 20th century will go down in history as a breakthrough era in industrial progress. One technological innovation changed American eating behaviors and vaulted women into a new era. For the first time in history most women - the exception upper class ones - no longer had to spend a large part of their day preparing meals.
Following World War II advancements in food technology proceeded rapidly, and the 1950s witnessed the introduction of frozen food dinners. I remember a shelf in my family’s freezer, a large white appliance parked in our basement, stacked with boxes of frozen dinners. Leftovers (and ice cream) outnumbered the boxes of brand name processed foods, but the meals found an honored place in the freezer and in our lives.
But the popularity of frozen foods, and especially pre-made items, waned by the end of the century for a number of reasons. The competition with fresh prepared unfrozen foods offered by almost every supermarket, deli and boutique food market in the Northern Hemisphere, the rise in fast-food restaurants, increased affluence allowing people to dine out often, the realization that much of commercially prepared foods are laden with unfamiliar, unpronounceable ingredients – all led to a downward slide in the sale of frozen dinners.
Leave it to mega-corporations to resurrect a slowly dying product.
The sale of frozen prepared foods is once again on the rise. Concerned with decreasing sales yet unwilling to abandon a lucrative market, companies rose to the challenge and developed products appealing to today’s consumers.
Kraft Heinz, for instance, updated and upgraded their Weight Watchers SmartMade brand that now features, “real ingredients you can pronounce.”
Three years ago the Nestle corporation, famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for chocolates and baby food, opened a $50 million research and development facility in Ohio targeting frozen food innovation.
A huge market exists for good tasting, fairly healthy frozen foods. Young people on their own don’t want to spend time and energy preparing meals…the same with old folks…workers and families on tight schedules appreciate the option of popping a recyclable bag or box in the microwave and eating a few minutes later.
I have not purchased a processed, pre-made, ready to heat and eat frozen meal in years. Usually I bypass the frozen food section when shopping, unless I need ice cream (I know no one needs ice cream but there are times I need my fix). My freezer – the smallish top section of my refrigerator – is stocked with leftovers and ice cream, the only frozen food considered an integral part of my food intake (I would say diet, but there is nothing diet-like about ice cream).
I conclude with the following cartoon,
one example how frozen foods changed women's lives:
If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television,
we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners.
- Johnny Carson