I came across an article about the “father of the modern frozen food industry” recently and I was fascinated!
Clarence Birdseye’s modernisation of food freezing methods were borne out of his work in the US Fisheries Association, which at the time was trying to find better ways of getting fish to the marketplace.
Frozen seafood at the time was deplorable. Apparently, only the lowest grade food was frozen and frozen foods were sold at even lower prices than canned food.
Birdseye had always been entrepreneurial from a young age. While he was drawn to nature, he was also fascinated by the “industrious spirit of the times”.
“Once, he noticed an abundance of muskrats in a nearby field, wrote letters to a local zoo director to assess demand, and ended up trapping and selling them for $1 a piece,” Zachary Crockett writes about Birdseye.
While he was living in Labrador (described as “a remote, inhospitably cold region in Newfoundland”) — where he was breeding silver foxes for fur — he also developed an interest in food preservation.
He noticed that when Inuit fisherman pulled fish out of the water, they would freeze “mid-flip” in the air. They would then be packed in snow outdoors. He discovered that they “tasted perfectly fresh” after thawing, even if it was weeks later.
After he returned to the US, he started experimenting with methods to “fast-freeze” foods. And I guess, the rest is history.
We take our frozen food for granted these days. Perhaps we’ve gone full-circle and begun to turn our noses up at frozen and other preserved foods.
But like most kinds of food, frozen food has a story as well.