Clarence Birdseye, the Man Behind Modern Frozen Food | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
While his ingenuity would ultimately prove successful, at first people were highly suspicious of frozen seafood. Consumers had no basis for comparison and didn't know what to expect when it came to taste; railroads and store owners, meanwhile, were worried they might be held liable if thawed food made people sick. But there was enough potential that Birdseye sold his company, General Seafood Corporation, to Postum in Postum later changed its name to General Foods. In order to get the general public to accept frozen foods as a viable market product, Birdseye—who was still working for General Foods after the sale—needed to develop packaging, freezer cases, and transportation methods.
It was an arduous process involving test markets and large-scale salesmanship, but by , refrigerated boxcars were carrying Birdseye labeled Birds Eye products to stores across the country, and customers were bringing them home to store in their newly bought home freezers. Birdseye was virtually obsessed with finding the potential limits to the food-freezing process. Toiling at his factory in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Birdseye experimented with almost anything he could get his hands on.
In addition to fish, meats, and vegetables, he also tried freezing porpoise, whale, shark, and an alligator. While he was busy amassing his frozen food empire, Birdseye actually had a material effect on one food's appearance. By blanching green peas before freezing them, Birdseye noticed that the vegetable would turn a vibrant green. The colorful pea soon became a staple of the frozen vegetable market.
Birdseye was constantly on the lookout for ways to perfect his flash-freezing production process. Acknowledging that frozen food packages would develop condensation, he looked toward the French invention, Cellophane, to wrap his fish. But the packaging would disintegrate once it got wet. Birdseye convinced Cellophane's manufacturer, DuPont, to create a moisture-proof version. He was its only customer until cigar and cigarette companies realized that the material would keep their products dry. Birdseye died in at the age of 69, but age hadn't slowed his ambition.
At the time of his death, he was hoping to perfect a process by which sugar cane could be turned into pulp for paper. Today, his Birds Eye products continue to populate virtually every frozen food section of every supermarket in the country. Teetotalers might think their liver is safe from the damaging effects of alcohol consumption, but new research is hinting that even non-drinkers and light drinkers might have cause for concern. It turns out a type of gut bacteria is capable of producing alcohol—and enough of it to potentially cause some pretty serious health consequences, including liver disease.
After evaluating a patient with auto-brewery syndrome ABS , a rare condition brought on by consumption and fermentation of sugary foods that leaves a person with high blood alcohol levels, researchers made an intriguing discovery. In this subject, K. The patient also had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease NAFLD , characterized by fatty deposits in the liver.
In the control group, a surplus was found in only 6. To further observe a correlation, scientists fed the bacteria to healthy, germ-free mice, who began to see an increase in fat in their livers after only one month. While not conclusive proof that the bacteria prompts NAFLD, it will likely trigger additional research in humans. Each September, the Ig Nobel Prizes a play on the word ignoble are given out to scientists who have wowed the world with their eccentric, imaginative achievements. Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa were awarded the anatomy prize for testing the scrotum temperatures in clothed and naked men in various positions.
They found that in some postal workers, bus drivers, and other clothed civilians, the left scrotum is warmer than the right, while in some naked civilians, the opposite is true.
They suggest that this discrepancy may contribute to asymmetry in the shape and size of male external genitalia. Shigeru Watanabe and his team nabbed the chemistry prize for tracking the eating and sleeping habits of 15 boys and 15 girls to discover that, regardless of gender, they each produce about milliliters of spit per day.
Children have lower salivary flow rates than adults, and they also sleep longer we produce virtually no saliva when we sleep , so it seems like they may generate much less saliva than adults. Ghada A.
Papoiu, and their colleagues used cowhage a plant known to make people itchy to induce itches on the forearms, ankles, and backs of 18 participants, whom they then asked to rate both the intensity of the itch and the pleasure derived from scratching it. In your book, Birdseye comes across as someone who was prone to exaggerating events in his life a bit. How difficult was it to write about someone who embellished his life stories? What you seem to find when you get into this biography business is that people tend to have an image of themselves that they want to project and they want to color statements by this image.
He just had a certain view of himself that he liked, so he would emphasize certain things. He always emphasized himself as an adventurer and a wild guy. He always described his years in the Bitterroot Mountains and talked about the hunting he did there and the incredible amount of animals he shot—over animals one summer—and he loved to talk about that stuff. He never talked very much about the fact that this was a major medical, scientific research project on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and that he played an important role in this research, which is an important chapter in medical history.
What they learned about controlling that disease later had an impact on dealing with malaria and even later in Lyme disease.
It was important scientific work, but typical of Birdseye, he mainly talked about himself as the mighty hunter. Fortunately that was the chapter of his life that was easy to document. When he was in Labrador, he kept a daily diary, and this was during the period that he courted and married he wife, and he barely ever mentioned her. So there are lots of gaps.
I could never find out if he was a Republican or a Democrat. And I always wondered: If he really was so unpretentious, why did he build such a pretentious house? Seeing the house he was born in, I realized that this was the way he was raised. Our modern culture is placing a lot of emphasis on fresh foods and eating locally. To begin with, there were drawbacks to that world that nobody in the foodie world thinks about. You could be a locavore in Florida or southern California. But I tried that.
It was really limiting. Oh, it has a huge place—bigger than ever. And now you see more and more sophisticated versions of frozen food—frozen gourmet food. We know the difference. And by that standard, it was so like fresh food.
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Clarence Birdseye, Culinary Pioneer (1886-1956)
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