Mark Kurlanksy is known for his non-fiction that takes an unusual angle; Cod, Salt, The Big Oyster to name a few. His latest book is a biography of the man who invented frozen food as we know it today and yes his name was Birdseye. I always assumed that Birds Eye was just a brand name whose original meaning had been lost in decades of advertising but not only was there an actual Birdseye but he also led a fascinating life.
Clarence Birdseye was a bit of an every man. He was an inventor, a scientist (of sorts), a hunter and he was fascinated by food. He would eat anything. He was also a skilled taxidermist. His natural curiosity meant he had many different jobs as a young man.
While working as a fur trapper in Labrador near Newfoundland he began to take a close interest in the freezing process. While frozen food was not new in was done using a slow process that meant the flavour and nutrients in the food were lost and upon thawing the food no longer resembled its fresh state. But in Labrador where temperatures dropped below 40F degrees he witnessed and experimented with fish that froze almost instantly. An idea was born and Clarence Birdseye pursued it to fruition.
Kurlansky’s book not only traces Clarence Birdseye’s life but also examines the time in which Birdseye lived. Birdseye was a “19th Century Man” in the early 20th Century. He was driven by curiosity which fed into inventorship like many other Americans of the time. Unlike their European counterparts American inventors often leant toward the commercial application of their inventions rather than inventing for inventing’s sake. Kurlansky also looks at the evolution of frozen food, before and after Birdseye, and the socio-economic impact it made.
Combining elements of biography, business studies and social history Kurlansky really captures the sense of curiosity, exploration and innovation of the early 20th century that is almost personified in Clarence Birdseye. We take for granted the fact that any kind of food, from anywhere in the world, is readily available today. To think we can almost thank one man for that being made possible makes for fascinating reading.
Classification: Biography: business & industry , Food manufacturing & related industries , Preserving & freezing
Format: Paperback (203mm x 132mm x 18mm)
Imprint: Broadway Books (A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc)
Publisher: Broadway Books (A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc)
Publish Date: 18-Mar-2013
Country of Publication: United States