Saturday, March 13, 2010

Not All Frozen Meals are TV Dinners®

"False tales of turkey on a tray"
Los Angeles Times (July 31, 2005)

"In today's image-mad world, what you do in life has become passe. It's what people think you do that matters. And, don't worry, everyone's too busy to check your resume for embellishments.

"Perhaps no one illustrates this new world better than the dearly departed octogenarian who claimed to have invented the frozen TV dinner...."

"...One of the dirty little secrets of journalism is that reporters rarely have time to investigate every claim people make about their pasts. If you want to embellish, just fool one reporter for one article, then you can use it to show other reporters that your story checked out. It also helps to adopt such accouterments as the cufflinks Thomas wore shaped like TV dinner trays.

"Never mind that Swanson family members, historians and frozen-food industry officials from the early 1950s have all contradicted Thomas' tale. Or that, in 1944, the W.L. Maxson Co. created the real first frozen dinner, which was sold to the Navy and later to the airlines. Or that FrigiDinner, not Thomas, devised the first aluminum tray for frozen meals in 1947. Or that several of Thomas' former colleagues say he had little or nothing to do with Swanson's product...."

Which is why, in my opinion, it's a good idea to study the news, not just read it. Which is another topic.

Still, there's no doubt that someone in the Swanson company invented the TV Dinner.

I'd better explain that. The TV Dinner is a product made and sold by Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They use the Swanson® trademark under license. "TV Dinner" is the name of that particular kind of frozen meals-on-a-tray.

What got me started with this post was what I read on the back of a TV Dinner I heated up yesterday. It's the first one I've had in - years, I think. The household's schedule has been very non-routine this week. Yet another topic - for another blog. (Through One Dad's Eye - my personal blog)

Where was I? A journalist with a burr under his saddle, apparently, a tall tale - again, apparently - frozen dinners, and my habit of reading product containers. When I was growing up, I'd read cereal boxes: including, sometimes, the ingredients label. Yeah: I'm one of those people.

Anyway, the back of this particular frozen meal had a sort of thumbnail history of Swanson's "The Original TV Dinner®". Summarizing that, here's what they had to say:
  • 1954
    • More houses have
      • Television sets
      • Freezers
    • Frozen food tastes better, thanks to a new 'quick freezing' process
    • The Swanson family began marketing their first "TV Dinner"
  • 1970
    • Swanson introduces a line of frozen breakfasts
      • They'd kicked off their marketing with a presentation by Julia Child the previous year
  • 1987
    • Same TV Dinners, pretty much
      • But in microwavable packaging
I tried - briefly - to find out just where, when, and who marketed the first frozen meal-on-a-tray. It was most likely after the early 1920s, when Clarence Birdseye developed an industrial food freezing process: but I'm not going to sort that out now.



Mauricem said...

This is a really good point. It reminds me of the bag boy that for years claimed he was the original Buckwheat till the real actors came forward to debunk him. Most reporters just don't have time to fact check.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Thanks for your comment.

Deadline pressure is a very real part of traditional journalism: and probably accounts for many of the lapses we find.

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