A Look at the History of Frozen Food

The story of Clarence Birdseye, the father of frozen food and a now $240 billion global industry.

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Frozen peas are one of the most popular frozen vegetables, and have been since Clarence Birdseye discovered in the 1920s that peas quickly blanched before being frozen result in a vividly green pea.

Birdseye was the father of frozen food, the man most responsible for what is now a $240 billion global industry. As with so many of our food innovations, frozen food arose from the unpredictable mix of an eccentric, adventurous, inquisitive mind, a man’s serendipitous move through the world (his interest in frozen food was rooted in fox farming in Labrador, in northeastern Canada, a place that gets mighty cold in the winter), and advances in technology and in packaging during the 1920s that allowed new ideas to find their physical realization.

Birdseye’s influence was no small matter. As Mark Kurlansky writes in his excellent book Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, “Undeniably, Birdseye changed our civilization. He created an industry by modernizing the process of food preservation and in so doing nationalized and then internationalized food distribution.” Moreover, Kurlansky writes, Birdseye “greatly contributed to the development of industrial-scale agriculture.” Once we could stockpile produce that previously would have gone bad, we could grow more and more food and keep it indefinitely.

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