In 1953 Swanson had several hundred tons of leftover Thanksgiving turkey – so they created the TV Dinner and changed how we eat. Plus: the 40th annual Holiday Cave Sing is this weekend at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
The Rise and Fall of the TV Dinner (Cheddar on YouTube)
If you were part of one of those huge Thanksgiving dinners yesterday, you may now have a whole lot of leftovers on hand.
This is not the worst problem in the world to have. In fact, a whole lot of Thanksgiving leftovers once changed the entire way we eat.
It was late 1953, and the people at C.A. Swanson and Sons had a lot of leftovers, to the tune of 260 tons of extra turkey. Somehow they expected much more demand than they actually got.
They put the leftovers in 10 refrigerated railway cars and brainstormed a solution: serving all that extra food the way food was served on airplanes and in the military, as pre-packaged heat-and-serve meals.
The company ladled out the turkey along with sides of mashed potatoes and vegetables onto aluminum trays and had a hit on their hands, with 10 million dinners sold in the first year alone.
Swanson wasn’t the first to try this idea.
Birdseye had been selling flash frozen vegetables for years by the time Swanson had its turkey conundrum.
And several other companies, like Maxson Foods Systems, Quaker State and Jack Fisher’s Frigidinners, had all sold all-in-one frozen meals to consumers beforehand.
What made Swanson stand out wasn’t the food itself but the name: the TV dinner.
At a time when millions of American households were adding television sets to their living rooms, the company marketed their meals to people who wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and spend some quality time in front of their favorite shows.
They also marketed TV dinners to women, who were expected to handle most of the cooking then, as a big time-saver.
The name TV dinner only stayed directly on the product for maybe eight years after that, but the idea that we could have entire meals that only need to be heated, not prepared, and that we could eat them while doing other things, rather than sitting down together at the dinner table, for better or for worse, is most definitely still with us.
You can’t say they didn’t make the most of all that leftover turkey.
There’s a big moment ahead this weekend for underground music, and I mean that literally. It’s the 40th annual Holiday Cave Sing at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
The acoustics down there are pretty good for singers, so after a few piano numbers in the main lodge, visitors will head down into the cave complex and hear from – who else? – the Caveman Chorus.
Should be great music, even if it’s technically bringing listeners down.