It’s been more than 80 years since Clarence Birdseye, inspired by ancient food preservation methods used by Arctic Eskimos, made history by introducing the very first frozen food option: “Savory Caribou on a Stick.” Though his first selection was met with little enthusiasm, Birdseye persisted and eventually created a line of frozen vegetables that many of us are still gagging on today.
I, for one, am still unable to walk past lima beans in the frozen food section without getting the dry heaves. This reaction stems from my childhood, and a spoonful of lima beans I’ve been trying to swallow since 1973.
Unless you’ve been hermetically sealed and stuck in a freezer, you already know March is “National Frozen Food Month.” Coincidentally, I should mention this happens to fall in the same month as “National Ear Muff Day,” “Extraterrestrial Abduction Day” and “National Pig Day,” meaning that, for anyone whose pig happened to be wearing ear muffs at the time it was flash frozen by alien abductors, this is a big month for you.
For the rest of us, March is when frozen food manufacturers remind us to consider foods we wouldn’t dish up without some type of extra incentive, such as giving it to a cell mate named “Big Red” in exchange for protection.
Which isn’t to say all frozen food experiences have to be terrible. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for Mom to pull my Libbyland “Sundown Supper” from the oven. That’s because the makers of Libbyland provided enough games, toys and other distractions that, for all I knew, I was eating breaded eel.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I remember seeing an actual eel on the cover of the Libbyland box. This should have sent my childhood gag reflex into high alert.
And it probably would have if not for the fact that this particular eel was wearing a cowboy hat and spurs. It didn’t matter that a sea creature leading a wagon train through the high plains made no sense whatsoever. Or that the cowboy cook was a prairie dog who appeared to be stirring a pot of buzzard beaks.
What mattered was that each dinner came with a packet of “Milk Magic” that turned my milk the color of gangrene and, even more importantly, grossed my mother out.
Several years ago, with those fond memories in mind, I went looking for the same kind of frozen dinner excitement for my own kids. This led me to a collection of entrees that are either (a) the ultimate example of truth in advertising, or (b) menu items submitted by Hannibal Lecter.
The first thing I found was something called Jurassic Fried Chicken, which, for all I knew, meant really, really old fried chicken. I also grabbed Cheese Blaster Mac & Cheese, a Carnival Corn Dog meal, and, against my better judgement, Bug Hunt Fun Nuggets.
The idea was to cook all four meals and let the kids have a frozen dinner buffet. This plan began to fade once I actually started reading through the meal descriptions, beginning with the Carnival Corn Dog: “A batter-dipped Frank made with chicken, pork and beef on a stick.”
In this case, it wasn’t the combination of meats that concerned me; it was the fact that “Frank” was capitalized.
This made the whole Bug Hunt Fun Nuggets concept of “finding” processed nuggets in the shape of insects a little hard to swallow. And to be honest, I had my concerns about how anyone’s intestinal tract would react to a meal that included the term “Cheese Blaster.”
Of course, none of these concerns mattered to my kids; all that mattered to them was that Dad was grossed out.
Things probably would’ve ended there. But I felt obligated, as a concerned father, to show them my lima beans…
(Originally published at Long Awkward Pause in 2014)