Review: In praise of Clarence Birdseye's curiosity

"Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man" (Doubleday), by Mark Kurlansky: The author who told us more than we ever thought there was to know about cod ("Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World") and salt ("Salt: A World History") is back with a more traditional biography.

"Birdseye" is a look at the life of inventor Clarence Birdseye, who died with more than 200 patents in his name. The name sounds familiar because there's a package of vegetables in your freezer with his name on them. Without him there are no Hungry-Man dinners, no fish sticks and no frozen peas to bring the swelling down.

Best known for inventing a process of freezing that made it possible to "fresh freeze" everything from poultry to potatoes, Birdseye's life was marked by an insatiable curiosity and a thirst for adventure. Those are the traits that Kurlansky celebrates throughout the book.

We begin with Birdseye's birth in the New York borough of Brooklyn in 1886 and end with his death from heart failure in 1956. In between we're treated to chapters about his time as a government biologist in the American West, a fox breeder and fur trapper in Labrador, Canada, and finally as an industrial tycoon in Gloucester, Mass. In all three locales, Birdseye is portrayed as a man who always wanted to know how things worked and when they don't, he is quick to invent an alternative.

The best parts of the book turn back the clock and make you feel what it was like before every American household had a freezer. The stumbling blocks Birdseye had to overcome — from packaging to consumer distrust — are hard to imagine from the modern perspective. Consider this note the company felt compelled to insert into each box of Birds Eye frozen fish fillets in 1927: "The product in this container is frozen hard as marble by a marvelous new process which seals in every bit of just-from-the-ocean flavor."

One small complaint about the book as a biography: There aren't a lot of outside voices here. Most of Birdseye's contemporaries have died, certainly, and it's clear Kurlansky has done meticulous research, but the absence of voices other than the author talking about a man we're told "changed civilization" just feels a little hollow.

Still, what we're left with is much more than we ever thought we needed. Kurlansky's streak continues. He has taken a subject — the man who popularized frozen food — and given us an informative, very readable book.

___

Online:

http://www.markkurlansky.com/

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • US missile cruiser docks at Subic
    US missile cruiser docks at Subic

    A US Navy missile cruiser has dropped anchor in Subic Bay as part of “routine port call,” amid rising tension in the West Philippine Sea stirred by China’s island building activities and other threatening moves by its forces. The arrival of the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) at the Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City yesterday was “just a routine port visit for ship replenishment and routine maintenance of shipboard system,” said Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office …

  • Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño
    Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño

    The agriculture and power sectors, as well as the general public should brace for a prolonged El Niño phenomenon that could further reduce water supply for electricity and irrigation, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. Flaviana Hilario, acting deputy administrator for research and development of PAGASA, said the El Niño condition is expected to intensify from weak to moderate by August this year. Anthony Lucero, …

  • China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row
    China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row

    The US should help “cool down” the Philippines and realize that its meddling in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute would only stir tensions, a Chinese newspaper reported. “Washington should know its meddling in the South China Sea has been destabilizing the region. The US has vowed not to take sides in the territorial dispute, which involves China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. …

  • No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests
    No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests

    K to 12 is the fruit of years of comprehensive consultations involving different sectors in education,” Aquino said during the launching of the program at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Organized by the Department of Education (DepEd), the launch was attended by teachers, students and representatives from different stakeholders supportive of the K to 12 program. It was held two years after the signing of Republic Act 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education …

  • MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t
    MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t

    The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) maintained its bid for completion of the tripartite review of the implementation of the peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996. The MNLF’s desire to put consensual closure to the tripartite effort was relayed by its leaders to Sayed El-Masry, the special envoy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), during the annual foreign ministers conference in Kuwait last Thursday. The MNLF peace agreement with the government in Sept. 2, …

  • Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe
    Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe

    President Aquino is expected to raise the West Philippine Sea dispute during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan next week. However, there is no word yet if the Philippines will specifically ask Tokyo to join calls for China to stop its massive reclamation activities in disputed waters. Aquino will leave for Tokyo on June 2 for a state visit until June 5. …

  • CHED releases wrong data on tuition hike
    CHED releases wrong data on tuition hike

    The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) appears to have released erroneous data on the allowed tuition and other fee increases in Metro Manila for the incoming academic year. On the list of the 51 approved higher education institutions (HEI) allowed to impose hikes, CHED pegged the average increase in tuition at P32.34 per unit and the average increase in other fees at P34.79. However, a Philippine STAR re-computation showed that the actual average approved tuition increases in Metro Manila …

  • Leni Robredo may run for senator
    Leni Robredo may run for senator

    The widow of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo admitted that running for higher office in 2016 had crossed her mind. Camarines Sur Third District Rep. Leni Robredo said she is focused on her re-election, but there is always the possibility that she would seek higher office. “There is always that possibility… because the filing (of certificate of candidacy) is in October yet,” Robredo said in an interview after her speech during the 23rd Girl Scouts of the Philippines Council …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options