Ysenda Maxtone Graham

‘A year of fish fingers’: how motherhood put me off frozen food

It’s 100 years since the American inventor Clarence Birdseye, with an investment of $7 for an electric fan, a few pails of brine and some blocks of ice, started developing his system of packing fresh food into cardboard boxes and freezing it at high speed, thus ushering in the frozen food era. If you go into your nearest branch of Iceland, you’ll see that the era is still in full swing. 

In the colourful and far from morgue-like aisles, cheerful, sensible couples are filling their trolleys for the week, tempted by the dazzling food photography and the ‘tanginess’ of everything. This is wall-to-wall packaging seduction. ‘Oumph! Mexican spiced fajitas’, shouts the frozen ‘Oumph!’ brand. ‘Our Mac’n’Cheese with pigs in blankets’, purrs the more nostalgic frozen Cathedral City brand. The family-sized bags of breaded chicken include ‘hot and spicy’, ‘BBQ’, ‘salt and pepper’ and ‘sweet chilli’, and if your offspring don’t fancy any of the normal ‘nugget’-shapes, you can go for turkey dinosaurs or unicorns instead.

To live on frozen food is to be spared the psychological pressure of the fridge, in which things are always going off and you have to do the ‘sniff test’. These families know they’re on to a good, relaxing thing. And gosh it’s cheap. You can buy 45 frozen raw chicken drumsticks for £5.

The only real blip in the ever-expanding frozen-food market was the sudden vanishing of the Findus Crispy Pancake in 2016, when Findus ceased to trade. This caused a mass outpouring of nostalgia for that melted-cheese-oozing mouth-burner of the 1970s, which seemed glamorous back then, and was an answer to prayer for the harassed working mother, and indeed for the Scottish aristocracy.

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