In the 1950’s women and mothers back then were like us. Trying to do it all. They were heading into the workforce while being expected to keep all running smooth at home. Dinner at 5pm, spotless children, immaculate house, fresh pressed clothes, perfect hair. It is no surprise that cocktails before, during, and after dinner became so popular.
According to the Smithsonian Institute there were two front runners for prepackaged food at the times. Birds Eye and Swanson. Birds Eye started with frozen peas. How wonderful that must have been not to have to shuck peas anymore! I am sure they were embraced by the modern wife. TV dinners got their big break accidentally by a colossal mistake at Swanson.
In 1953 Swanson somehow overestimated the amount of Turkeys they would sell for Thanksgiving by 260 tons. Inspired by the trays of pre-prepared food served on airlines they took a gamble and quickly ordered 5,000 aluminum trays. The first TV dinner was composed of the ten refrigerated railroad cars of turkeys, cornbread dressing and gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. And don’t forget about the Butter! Two pats of butter made it all so much yummier. In 1954, the first full year of production Swanson sold ten million turkey dinners.
Now of course back in the 50’s serving your loving family TV dinners too often was considered a serious faux pas. The purpose was then as it should be now to buffer the hectic work week. Too use as a last resort on the days when life was upside down from soccer games, shuttling the kids, pta meetings, church obligations. We slowly evolved into processed foods because our lives got more hectic, more commitments, and more expectations. But that is another chapter.
The Food Pyramid which was designed in the 20’s was just now starting to be noticed. And all these years later I am so confused in what it meant back then. I am informed and certified in nutrition. Yet looking at their charts and information that the government was passing down to parents and schools is so unsettling. The food pyramid had gone from 7 food groups in the 40’s to 4 food groups in the 50’s. It now did not include guidance on fats, sugars, and calorie intake. That stuff is not important. ….Milk: It does a body good. But that is another chapter.
TV – let’s talk about that magical wonder. It actually started in the late 20’s but didnt hit mainstream until the 50’s. It needed time to drop in price and become affordable for the average Joe. 1951 was the start of color. Amazing color. I love Lucy started that year sponsored by Phillip Morris ( the tobacco company). Bob Hope also transitioned from radio to television. It was a banner year for Television. We started to schedule our lives around our few choices of programs. I Love Lucy at 7pm? We were ready in the living room by 6:45pm with our family and neighbors who could not afford this new luxury. It’s a party that has elevated us in our community.
So it’s 1954:
Time : You’ve just gone into the workforce for the first time with the expectations by you and everyone else that you are Superwoman. You can and will lovingly take care of your family while now being away from the home for 40 hours a week.
Processed food : Is now starting to hit the stores. You have found the salvation you need from trying to make it all work. Cooking has now become a little easier and you embrace every product that hits the market. Bottled BBQ sauce? Yes, Please!
Updated Food Pyramid: The government has now made it easier to meal plan. Who cares about fat, sugar, and calories? The scientific doctors approved this right? You no longer have to worry. The processed foods have it all figured out for you.
TV- Finally you get to sit down. Tired aren’t you from all the chores, work, and trying to please everyone. You no longer have to go out and visit the neighbors for an evening walk. They will come to you. Who needs exercise? Kids get the bikes out of the yard. Tarzan if getting ready to come on.
So. The past may not be all your fault. What about tomorrow?