My favorite daughter-in-law, Yvonne, recounted a recent conversation between her, her 15-year-old daughter, Mrs. Haley, and her 9-year-old son, Ry Ry.
When her family sat down and prepared to enjoy the hot home-cooked meal that Yvonne had prepared, Ms Haley asked for one of her favorite condiments for dinner. Yvonne explained that they had just missed. When Ms Haley groaned humorously in response, Yvonne joked that the next time she groaned over a home-cooked meal she would replace her food with ‘TV dinner’. Everyone laughs except Ry Ry. After a pause, Ry Ry looked up and asked, “Hey mom, what’s a dinner show?”
The question “what is a TV dinner” opened up the age chasm known to many as the “generation gap” for our Flores family. Baby boomers please meet millennials. Millennials, let me introduce you to the Zillennial generation. Or please be my guest and select a Gen X, Y or Z designation that best suits your attitude or age.
In an attempt to help bridge the generation gap, I offer the following “dinner TV” education.
I don’t remember ever having a TV dinner growing up. Thanks to the culinary talent of my grandmother Ochoa, who helped raise me and my seven siblings, we enjoyed a culinary life blessed with a constant burst of tasty traditional Mexican home-cooked meals. My grandmother was a genius at coping with the limited runs we had with the nopales (catus), pollo (chickens) and cornejos (rabbits) that we kept in the backyard of our house in the south- east of Bakersfield.
I suspect we never brought up “TV dinners” in our house due to our limited household income. And more importantly, the mere mention of a “TV dinner” growing up would have insulted my grandmother.
I think most of you will be equally surprised to learn the history of “dinner TV”. It started in 1953 with 260 tons of unsold Swanson Food Company turkeys destined for Thanksgiving consumption. Gerry Thomas, a salesman from Swanson, was on a Pan Am flight shortly after Thanksgiving, wondering what to do with the unsold turkeys. A flight attendant placed a new airline-tested food service item in front of him. It was a full meal served on an aluminum tray.
Shortly after his flight, Gerry and company coined the term “TV dinner”. By the end of 1954, Swanson was manufacturing and selling 10 million “TV dinners”. Each platter sold for 98 cents and contained cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, buttered peas, gravy and yes… turkey.
Television was starting to explode in the early 1950s. It was a marketing match made in heaven for kitchen, living room, and women just entering the workforce. “TV dinners” responded to the growing need for quick and easy-to-prepare meals.
Can’t find TV dinners anymore? No problem. A platter from one of Swanson’s original TV dinners was placed in 1987 in the National Museum of History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and since 1999 has had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The “TV dinners” brand name has been gone since 1962. Swanson’s is now joined by a variety of frozen meal distributors like Banquet, Stouffer’s and Kashi. TV dinners now go by names such as “Hungry-Man Meals”, “Jimmy Dean’s Breakfast Bowl”, and “Signature Select Frozen Turkey Meals”. Wine lists even exist to match your choice of a frozen dinner.
I conducted an informal survey of my “senior” family members and friends and came up with a quick list of artifacts from our past that our grandchildren and children may never have known. Their collective landmarks were the games played in childhood. Here are some examples: jacks, spinning tops, pogo sticks, marbles, Cabbage Patch dolls, Chinese skipping rope, and many more to be included in a future section.
Ry Ry and Mrs. Haley, I hope Grandpa helped explain the TV dinners. I’m hungry now and I’m going to microwave Stouffer’s Creamed Beef frozen dinner. I’m going to pour myself a glass of Spañada wine. If you want to join me, I’ll serve you both a glass of Roy Rogers Grape Soda. If your mom hasn’t already shown you, I’ll teach you how to play Pick-Up sticks while we eat.