birdseye-mark kurlansky

shouts to the npr book podcast for putting me onto the latest from the man who also brought us salt, cod, and a formidable list of others. this one about the pioneer of the industrial frozen food industry is being blogged about at the time that forks over knives is (finally) being viewed during my only day off this week from the store that nobody is getting married. i started reading this one, set it down for a minute to read some evergreen book titles, and returned to it to relish in the portrait of a man who lived with such gusto that it was an absolute pleasure to read the recurring conclusion that he was the only one that believed, but that was the only thing that mattered.

“He then used the shotgun and learned how to preserve and stuff his victims by reading books and asking questions at taxidermy shops. The following year, in the winter of 1897, when he had just turned eleven years old, he placed an ad in a sports magazine for ‘the American School of Taxidermy.’ In reality Clarence was all there was to the American School of Taxidermy. But he was offering courses at modest rates. It is easy to imagine the comic scene unfolding when someone wishing to learn the secrets of taxidermy answered the ad and discovered that the entire school consisted of an eleven-year-old boy. But unfortunately, there is no record of anyone responding.” (28-9)

“He liked his rattlesnake cut in slices, dusted with flour, and then fried in salt pork. While they were camped on one of the still-undeveloped rims of the Grand Canyon, the only provision the naturalists had for dinner was pork belly, which they discovered had gone rancid. Not to worry, Bob Birdseye would find dinner. He gathered field mice, chipmunks, gophers, and even a few pack rats. He carefully skinned and gutted the little bodies and wrapped them all in cheesecloth. Then he simmered it in a pot of boiling water. He praised the resulting stew, though there is no record of anyone else sharing his enthusiasm.” (42)

“But perhaps the more important thing about Clarence Birdseye was his ability to live life as an adventure. Curiosity is the one essential ingredient to an adventurous life. Isn’t an original life one of the greatest inventions?” (230)

bigups to ebonee for the quote about dating women who read and write, it’s all driven by curiosity.


2 thoughts on “birdseye-mark kurlansky

  1. food industrial complex:

    “My grandfather was a tailor, and he hand made all of my father’s clothes. And so my father grew up dreaming of someday owning a factory-made suit. We are all more reactive against the conditions we inherit than we realize. In the postindustrial world we have become anti-industry, and it is useful and fascinating to get to know a man of vision and imagination who genuinely believed in industrial answers to life’s problems. To understand Birdseye in the context of his times, we need to grasp that people who are accustomed only to artisanal goods long for the industrial. It is only when the usual product is industrial that the artisanal is longed for. That is why artisanal food, the dream of the food of family farms, caught on so powerfully in California, one of the early strongholds of agribusiness with little tradition of small family farms. Birdseye came from a world that was becoming rapidly industrialized, and yet one in which food production was lagging behind and still mostly artisanal.” (xvi)

    “Kraft began experimenting with a cheese-based factory blend. He made a fortune selling canned processed cheese to the army during World War I and continued developing the product and the company after the war. In part he combated spoilage by packaging small amounts of cheese. Velveeta, wrapped in tinfoil and packed in individual wooden boxes, was his crowning glory. It melted so smoothly it seemed like velvet. Kraft originally was not trying to make cheese melt well, but the meltiness of his processed cheese-because it would not separate with heat the way real cheese does-changed the way Americans ate. It made melted cheese ubiquitous in the American diet, including macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, grilled-cheese sandwiches, and au gratin everything.” (165)

  2. “a willingness to try new foods is a sign of intelligence”:

    “He said he ate polar bear and professed a particular fondness for the front half of a skunk.” (96)

    “Bob’s omnivorous tendencies were once again in full swing. He prowled the docks for anything unusual that he could try freezing. He let the Gloucester dragger captains know he was interested. He froze whale, shark, porpoise, and according to one account he even found an alligator to freeze.” (156)

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