50th Anniversary of the TV Dinner

16 May 2003|Darrel Rhea

Someone asked me today about what the TV dinner says about our culture, here was my reply:

The TV dinner was one of the first times we used technology to transition from meal occasions where the food was central to the event, to meals as enhancement of other activities. Food preparation was very labor intensive and the family came together to celebrate it. Meals were predictable, our days were scheduled around them, food was about “us.” Think Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of Americana. We help develop the Betty Crocker instant cakes that added convenience, but required the addition of an egg which was just enough to deliver the psychological satisfactions associated with “cooking.”

Then technology gave us “meal delivery systems” which allowed more flexibility around when, where and how we consumed food. Food started fitting into our lives and activities. Since that time, food has increasingly played a diminished role in bring families together. Now we eat our food in the car on the way to an event, or while we do something else, or we eat out of the home in restaurants. People don’t even know how to cook anymore, nor is it relevant to many.

A great deal of our food product development work is around portability. It isn’t just how to prepare it fast and easy in the microwave, it’s how easy is it to eat while driving or store in a backpack. Food has become about fuel, satisfying hunger, entertainment, personal satisfaction — having it your way. Food has become about “me” in our culture. When you ask about “meal occasions” today, people think of holidays or special nights out at restaurants.

This represented an enormous shift in American culture. TV dinners were just one of the forces of change in the 50s and 60s. It might even be accurate to describe them as symptomatic of the cultural shifts going on. The role of women was changing dramatically; the family was being redefined by divorce, women in the workforce, and there was a general liberation of women in the culture. Just think how novel the TV dinner experience was at that time! Remember, TV itself was novel then too.

What do YOU think??

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