|July 22, 2005,
as reported by just-food.com: Dinner time in
the 1950s will forever be portrayed one of two ways: smiling
mom in apron happily serving mashed potatoes to family
of four or teenager with freshly heated TV dinner on TV
table sprawled in front of the Ed Sullivan Show.
We can thank the late Gerry Thomas for image number
Gerry Thomas, the US salesman credited with the invention
of the TV dinner has died of cancer at age 83, the BBC
reported. The CA Swanson and Sons marketing executive
dreamt up the new meal format to handle the poultry
unsold after the Thanksgiving holiday. An instant hit
the new invention allowed families to combine meal time
with the new 1950s hobby - watching television.
While traveling on business, Thomas spotted a metal
tray being tested out for in-flight hot dinners, and
the idea of pre-packaged frozen dinners was born.
"It was just a single compartment tray with foil,"
he recalled in a 1999 interview with news agency AP.
"I asked if I could borrow it and stuck it in the
pocket of my overcoat."
The first Swanson TV Dinner - made up of three sections
containing turkey with cornbread dressing and gravy,
sweet potatoes and buttered peas - went on sale in 1953
priced at 98 cents.
Ten million of the cartons, innovatively packaged to
look like a TV screen complete with knobs, disappeared
from US shop shelves in 10 months, as viewers settled
down to munch as they watched number one show I Love
The TV dinner's runaway success led to a pay rise for
Mr. Thomas, booming business for Swanson and a culinary
trend of convenience which shows little sign of falling
However, Mr. Thomas' invention is not remembered fondly
"He has a lot to answer for," UK child psychologist
and parenting expert Doctor Pat Spungin told the BBC
News website. "It's a terrible invention as far
as family life is concerned."
Dr Spungin - who has set up the Back to the Table campaign
in the UK to encourage families to eat home-cooked meals
together - says the problem is that the TV dinner destroys
"Even if you have seven people together eating
TV dinners, they are eating in a line and that's not
conducive to communication," Dr Spungin said.
"Eating together has always been a mark of family
life. You also eat together as a sign of hospitality
"[The TV dinner] is a big problem in the UK and
America but I think in countries with a stronger food/family
tradition, like Italy and Spain, the concept of the
TV dinner is probably regarded with horror."
Even in its early days, the TV dinner was not universally
Thomas received "hate mail from men who wanted
their wives to cook from scratch like their mothers
did", he said.
But Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the
Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University,
believes it is unfair to blame Mr. Thomas for the decline
of home-cooked food.
The advent of the TV dinner coincided with a changing
society where women were increasingly going to work
and had less time to cook, he told AP.
"Some people claim the TV dinner was the first
step toward breaking up the American family because
it made it possible for everybody to eat in a 'modular'
way," he said.
"That was going to happen anyway. The redefinition
of the American family was going on anyway."
It was not until the 1990s that Thomas's role in inventing
what became a national icon was fully recognized. The
original aluminum tray can now be seen in the Smithsonian
Thomas said of his invention: "It's a pleasure
being identified as the person who did this because
it changed the way people live. It's part of the fabric
of our society."
But wife Susan has admitted her late husband's pride
did not extend to consuming the fruit of his labors.
"He was a gourmet cook. He never ate the TV dinners,"