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The Inuit Legacy in Frozen Foods

Sydney Prescott


Frozen foods are hugely important to a household. They are a convenient and affordable way to access healthful foods from all food groups. Frozen foods retain their nutritional content, sometimes having more vitamins and minerals in comparison to fresh foods because fresh foods gradually lose them over time. But frozen foods can also be rather off-putting. They can lose their texture or flavor to the freezer if the food isn’t frozen fast enough. As food freezes, ice crystals form within the cells of the food. The faster this happens, the smaller the crystals will be, and less damage to cell walls will occur. When a food freezes slowly, big ice crystals puncture cell membranes. This results in drippy food upon thawing, the liquid loss taking the texture and flavor along with it. Quick freezing, or flash freezing is everywhere today, but where did this method come from?


Clarence Birdseye is given credit for inventing the quick freezing method we know today, but he wasn’t the one who created it. He was the one who figured out how to sell and commercialize it. 


While working as a fur trader in Canada, he observed that the fish the local Inuit caught froze almost immediately after being caught. Then he discovered that the fish was just as good months later when it thawed out. The intense, arctic cold could preserve freshness better than any method he had experienced in America. He commercialized this method, creating Birds Eye “frosted foods,” consisting of fruits, vegetables, and meats. As of 2019, the frozen food market is worth 150 billion dollars in sales worldwide. 



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Labrador Inuit don’t view frozen food as an adventure or a progressive narrative, but rather as a relationship with the gift of food and life. Quick freezing creates food stores for community survival. It’s a necessary cultural practice connected to life in the extreme cold. Traditional Inuit foods include arctic char, polar bear, caribou, and seal, usually consumed frozen, dried, or raw. These native foods are full of nutrients that people need to stay well fed during the harsh winters. The inedible parts of the animals are used to create clothes, tools, or products that can be used or sold. 


Although quick freezing is credited to Clarence Birdseye, this commercialized process is rooted in the traditional practices of the Labrador Inuit. Frozen food is much more than convenience in households, it represents the deep connection to food preservation, survival, and resilience.


Sources: 


Brousseau, M. (2022). Birdseye’s Frosted Possession: Processing, Storing, and Transmitting the Gift of Inuit Thermocultural Knowledge. Wikipedia. Retrieved March, 2024, from https://escholarship.org/content/qt0jg5d00j/qt0jg5d00j_noSplash_8c1f987cf5cdf0ed3145d55a6040fa0e.pdf?t=rh7drr 


Gomez, I. (2019, November 26). Food Traditions In The Arctic: Thankful For The Bounty From A Frozen Land : Goats and Soda. NPR. Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/11/26/781679216/how-families-eat-in-the-arctic-from-an-18-box-of-cookies-to-polar-bear-stew


Science Reference Section, Library of Congress. (2019, November 19). Question Who invented frozen food? Library of Congress. Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/technology/item/who-invented-frozen-food/ 


Zepp, M. (2023, May 3). Understanding the Process of Freezing. Penn State Extension. Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://extension.psu.edu/understanding-the-process-of-freezing



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