TV dinners are one of the many childhood fascinations which lose their luster as one passes into maturity’s more discriminating embrace. Forget Tang — these prepackaged and uber-processed slices of low-effort culinary heaven were the true apotheosis of Modernist cuisine, information pills inextricably entwined with the technological and cultural developments of post-WW2 America.
They were a rare treat in our home, purchase reserved for the occasional weekend or special event such as the annual network broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. Picking the “right” meal was a process as involved and carefully considered as selecting the optimal sugar-content-to-premium ratio in one’s choice of breakfast cereal. This is what “the good life” meant to a working class tyke — an entire meal (including DESSERT) compartmentalized in a tinfoil tray placed on the living room table.
By the time one has the means to realize the one’s childhood dream of eating this stuff every night, the bloom has usually fallen of the heat ‘n’ eat rose. I’m not a food snob by any stretch of the imagination, and retain an enduring fondness for the fatty, sugary depths of bottomfeeder cuisine. Chef Boyardee has been a faithful companion during my ongoing stint as a derby widow, and no five star meal could ever compare to the simple joy of a bowl of canned chili with a quarter stick of store-brand cheddar congealing on the surface.
I like processed junk, though I try to temper that affection with regular lashings of fresh produce and a modest exercise regime. TV dinners (and their upscale faux “gourmet” cousins) have been taken off the table, however.
Kids generally don’t have to concern themselves with things like the price or preparation of food. As you get older, you soon learn that there’s no such thing as a zipless tuck. (I’m truly, truly sorry.) Frozen meals may not be effort intensive, but they are time-intensive. The microwave revolution may have cut down the prep time to a quarter of what it was during the conventional oven’s hegemonic reign, but the rewards never match the investment…especially when anything short of total incineration (conventional) or dessication (microwave) pretty much guarantees you’ll encounter a sizeable spud-sicle swimmimg in the instant mashed potatoes.
If randomly biting into a frozen medallion of Salisbury steak wasn’t off-putting enough, the subtly unpleasant aftertaste left behind by whatever preservatives were used to cryogenically embalm the meat and veg is reason enough to reconsider one’s childhood nostalgia. For all the time and expense involved, it would be just as easy to whip up a quick cheese sandwich.
Not only would it taste better, there’s less likelihood it would painfully luge down one’s gastrointestinal tract fifteen minutes later.