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Thursday, March 10, 2005

TV Snack Food Nation

In Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies he tracks the progress of a number of human civilizations around the world in their quest for food production. Many technological advancements follow in the wake of food production, as a portion of the population is then free to develop talents other than trying to club a rodent with a stick. All human societies begin as hunter-gatherers. Some cultures were able to domesticate varying plants and animals and thus were able to establish stable communities. From the advantage of being able to produce food instead of the time-consuming methods of hunter-gatherers, food producing societies went on to invent better tools, homes, writing systems, and eventually television sets.

The domestication of the horse brought with it huge advances in agriculture and transportation for ancient civilizations. The invention of the TV is likewise ushering in a vast amount of innovations that will also greatly influence the trajectory of human evolution. Ancillary products associated with the television are obviously too numerous to even list, so I will discuss only the most important byproduct: Snack food.

Snacks were invented to accompany watching TV. There was no need for snacks in the pre-TV era because there was nothing good on, and even more importantly, there was no TV to be on. In those days people would just sit on the couch and read the TV Guide waiting for Thomas Edison to invent the television. Bob Barker was already doing The Price is Right in front of a studio audience—they just didn’t know what a studio was back then. Thank God the TV came along or people would have thought that the young Barker was absolutely nuts.

The earliest attested date of the domestication of wheat was 8,500 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East. This discovery brought about the birth of civilization. Over 10,000 years later scientists would discover nacho cheese flavoring and single-serving ready-made strawberry short cakes. It took thousands of years for man to go from mining metals to making steel but it only took three weeks after the invention of the television for man to use metal alloys to manufacture affordable TV dinner trays.

The same brain power that went into the space race was unleashed so that humans could obtain tasty and completely nourishment-free food. By the time televisions were commonplace in American homes, a veritable Manhattan Project for snack foods was underway. America’s leading scientists worked furiously to develop foods high in essential nutrients like salt and sugar that could be prepared during the commercial breaks of The Honeymooners.

It wasn’t all Good Times during the snack food revolution. For those of you old enough to remember, there was the chicken pot pie massacre. The chicken pot pie was a fantastic idea on paper but its execution was nearly that--an execution—for millions of American children during the 1960’s. The chicken pot pie was an individual serving of chicken-related matter (mostly ears, feet, and toe nails) that was wrapped in a pie crust and housed in an aluminum alloy pie pan.

The pies came frozen from the super market and took approximately one school term to defrost. To serve you simply placed the chicken pot pie in the oven at 1,900 degrees at the beginning of the Tom & Jerry cartoons around 3 in the afternoon and the pie would be done later that evening during Green Acres. Chicken pot pies were delicious, so I have been told. The problem was that they took so long to cook that you would be practically fainting from hunger by the time they were ready. I’m sure I’m not the only kid who completely scorched his entire digestive track eating a pot pie while it was bubbling hot. It was like eating chicken-flavored lava.

I can only speculate as to what did more harm to me: watching countless hours of bad TV as a kid, or eating a ton of shitty food while I watched. All I can say is that after all these years I can still sing the theme song from Green Acres, and my lower intestines probably still has blisters from eating chicken pot pies.

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