From the 1950s readymade meals have become ever increasing; a £2 billion-plus worth industry in the UK, the time-saving method of dining becoming popular by the year. Alongside the development of readymade meals has come the rise in women with jobs; the government claiming that as of February 2014, the number has reached 67.2 percent of the UK population.
At record level of employment, the female population may need more time to focus on their jobs than cooking a meal from scratch; the male population more accustomed to cooking for itself than relying on women to do the cooking. The popularity of readymade meals, reaching its climax in the UK, perhaps suggests that the population has evolved into a more productive and work-based society.
The roots of the readymade meal go back to 1950s America, where Swansons, a food company, packaged leftover turkey into portioned, aluminium heat-proof trays for Thanksgiving and sold the product as a new idea for dining on air-planes. Quickly hailing the product as a success, the company targeted more products on the public; the name ‘TV dinners’ quickly became a societal norm in the USA. 10 million were sold in the first year and the idea of ‘eating and watching’ appealed widely to the American population very dearly. The 70s and 80s job market may have been perceived as more male centred, however, with Thatcher in office, perhaps more women were inspired to take on jobs, signifying the growth of the readymade meal catching on like wildfire in the UK.
Pre-war Britain had seen society take a leap forward; longer hours for both men and women came hand in hand with the rise in employment. Likewise the advancement in technology which came with a post-austerity Britain allowed the refrigerator to become a huge step towards the readymade meal trend.
“Ready meals are advertised as being useful and helpful,” says Alan Warde, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester and author of Consumption, Food and Taste. “When there was a universal domestic way of storing frozen food, companies saw the commercial opportunities associated with it.”
Society became more accustomed to multi-culture, with Commonwealth immigration levels reaching 72 thousand per year. Gates were opened and a wider variety of frozen foods, such as curries and desserts, became available to the British market. By 1979, when Marks and Spencer’s released their chilled food line, a fresher version of what had previously been sold. With microwaves coming into light in the 80s, sales flew.
Readymade meals might be interpreted as a symbol of society’s willingness to celebrate different cultures, the increase in jobs for females and a faster, more productive way for any individual to dine. A controversial topic, today, the readymade meal remains a strong competitor in the food market. On average 23-30 percent of the working class spend on readymade meals; a more affordable, quicker method of nourishment. The explosive popularity of chilled meals is likely to remain high.
Healthier readymade meals have been introduced to the modern food market. From Weight Watchers, to Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver readymade meals targeted towards the more health conscious have allowed a wide variety of individuals to use chilled foods as part of their routine, be it lunch or dinner. One particular brand of ready meal, Kirstys, strives to make foods which are free of gluten, sugar and soya, high in fibre, omega rich and antioxidants. The website states to “reinvent” readymade meals, substituting well known ingredients for healthier alternatives.
Now, more so than ever, chilled pre-cooked food is a topic of discussion, however, the representation behind this method of dining is undeniable. As society has evolved, so has the readymade meal; convenience and health is more hand-in-hand than ever.
What do you think about the rise in the production of readymade meals, compared to twenty years ago?