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Birdseye’s Frosted Possession: Processing, Storing, and Transmitting the Gift of Inuit Thermocultural Knowledge,
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/T813158579
On August 12, 1930, Clarence Birdseye patented his “Method of Preparing Food Products,” a “quick” freezing machine that “for the first time produced ... a compacted, quick frozen block of comestibles ... which can be stored ... transported ... and ... after being thawed, reassumes its original condition.” Birdseye’s innovation in the frozen food industry is typically historicized as a progress narrative, wherein the lone inventor masters the molecular forces of water, salts, metal, cardboard, flesh, and plant matter. This teleology is further contextualized within an exploration account, wherein Birdseye’s curiosity is piqued during his years as a fur trader who observes the Labrador Inuit practice of quick-freezing fish. In this article, I use Goenpul scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s concept of “white possessive logics” to interrogate how Birdseye’s racialized assumption of ownership dislocated Inuit epistemologies into industrial metanarratives. To trace the possession, but also the survivance, of Labrador Inuit thermoculture, I reconsider frozen food as a communication system, characterized by dynamics of processing, storage, and transmission. Within this system, food is thinkable as data—information and gift—and frozen food is understandable as an Inuit gift of knowledge and sustenance provided to, and unreciprocated by, Birdseye. Comparatively reading Birdseye’s papers and patents with ethnographical and autobiographical Labrador Inuit and Inuit-Metis narratives, I rethink the historic event of knowledge-sharing that gave Birdseye his thermocultural inspiration. Furthermore, I consider how Labrador Inuit communities reappropriate the mechanical freezer as a traditional technology, and I argue that the globalization of frozen food technology poses an ongoing challenge of reciprocity for Birdseye’s white possession.
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