CURSES, FOILED AGAIN!
AUGUST 12, 1997
Essayist Jim Fisher discusses the varied uses of aluminum foil.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Essayist Jim Fisher of the Kansas City Star considers the virtues of aluminum foil.
JIM FISHER: Has it been 50 years? A man named Jackie Robinson breaking in with the Dodgers and changing America; a ship laden with nitrates blowing up at Texas City, Texas, killing 500 plus; George Marshall proposing a plan that would save Europe. 1947: Dead that year were car maker Henry Ford; a marvelous old horse named Man of War; and a onetime gangster called Al Capone, all now part of our folklore.
Mostly unnoticed then, a time when women still wore pearls to the supermarket, or something seen as absolutely revolutionary, now we think of it as ubiquitous. It was called aluminum foil, so novel half a century ago that Reynolds Metals Company had to demonstrate to housewives how to use it.
SPOKESPERSON: All you do is fix your turkey for the oven, as usual, then wrap it like this in heavy duty Reynolds wrap. You have the tenderest, juiciest turkey you ever tasted.
JIM FISHER: While women embraced it in the kitchen as savior to the Thanksgiving turkey, young, inventive minds came up with a thousand other uses, even to modifying the traditional snowman.
On the surface, few would ascribe anything but utility to aluminum foil. Yet, come into Ottawa, Kansas, an old electric shop converted into a Meals on Wheels kitchen, a parking lot full of vans and volunteers, and see foil in another light. Thicker aluminum foil makes the trays--the 1100 weekday meals; that go to senior citizen centers and homebound folks in five counties south and west of here.
The foil covers the trays and pans and anything else needed to get a nutritious meal a day to the elderly, the frail, the afflicted; most in their 80's, most doing their darndest to stay out of one of those fearsome places called nursing homes. Meals on Wheels here in Ottawa uses 138,000 trays a year.
It uses 36 miles of foil. While 1100 meals a day sounds piddling, that number nationwide figures out to 1/4 billion meals served annually by Meals on Wheels or similar agencies. Without commonplace aluminum foil, most say that probably would be an impossibility. Linda Netterville of Meals on Wheels.
LINDA NETTERVILLE, Meals on Wheels: We couldn't do it without aluminum. Aluminum has been around a long time. With this program it was the first thing that we had, you know, to package our meals up. And I'd say even now that the majority of the meals in the United States are served in aluminum containers, the little three-compartment containers that you see now. It's more universally accepted. It holds the heat. It's more durable. You know, I can't imagine what it was like before aluminum.
JIM FISHER: Before, of course, were soup kitchens, people lined up, bowls in hand, waiting for sustenance to be ladled out. Remember the pictures of 70 years ago--some of the harshest in American history?
The pictures are different now. Reynolds is vividly aware that its aluminum and Meals on Wheels are closely tied. This spring they gave away 50 shiny new vans to Meals on Wheels agencies across the country to celebrate aluminum foil's 50th birthday. One came here to the back roads of Eastern Kansas, its arrival adding 6,000 annually to the number of meals that can be served.
But it's more than new vans or aluminum foil, essentially hardware. It's one-on-one contact in the heartland. Half the patrons report their only contact during the day is the Meals on Wheels driver.
LINDA NETTERVILLE: One of the things that we see in a rural program like this is that we're feeding the farmers that fed us for years. They have chosen to stay on their homeland, and their children have moved to the city, and they have remained on their homeland. So we're more or less their life support, their food chain that goes to them every day and assures that they can stay on their farms.
JIM FISHER: So the old farmer, with a walker, trying to hold onto the old home place, gets his meal, and so does the grandmother and her afflicted grandson, alone, only interrupted at noontime when the Meals on Wheels delivery van arrives with trays made of ordinary aluminum foil.
I'm Jim Fisher.