COLUMN: I was suspicious of that empty corn can on the counter

Phil Egan

I recently came across an advertisement in a 1954 issue of The Sarnia Gazette, and it brought back memories.

“Sensational Free Food Offer,” it read. “A Francis Food Package FREE to the first 100 people who will give us their attention for just 20 minutes.”

As a veteran of the Canadian travel industry, the pitch immediately brought to mind the free holidays offered by time-share pitchmen.

“There’s nothing to buy, no obligation,” continued the soothing message. All you had to do was fill out a coupon and send it in.

“Our representative will be at your home in a few days with your FREE FOOD.

This included 6 ounces of orange juice, 6 beef burger steaks, 2-1/2 pounds of vegetables, 16 ounces of sliced strawberries and one pint of ice cream.

My parents, then with six children (and eventually 10) and concerned about rising food prices, fell for the pitch.

If the salesman who showed up at your door didn’t manage to sell you a freezer, he’d give you one for free. All you had to do was sign a contract for the company’s food plan – regular deliveries of food to pack the freezer.

There was only one problem. In 1954, the frozen food on the plan was tasteless. It was like eating cardboard.

Especially the corn.

When you lived in a family of eight you were in serious trouble if you wasted food. I spent hours sitting at the dinner table under the scowling gaze of my father, refusing to eat whenever my mother served up meals thawed from the freezer plan.

Whenever we had canned niblets corn I would clean my plate. But when it was frozen corn from the freezer plan, I refused to eat.

My mother was convinced I couldn’t tell the difference and tried a little psychological warfare to convince me to eat the dreaded stuff.

She would save an empty niblets can and put it on the counter in plain view whenever she served freezer-plan corn, thinking I’d be fooled into eating it. She’d get exasperated when I instantly spotted the difference, but she never quit trying.

Francis Foods had offices in Sarnia, Chatham, Windsor and Leamington in the 1950s. It was the booming postwar era, when families were growing and the cost of feeding a family was an important issue.

A search of the Internet finds no trace of the Francis Food Plan today. When I was only seven years old I would pray on Sundays they would go out of business, and it seems my prayers were finally answered.