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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Human Flesh



“Preserving food has been a problem for man from the earliest times. If he lived in the arctic, he could freeze it. If he lived in the desert, he could dry it. And if he lived near the ocean, he could pickle it in salt water. Otherwise, he ate as much food as he could before it spoiled.”

This helpful glimpse into human affairs appears in the introduction to Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Canning Cook Book. In 1973 they didn’t care about piffling things like historical accuracy, and preferred to employ such vague terms as “earliest times” to denote specific periods of technological development. Evidently, preserving food was not a problem for man before the earliest times, since he was asleep, and his wife was already up slaving away over a hot fire stewing mammoth bones for breakfast.

One of Franklin's tins
In later times, sealing food in tins made extended trips in ships possible, though it had its drawbacks. In 1845, for example, Sir John Franklin embarked on his final attempt to find the fabled Northwest Passage. He took 8,000 tins of food that was ordered from provisioner Stephen Goldner just seven weeks before the voyage. It was a rush job. The lead soldering them shut was "thick and sloppily done, and dripped like melted candle wax down the inside surface.”

No-one survived. Lead poisoning compounded with scurvy finished off those not eaten by their starving crewmates. How do we know this? Permafrost is a wonderful medium for preserving human corpses and relics.

Interestingly (a fact conveniently suppressed from the history books), Franklin’s shipwrecked men were taken in by the local Inuit, who tried to feed them these individual shepherd’s pies topped with “a mound of instant potatoes and a cheese triangle,” but they insisted on devouring each other instead. The length to which  men will go to to avoid causing offense to a well-meaning but inept hostess is impressive.

The lesson here? If you want to live to enjoy the future times, avoid canned foods and stick to fresh fruits and veg. Also, if you are reduced to dining on your companions, eat as much of them as you can before they spoil.

Home Canning Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1973

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