Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Sold By...

Sometimes in the mid 1800, legends have it, a frozen mammoth was discovered in a mass of ice in Siberia. There’s nothing unusual there, as the frozen remains of these giant creatures have been found regularly in Europe and North America. What made this finding special is that the animal was freed from its icy tomb and butchered, and the meat sent to the kitchens of Russian czar Nicholas I, where it was prepared and fed to the guests of an imperial banquet.  Some choice cuts also ended up in Paris where a famous restaurant served a mammoth meal to it best clients, along with a fine selection of wines chosen for their elephantine bouquets.

I bring this up because I recently cleaned my freezer and found there some delicious frozen items dating from the 90s, which I plan at some time in the near future to thaw and enjoy. When I mention this to my friends, they turn up their noses and mutter something about ‘sell-by date,’ as if I should throw out several pounds of excellent steak, chicken, and other victuals from as yet unidentified sources just because it’s a bit old and frozen solid.

Actually, I have to confess a degree of confusion about the whole concept of sell-by dates. I know people who regard these as eat-by dates, which makes no sense at all. If I look in my pantry, I find canned goods with unfaded labels dating from the last millennium, and these are perfectly edible. I might have second thoughts about the clam chowder from July, 1997, but the vegetable and chicken noodle soups? The cans show no evidence of botulism or other nasty growth, and the tops are not buckling from internal gas pressures. Plus, every post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read has the survivors foraging through destroyed homes for canned goods, which sounds a lot more appetizing to me than eating your pets or cannibalism. 

What I think is that all these dates are part of a monstrous plot foisted upon us by the agricultural, meat and canning industries to get people to consume more, a planned obsolescence of food, as it were. I disagree with this concept wholeheartedly. I say freeze, and freeze long. Our grandchildren should be able to fearlessly explore our freezers in the future and find sustenance there.

And speaking of exploring, the Explorer’s Club, famed for both its mandate to promote scientific discoveries and its annual black-tie fund-raising dinner and cocktail banquet held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, routinely features an adventurous array of atypical eats and bug-filled dishes. Just some of the things on the hors d'oeuvres menu in 2008: Yak Wellington, sweet-and-sour bovine penis, maggot-covered strawberries, scorpions on toast, earthworm stir-fry, mealworm maki, and assorted insect appetizers.

No expiration dates there, I bet. 

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