Slide Shows

Convenience foods for the end of the world

From canned sandwiches to sushi popsicles to canned elephant, a tour through the pleasures of food technology

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    At first, I felt badly for Candwich inventor Mark Kirkland. He’s put 10 years of his life into stuffing a hot dog bun with packets of peanut butter and jelly into a soda can, persevering through oceans of snark and the fact that one of his main money men bilked millions out of real estate investors to, well, get behind sandwiches in a can.

    But give Kirkland a hand for believing in his product: “This product will be in demand for disaster relief. I wish I had 100 million cans after the earthquake in Haiti.” Hahaha, we’ll laugh, as if there isn’t plenty of canned food already! But fear his prophecy: “Look at it like bottled water. When that first came out, I thought ‘Why would I pay a buck for a glass of water when there’s a drinking fountain over there?’ But now I have a bottle of water every day.”

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    Cheeseburger in a can

    For those who believe that Candwiches — and possibly, the eating of food — are for wussies, Swiss water-filter maker Katadyn presents the Cheeseburger in a Can, which you heat by conveniently boiling the can. Its website claims that the burger lets you “have more of life: more enjoyment, less weight to carry, and more time for doing other things.” Do you really want to eat a food whose explicit selling point is that you don’t have to spend time eating food? Oh, and the “serving suggestion” in the picture is, at best, generous.

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    Tracy O'Connor/I Hate My Message Board

    Sweet Sue’s Whole Chicken in a Can

    Canned food is important. We can make fun, but remember that the ability to store and preserve food this way has been vital to survival for centuries, and it ushered in an era of productivity and prosperity in postwar America, if not a culinary revolution we’re necessarily proud of now. So let us all give a nod of respect to canned food before we consider Sweet Sue’s Whole Chicken in a Can.

    OK, now feel free to reel in horror. To be fair, I’ve never eaten one of these, but you know, some things you can judge by their cover. Or, in this case, by its flabby, disintegrating skin. Click here to see blogger Tracy O’Connor’s gloopy blow-by-blow account of attempting to eat that which looks unflatteringly like a bird mauled by a bear. A bear with no sense of humor.

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    Micro Bakers

    Here is a potato. We have wrapped it in plastic for you, so you can cook it in the microwave. Would you forget to breathe if someone didn’t remind you? Because we have a product for that, too.

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    Sushi Poppers

    Yesterday, I gloated when I got my mail: sushi packed in plastic tubes to be eaten like Push-Up Pops, steaming from the dry ice they came in. Sarah Hepola said, “You’re waiting for your novelty sushi to defrost. Doesn’t that sound good?”

    Sarah, why do you hate America? Fans of Sushi Poppers cry, “Finally, something the Japanese invented that Americans improved on!” After all, the company claims that now you can take sushi to places it’s never been before, like space stations. But after popping a couple of pieces, I started wiping my tears away. This is pretty much the lowest form of sushi: gummy and sweet and fishy (especially the chicken flavor. WTF?). This is not what fish and rice died wanting to be! This is not what America is meant to be! Sushi Poppers, why do you hate AMERICA?

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    I guess when you trade in jelly, there’s only so much room for work to be done in your R&D department. But peanut butter and jelly packed in the same jar? “You know, it’s really hard for people to unscrew two tops,” I snickered. Until I learned a key fact: Smucker’s introduced this stuff in 1968, right in the heart of the hippie era. Now it all makes sense! That explains the psychedelic candy-striped look … and if you’re high as a kite, it is really hard to open two jars!

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    Not to keep beating up on Smucker’s, but 40 years after the Goober, they gave us frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. And these are marketed to moms, not half-paralyzed stoners, so there isn’t even that excuse. The only value I can imagine these having is absolving you of the guilt of throwing away the perfectly good crusts on your own.

    And while we’re at it, what’s up with that name? I mean, why would you want a kid’s food to pun off of “Untrustable”? Was “Candy From a Stranger Sandwiches” taken?

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    Fast Franks

    I tried to give Oscar Mayer the benefit of the doubt and politely pretend that selling three pre-assembled hot dogs for the price of a full pack of wieners wasn’t just sneering contempt for the consumer, but rather a solution to the age-old problem of franks coming in packs of eight and buns by the dozen. But even with that, I couldn’t get past this gem from its press release: “By leveraging proprietary dough technology, Oscar Mayer Fast Franks have made hot dogs easier to enjoy than ever before.” OK, what kind of dumbbox do you think I am? You put a hot dog in a bun, dude. Don’t be all “Look how smart we are!” about it. Too bad you couldn’t leverage this thing enough to keep it on the market for more than two years.

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    Canned Elephant

    OK, so first: As far as I know, you can’t really get canned elephant meat anymore, since African elephants made the endangered species list in the ’80s. But 40 years ago you could, and in 1968, when the Republicans had their national convention in Miami, an enterprising local restaurateur called her daughter up in New York and had her send down a couple of cases of canned elephant meat from Bloomingdale’s for a festive special: elephant omelets. They didn’t sell a single order, but the stunt worked: Craig Claiborne, food editor of the New York Times, flew down to interview the cook and, incidentally, was blown away by her desserts. He urged her to write a book, and so was born the career of cookbook legend Maida Heatter.

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    Michelle McElroy/Second Rate Snacks


    It’s important to know what kinds of messages our actions send to people. A baloney sandwich on sliced bread in a paper bag says, “Mom and Dad might be busy, but we love you, honey.” But mini-baloney and crackers in a vacuum-packed plastic tray says, “Get used to this, kid, because it’s what you’re going to get on the airplane when we finally ship you to boarding school and get you out of our hair once and for all.”

    I should note that Salon’s news editor Steve Kornacki took exception to including Lunchables on this list. “I love them!” he exclaimed. “They have that freshness thing on the baloney, that you peel off for extra wetness.” I rest my case.