We’re not entirely certain whether this is meant to be an honest-to-goodness consumer food item or more along the lines of a gag gift – but in our defense, neither are the experts at the august Smithsonian, whose Innovations blog asked “Would you eat dinner in a can?”
Introducing “Christmas Tinner,” a meal-in-a-can purportedly offered by the UK-based video-game retailer GAME. (In Britain, canned food is often called “tinned” food; the pun about Christmas Tinner doesn’t really work in American English but it does on the other side of the Atlantic.) The idea is to offer a full multi-course traditional English Christmas dinner in a can, for video gamers who can’t bear to leave their game consoles long enough to enjoy a feast the old-fashioned way.
The Christmas Tinner offers a nine-course meal layered throughout a single can, with “scrambled egg and bacon” on top, and working its way down through two mince pies, turkey and potatoes, gravy, bread and cranberry sauces, stuffing with Brussels sprouts or broccoli, roast carrots and parsnips, and finally, on the very bottom of the can, a layer of Christmas pudding.
There’s a near-limitless number of jokes you can make about the likely quality of a nine-course meal layered into cylindrical form and shoved into a can, and we were about to make some ourselves until we read further in that fascinating Smithsonian Innovations blog post and learned that the tradition of sneering at canned (or tinned) food has some unhealthy snobbery in its pedigree:
Though quite ingenuous (when you really think about it), the bulk of canning’s maligned reputation, it appears, has much to do with its blue collar roots. Conceived, ironically, by Frenchman Philippe de Girard in 1810 as an inexpensive way to preserve food, cans have traditionally been associated with the urban working class. As the domain of miserly survivalists, canned food and beverages are typically what poorer folks stock up on during times of recession and prolonged economic hardship. The can’s already humbled image, however, isn’t helped any by egregious abominations such as Sweet Sue’s whole chicken in a can and the peanut butter and jelly Candwich, which NPR’s Sandwich Monday described as having a taste that’s “somewhere on the continuum between Play-Doh and Taxicab Air Freshener.”
Time and money
There’s no denying that, assuming you have unlimited time and money, pretty much any fruit, vegetable, meat or other edible tastes infinitely better fresh than it does out of a can. Unfortunately, most of us have only limited time and money and buying and cooking everything fresh every day simply isn’t feasible — especially if you want to keep a food stockpile on hand, not even for “miserly survivalist” reasons but for sensible economic ones: if a non-perishable food you like is on sale for a good price, you can save money in the long run buying extra cans now, since you know you’ll eat them later anyway. But try this with perishables and you'll just waste your money: most of the food will go bad before you or your family get the chance to do anything with it.
And, of course, one need not be a “survivalist” to know that storms can and do sometimes cause lengthy power outages even in the most urban of environments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends all Americans keep a minimum three day’s worth of food and water in their homes — and they don’t mean food that’ll go bad if your refrigerator and freezer quit working.
Incidentally, back in October and November 2011, we (along with more than half the people who lived in Connecticut at the time) went over a week without electricity after a monster blizzard pummeled the state. Luckily, we lived in easy walking distance of a diner that still had power and hot meals—but we couldn’t afford to eat every meal at the diner (especially not after we had to throw away hundreds of dollars’ worth of spoiled food from our fridge and freezer), so we’re very glad we had a good supply of heat-and-serve canned goods on hand, to cook on our little alcohol stove.
However – unlike the people who’ll presumably be adding cans of Christmas Tinner to their emergency stockpiles – even when we made multi-course meals, on the shelf they were one course per can: this can holds the weird-orange-spaghetti course, that can the veggie course, another can of seafood and now it’s time for dessert. But if anyone tries layering sweet corn and tuna fish and neon pasta loops and chocolate pudding altogether in a single can — well, you might be brave enough to try it, but we’re not.