The media has had a field day lately with the possibility that Twinkies will go by way of the passenger pigeon. For those of you who are praying for a miracle, you can take comfort in the likelihood that a white knight will ride in to save the cakes from extinction, even though the cakes themselves, will remain edible until the actual apocalypse. In my latest dystopian story, I toy with the concept of a time when over 95% of the world’s population is killed off in two years. I won’t get into the challenges survivors face with cleanup activities, but it sparked a question as to what happens to all the manufactured foodstuffs in a supply chain for 300 million?
Let the spoilage begin, you say? Salad greens and eggplant … probably, but hold that thought. Canned goods, dried foods and frozen fare? Is it possible to find a way to work on it over longer periods to satiate the needs of those who survived? Holy expiration date, Batman, talk about flouting FDA mandated rules governing how long it takes to toss things in the garbage. The ptomaine circus has just pulled into town, with a botulism funhouse guaranteed to twist your innards. Wait a minute, the FDA doesn’t exist anymore in this world.
Popular apocalyptic stories typically tell of populations declining over time from disease, food shortages, violence … becoming a zombie. Mankind, or what’s left of it, is forced back to the hunter-gatherer life. In my new dystopian world, where almost overnight, the population shrank to a time when the Declaration of Independence was signed, what would you do if you knew where all the food was warehoused, and had the power to do something about it?
Technology can already utilize food freezing to near absolute zero and replicate desert humidity for less temperature sensitive things like grains, pastas, dry goods (think mummification). We already know canned goods last much longer than their expiration dates if stored properly. Spam has an expiration date of … never. Grains found in archeological digs from thousands of years have actually germinated in isolated cases. Food scientists have even found ways to keep produce viable for years.
So, back to the original question, if you shored up the storage facilities to ensure climate control, uninterrupted power, no intrusion from critters wanting to share in the newfound wealth, how long would it last? Remember, we’re talking processed food … you know, all those blue boxes of mac-n-cheese, jarred pasta sauce, dried beans and canned tuna. With a little attention to detail, could you save it?
I can think of a few technicalities that might kill our theory. One comes to mind is, how will you get it done before it all goes bad? Dead bodies everywhere, clogged highways, resource collapse, hoarding, general hysteria, but we’re telling stories. If you can believe in zombies, a herculean effort to save warehoused food can’t be all that hard to swallow.
What do you think? You have to get past the gag-reflex of opening a twenty-year-old can of tuna stored in hermetically sealed warehouses. Go on, you can do it … its fiction.
Have a Twinkie.