In the fictional universe of Red Dwarf, the crew of an interstellar mining ship are killed by a radiation leak. The only survivors are Dave Lister who is in suspended animation, and his pregnant pet cat who is safely sealed in the hold. The ships computer Holly plots a course out of the Solar System to prevent endangering inhabited worlds. When radiation levels have dropped enough to be considered safe, Dave is released from stasis. Unfortunately three million years have passed and all that time Red Dwarf has been hurling away from Earth at speeds now approaching that of light.
All that while the descendants of Lister’s cat were multiplying. Occasionally a small mutation would arise, and even more rarely that mutation would prove to be beneficial to the individual’s survival. Said individual would experience a minor increase in its chances of surviving to reproductive age and being able to pass on its improved genes and protect its children. Natural selection was favouring certain individuals and over time evolution was occurring.
Eventually this race of cats became humanoid in appearance and developed many similarities to human culture and behaviour. They were influenced in their development by objects they found within Red Dwarf’s storage hold; films, clothes, books, etc. There was however an increasing shortage of food which eventually lead to terrible bloody wars which decimated the cat population. Many turned to the religion of their ancestors who held sacred the vast piles of small cylindrical metal rocks which were abundant within the hold. Also held sacred was a mysterious holy relic believed to have belonged to their god, Cloister the Stupid. The relic was a small jointed piece of metal with a rotating handle and a tiny circular turning blade.
One day a great heresy occurred; a rebellious young teacher grasped the holy relic and took up one of the holy rocks. The cat people cried out at the audacious and disrespectful scene; they could not believe their eyes when the heretic placed the relic against the round ridge of the rock, clamped it tight and began twisting the handle. The rock turned and the circular edge of the cylinder opened revealing meaty chunks of preserved food. Another rock revealed alphabetti spaghetti in tomato sauce. Another revealed more nutritious foods. The heretic was forgiven as the revealer of the holy purpose of the rocks; feeding the starving masses.
I am extremely sceptical that canned food would survive for three million years and still be safely edible. Use-by dates tend only to be a couple of years after purchase at the most, and online sources (of undetermined authority) quote a vast range of times ranging from six months to 100 years. Five years ago, on a slow day in media offices around the country, there was a widely reported story about a man who ate a fifty-year old tinned chicken to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary.
"It was really quite tasty; maybe a bit salty, but then I didn't follow the instructions to the letter. I just broke off a leg, smelled it, drained the jelly off it and then bit into it. The flesh was white with a few pinky bits. Our grandchildren were appalled, begging me not to eat any more, but I knew that if it smelled OK, it wouldn't do me any harm."
The reason I mention this is that, while thinking about what to write today, I mentally browsed my collections of crap acquired over the years. Amongst said crap are two small boxes given to me by my parents after a holiday in Spain. They returned with a couple of souvenirs for me, postcards, probably a book or two, and these two small boxes. Each contains a tin of seafood, now a few years past its use-by date; Guinas de Aguinaga, Surimi al ajillo picante (surimi in spice garlic sauce) and, Agromar, Paté de oricios (sea urchin pâté). (Surimi is ground up seafood, here reformed into worm shapes according to the picture on the box. It’s usually found as crab sticks.)
The surimi is best before end 2006, and the sea urchin expired on 31st December 2008. In theory these may still be edible, however I have no yardstick by which to measure the edibility. I have never had sea urchin pâté before and therefore really couldn’t tell if it had spoiled or not. Some foods are supposed to stink or taste disgusting. The week old mashed potato I just found in a pan in my kitchen could easily have been a rare delicacy despite, or because of, its over-powering stench, oozing liquid and spreading patches of mould. Delicious? Without some wheelie bin diving, well never know.