Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An open letter to the Can, on its 200th birthday

Dear Can,

Has it already been two centuries? You're still so full of beans!

I can't tell you how much you have changed my world. For marketers, you are the great-grand-daddy of packaged goods. But you are much more than that.

Your father, French inventor Nicolas Appert, must be so proud. That is, if he weren't long dead. And if his idea hadn't been patented instead by an Englishman.

But you, my friend, opened up a huge can of whup-ass on history. Before you, armies and explorers were limited by their ability to source fresh food. According to CBC's Peter Nowak, author of Sex, Bombs and Burgers, the Emperor Napoleon himself started the can rolling by offering a prize to anyone who could come up with shelf-stable food for his troops. By the second decade of the 19th Century, European armies were marching all over the world fuelled by tinned meat.

Oh, wait a sec. Does that mean you're responsible for Victorian colonialism? Ouch. That's got to keep you up at night.

That, and the murder of the Franklin Expedition. Well, I suppose I can't blame you for experimenting with lead solder in your youth. We've all had our toxic moments.

But you've had your successes, too! Consider SPAM. (No, scratch that.) OK, how about creamed corn? Oh,wait, I've got it. Your finest achievement was preserved for all time in art:

Those iconic images, and the comfort foods they represent, more than make up for some of your more embarrassing moments:

And yet here you are, 200 years later, rocking food preservation from soup to nuts. But I have some bad news for you, my old friend. Today you still form the staple of my pantry and my emergency preparedness kit. But the end may be near.

You see, the space age brought some changes to food packaging. It's taken 40-odd years, but now tetra packs and soft foil "retort pouches", pioneered by NASA, are really starting to take off. You may be recyclable these days, Can, but you're heavy and awkward (aren't we all, when we're older?) and you cost a lot to move around. I'm afraid we'll be seeing much less of each other in the future.

But this is not a goodbye, Can. Not yet. Whether or not you embrace my tomatoes a few years from now, we'll always have beer.


  1. Funny, I thought Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay and Michael Karoli had only just met in Cologne in 1968.

  2. You had a good run, noble can.

  3. Now I *know* it's sleep deprivation. I was laughing by the time I hit the line about whup-ass. Of course I meant to post that here, and instead I did it on Pete's blog.