A great variety of food comes in cans. My mind naturally turns to vegetables and beans, but “tinned meat” was a staple of my childhood, including the now derided Spam. When I see octopus and squid in cans I’m glad I’m now a vegetarian. Once—it may have been in Canada—I even saw bread in a can. My wife and I used to can vegetables at home when we had a garden and commuting didn’t eat up every spare second of the day. For the store-bought can, however, a can opener is essential. The idea is to seal the outside world out, to avoid contamination. To get to the goodies inside you need a tool. A can opener. In these days of emergency preparedness, a can opener can be a matter of life and death, or so we’re led to believe. Dry goods can survive without special preservation, but most require cooking and if the power’s out, well, cans can be much easier. I’m writing about cans because our can opener doesn’t work. We don’t have one of the electric machines that takes up counter space and would be useless in an emergency, but the basic hand-held device that’s designed to remove the lid from a can. I hope there are no hurricanes before we can get another.
A little context is in order here; after all, this blog is about profound things. We’ve gone through four can openers in the past six months or so. (Similar statistics apply to rotary cheese graters and garlic presses, but they are less crucial in an emergency.) The underlying issue is ethics: when you buy something durable, you expect it to last. Now you’re probably thinking, “don’t buy cheap merchandise, then.” We tried getting all of these devices from kitchen stores (not outlets!) and for a price that edged us beyond the comfort zone for a basic tool. These were the ones that went defunct the quickest. Our economy is built on the premise that people have to spend. When I was a kid, we had a can opener that remained the same through my childhood and college years. And we were poor. Now that we’re warned of terror on every side, you’d better have access to a store when that emergency comes because your can opener can fail you.
I know how to use a pocket-knife can opener. In fact, over the holidays I had to resort to one since stores weren’t open and our most recent addition to the can opener family had died. I made sure to show my daughter how to use the pocket knife device. When we lived in Wisconsin we learned how to make our own candles too. During Hurricane Sandy, a decade after they were dipped, these candles proved their worth. With no electricity for three days, we did rely on a can opener. Since then we have not found one that lasts. It seems that our economic plan as a nation is at odds with our national emergency preparedness. Even in the event of a war, we’re told, companies won’t produce weaponry unless they can make a profit. In days like these it seems that a pocket knife might be the wisest investment of all.