Thursday, October 27, 2011

Expiration dates

A few days ago, I got up at about 2 A.M. I was hungry. Often, on such occasions, I make myself a late-night snack. So, I decided to make myself a cheese sandwich, which is pretty straightforward to make, if you have bread, and sliced cheese. And due to a habit, that I have developed after many years outside of "Desi-land", I checked the expiration date on the bread. At 2 A.M., a few hours from dawn, it dawned on me, that the bread was going to expire. Later that day. And then, I checked the cheese. I couldn't find an expiration date on the pack, and so, I said to myself what I always say on such occasions, "What the hell! No one has ever died from eating cheese."

The sandwich was delicious. And, I did wake up the next day. Alive.

I never knew that food could expire. In fact, growing up in small town India, I was lucky to have never been exposed to the very idea. That food, could expire. I usually saw the milk we drank, coming out from the cow's udders. And once, when our milkman had let me become his apprentice for a few minutes, I did try milking a cow. It goes without saying that it is not that easy, and once you get something for the effort, you don't let it expire. That easily, that is. Our eggs would be fresh too, the guy who used to raise chickens in our small town, used to bring them right over. In a strange contraption that used to look like a soccer ball, made out of wire mesh. I am one of those fortunate Desis, who has held a warm egg straight from the hen's behind. One does feel a slight pang of remorse, when the hen complains with a loud cluck, but then, fresh eggs will always help wipe the guilt off somewhat. If cooked the right way, that is. 

And bread? I held my first loaf in hand, when I was about thirteen. That is when, a bakery had started in our remote town, and the pao-roti, which we initially thought was roti made by kneading the dough with legs,  was simply not worth bothering with. The guy did not really know his way around with yeast, and very soon,  if I remember correctly, he started making Jalebis for a living. We all thought that it was a wise decision.

I first got exposed to the concept of expiring food, when, as a new graduate student in the land of the free, I decided to stock up on graduate student staples -- bread, eggs, cheese, frozen pizza, and the greatest of all Japanese inventions ever -- instant noodles.  A fellow student kindly explained to me, that I should check the expiration dates. And that is when I came to know that bread can expire. And like all good things have to come to an end, the milk and the eggs too, have to go.

I had always wondered what people would have done before refrigeration came along. Perhaps, modern civilization was built on the back of Freon, and a compressor, that keeps compressing -- day in, and day out. But then, I got introduced to French food. The bread, the wine and the cheese. And as I found out, those things only expire when you decide to let them go. I once heard about a type of cheese, that is aged with maggots around it, which add their own unique "flavor" to it.

So, I figured -- if you don't believe in the concept of food expiration, you either live in Desi-land, or, you become French. During my midnight snack, I did think of the infamous "maggot cheese". It provided somewhat of a solace, that the cheese I was wolfing down, had perhaps survived, and would let me survive too.

The next day, when I got back home from work, I found my wife looking at the pack of bread and shaking her head disapprovingly. She asked, "The bread is expiring today, and the eggs are expiring tomorrow. What do you think I should ask the cook to do with them?"

I thought for a minute. And then, I said with a smile on my face, " Ask her to make French toast. It never expires."


  1. had you eaten 'dead' food,you'd still not be a cannibal.

  2. Expiry dates are not strict deadlines,are they?
    unless you need an excuse to polish off a plate of cheese sandwich.

  3. many years outside of "Desi-land" you should be called Videshi babu...:-)

  4. Never had I worried about expiry dates as now since I am all by myself! I usually have to throw away the half loaf of bread or the couple eggs that have stayed too long in the fridge!

  5. we have a peculiar problem.The bowl of leftover subji slowly gets pushed to the back of the fridge and then gets of leftovers.

  6. Really, I have once even eaten bread with some greenish-yellow thingy on them :D called fungus :D
    you just have to clean it up a beat and its ready to eat :D
    Expiry date, well "bade logon ke bade chonchle" is all I can say :P

  7. babu,what is "chonchle" above ?

  8. Dear Vandy: I am now in Des. And that is all that really matters!

    Dear Neha: That's usually a good idea..

    Dear Anon @ 9:40 PM: We have the same problem! Don't you sometimes wish that you had a fridge that sat on a turntable?!

    Dear Pathfinder: Don't be shy about eating fungus. Specially if you like mushrooms. A friend who went to school at Berkeley, once told me about the exciting kinds of "shrooms". Those kinds of fungus, can show you the rainbow on a rainless day :-)

    Dear Anon @ 4:48 AM - I have no clue, perhaps, Pathfinder can help us find the path on that one...

  9. How come Desi Babu don't know this famous desi phrase?

    Can't translate it literally, but it somewhat means "making fuss out of nothing" /)

  10. Why do I have a feeling that you grew up around Jamshedpur? Just Curious.