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  • Writer's pictureSusan Welsh

Self-isolation and survival food

My friend Amy has put up several cans of Underwood Deviled Ham in her pantry to get through this pandemic. The paper-wrapped can with the fiendish looking mascot takes me back, once again, to my grandmother’s kitchen— where a deviled ham sandwich on white bread and a side of deliciously greasy Wise potato chips was a delight.

Now more than ever shelf-stable food is a blessing and a welcome convenience. Did you know we have Napoleon to thank for this? Looking for a better way to feed his troops during the Napoleonic wars, he offered 12,000 French francs to anyone who could come up with a better way to preserve food. The prize went to Nicolas Francois Appert who devised the basics of canning: heating, boiling, and sealing which both killed off bacteria and microorganisms plus vacuum sealed the can to prevent other microorganisms from getting in. Appert is considered "the father of canning" and his method kicked off an entire industry.

The pantry canned favorites of my youth included Campbell’s Bean With Bacon Soup and Spaghetti-O’s. Neither resides on the shelves of my adult pantry but the nostalgic taste memory lingers on. The soup reminds me of the biggest snowstorms in the history of my life like the Blizzard of ’78, snow for three days, accumulation of two feet and my father building tunnels for us and the coolest igloo I’ve ever seen in a suburban backyard. This pandemic is sort of like that snowstorm—the way life as we know it suddenly comes to a grinding halt and the basics of existence all became encapsulated within our homes. Sort of like living in a snowglobe, kind of like breathing in an indoor pool...

This imposed self-isolation is clarifying—solidifying real friendship with greater connection and communication and magnifying the chasms in relationships that were tenuous before this whole thing started. And here and now is when John Donne’s poem feels fitting:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less,

As well as if a promontory were:

As well as if a manor of thy friend's

Or of thine own were.

Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

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