By R. D. Flavin
Recto and verso cover-art for the 1984 single, “Do They It’s Christmas?”
Twenty-three years ago, Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats (with Midge Ure of Ultravox) encouraged us to “Feed the World” through the lyrics of the song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ (Band Aid 1984). Several months back, Geldof attempted to ridicule the recent efforts of former Vice President Al Gore when promoting a series of concerts to spread a message of environmental concern, Live Earth, with "But why is he actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all fucking conscious of global warming." “Sir Bob,” or Robert Frederick Xenon Geldof, KBE, achieved international celebrity status with "I Don't Like Mondays" in 1979, is often remembered as the organizer of 1985's Live Aid and 2005's Live 8 concerts, though it’s unknown when he assumed the personification of an asshole (ME arsehole > arse or anus and hol [hole] or a hollow place). Attention starved, Bob?
The remains of the day two million years ago–scavenging hominids and bone marrow.
Early humans were scavengers who supplemented their plant and insect diet by consuming the rotting remains of victims leftover from predator (hunter) animals. It was a constant war of hunger and we now understand that humans evolved because of, among other unique environmental factors, nutrients gained from cracking open the large bones of abandoned carcasses and feeding on the medulla ossea or bone marrow. Also, perhaps more importantly, because they shared some of their gains with less fortunate others. While many animals provide for their young, few creatures help their old, sick and wounded. Human 'charity' (passim Griffin 1841, Potter & Grunfeld 1948) is as old as our hunger.
The cover to the April 1, 1961 Saturday Evening Post, “The Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell.
As we became 'civilized' (sic ...cough), customs developed to encourage provision for the hungry who couldn’t feed themselves. Sure, humans still hoard food and resist sharing, but it’s wickedly exceptional and never mere casual behavior. The so-called Golden Rule still applies and we try to live our lives with “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” As the “Golden Rule” is global and variants are known from many diverse cultures, so too is the idiom, “Charity begins at home,” with John Wyclif’s “Charity should begin at himself,” Thomas Fuller’s “Charity begins at home, but should not end there,” and Charles Dickens' “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” While making an attempt to feed the world seems objectively noble, honesty demands a subjective recognition of the hunger outside our doors that we see every day and can do something about ...if we decide to be humane. It’s common sense–do what you can and let others do what they can get away with. Got food?
A couple of months back, I purchased a prepared meal at a local “dollar store" which was yummy, duly impressed me with its “self-heating” ability, and I became inspired to pursue a plan of sharing cheap meals with the neediest, that is, the homeless street-people who suffer from mental illness and don’t often visit shelters and soup kitchens. I reasoned that the absolute least act of charity one could do for such suffering souls was to share a meal with them. I can’t let it go, unlike certain celebrities, philanthropists and politicians, as I’m responsible for my own actions (or in this case, potential inaction), and others have to decide for themselves what to do or not to do. It’s basic, self evident, and seemingly beyond many to appreciate–feed the need or lie as others die. I’ve got food and I have to figure out the correct way to share it.
My initial enthusiasm soon wavered as some of the “self-heating” meals didn’t function properly. Yeah, it’s an example of Murphy’s Law, for sure. After struggling to figure out a way to bring together financial backers and distribution agents it was clear I'd been premature to support the meals from the “dollar store." I’d shared a half dozen of the meals and a couple of the units failed to heat up as designed and advertized. The “self-heating” prepared meals, though they malfunctioned, were still tasty even when unheated and appreciated by the needy, but it'd be wrong to pitch a product that doesn't work when required. I paused, reconsidered, still maintained the correctness of sharing meals and then wrote to the manufacturer.
Video of successful testing of a "self-heating" meal.
The reply was informative, partially disappointing, yet motivated me to continue. It was explained by the Swiss owner of the company that manufactures the “self-heating” meals (and who has also invented a new chemically-based heating technology, see below), that a North American distributer had been picked who’d tried to save money by shipping the meals from Europe in non-refrigerated storage containers which damaged some of the units. The owner used an analogy of bottled wine turned into foul vinegar because of heated air being generated inside of a sealed space onboard a ship for several weeks. It was unfortunate and preventable, I commiserated and we agreed to overlook the local resale, as such stores often deal with discontinued or slightly damaged items (hence the extremely low pricing) and, besides, there was a zero possibility the store would acquire more damaged units. Sadly, it's going to take some time before a different distributer will be able to sell the meals responsibly. However, the new technology behind the “self-heating” meals remains promising.
Napoléon, Nicolas Appert and various can-openers.
Preserving food has long been a problem and for thousands of years salt was the only answer. During the French Revolution, Gen. Napoléon Bonaparte announced a contest to bring about a dependable way to preserve edible food for his troops with the winner being awarded 12,000 francs. In 1809, the French confectioner, Nicolas François Appert, won the prize with a method of using glass bottles which were corked and wax sealed, boiled which resulted in sterilization, and then reinforced with wire and canvas (Appert 1810). Appert’s invention of “canning” soon spread to England, then to America, where canned goods helped settlers traveling to the West and, following Napoléon’s maxim that an “army marches on its stomach,” were used by both Union and Confederate troops during the American Civil War. Tin-plated cans were replaced by iron cans and eventually mass-produced by machines. And, demonstrating that history has a sense of humor, no one bothered to invent a can-opener until Ezra Warner in 1858.
The American military introduced a series of field rations during World War II consisting of canned and paper packaged items to provide a minimum daily requirement of calories to keep its soldiers fed and fit (with some rations including chocolate and cigarettes). As a kid, I remember my dad gave my brother and me C-rations when we went on camping and fishing trips. Olive green cans and the odd little can-opener (the now famous and fondly regarded P-38) are fond memories from my youth.
A disadvantage of those rations (other than complaints about tasting bland) were that they had to be consumed cold and could only be heated by emptying the canned contents into another container and warmed over an open fire, which would potentially expose soldiers in battle to an enemy. Canned food rations were replaced by a plastic pouched MRE™ (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) in the 1980s, but issues of flavorability and heating were carried over. Scientific innovation once again pushed the consumer door open with the contribution of a flameless chemical heater as a portable device consisting of magnesium, salt and iron being activated by the addition of water which produces sufficient heat to warm a meal after ten minutes or so.
A military MRE, civilian version, cheap packaged meal and a popular water-activated variant of the MRE.
Now, while respecting that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” in truth the concept of cooked food contained in packaging heatable without fire or the use of a microwave oven is a challenging goal which, as much in society does, is usually dependent and reduced to a basic cost per unit amount with the cheapest usually dominating any potential market. The current water-activated heating devices sell for around a dollar and a half with meals retailing for between five and ten bucks. Military suppliers, folks on camping or fishing vacations and those stocking up on food in advance of a natural disaster, war, or another horrible scenario, can usually afford to indulge and pay a high fee for a meal served hot without access or dependance upon an open flame or electricity.
Cost and demand are inescapable, though functionality and need are equally deserving of attention. The packaged meal I purchased for a dollar is evidence of this, as it uses a new calcium-based heat generating technology which doesn’t require the addition of water, is wonderfully and ingeniously self-contained, but is currently projected to sell for around seven dollars per unit. It's a great technology (when shipped and stored properly), one which allows for portability and anytime usage, yet ...the “self-heating” meals are too expensive to be included, at this time, in any plan to feed the neediest on the streets. Money shouldn’t matter, but it does.
Hunger is essentially about rights and doing the right thing even when it’s not legally required. The United Nations supports human rights, most religions and spiritual disciplines encourage moral and ethical obligations, many governments legislate civil rights, though it’s an inescapable consensual description of reality that motivates an individual to ultimately decide what’s correct, act accordingly, and endure the consequences whether positive or negative, good or bad, or legal or illegal. Freedom of choice is not an illusory ideal, but rather a sentient species survival tool which reminds us that we evolve together or not at all. Got food?
Skinny-time (sic ...cough) requires that I risk redundancy by differentiating between the hungry Homeless who contributed to their misfortune, the disenfranchised victims of struggling and imperfect societies and those who are suffering because of mental illness and should be helped without debate, excuse or obfuscation. I request that federal, state and local government officials and employees, private citizens and even the touristy passerby help the mentally ill apply for the Social Security benefits they are legally entitled to. I demand we give them a hot meal when possible. I suggest we do what’s right.
Appert, Nicolas. 1810. L'art de conserver, pendent plusieurs années, toutes les substances animales et végétables; ouvrage soumis au
Bureau consultatif des Arts et Manufactures, revétu de son approbation, et publié sur l'invitation de S. Exc. le Ministre de l'Interieur. Paris:
Chez Patris et Cie.
Band Aid. 1984. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Words and Music by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, produced by Trevor Horn and performed by
various artists as “Band Aid.” Mercury Records/PolyGram, UK.
Griffin, Daniel. 1841. “An Enquiry into the Mortality Occurring Among the Poor of the City of Limerick.” Journal of the Statistical Society of
London. 3, 4: 305-330.
Potter, D. C. And C. Grunfeld. 1948. “Definition of Charity: Benefit to the Community.” The Modern Law Review. 11, 2: 223-228.
Correcting Chuck with appetite,