SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

This Column Must Be Consumed by 12/06/09
By Dave Kiffer


October 07, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - As I sit at my computer terminal, I notice that my bottled water (no "heliocentric" acid rain water from KPU for this boy!) has a "sell by" date.

jpg Dave Kiffer

I can't really call it an expiration date, because last time I checked water doesn't expire. It just goes in a big circle of life that involves rivers, oceans, and my kidneys.

Be that as it may, my water "expires" in November of 2008.

That's good to know because I would hate to drink any water that the bottler considered substandard. Just another reminder that even the most basic things in life have a shelf life.

A few weeks ago, I was at one of our local grocery stores and I noted that a certain brand of butter was still on sale. I say "still" because the same brand was on sale early in August.

In August, I had started to grab several cartons but then I scanned the sell by date and noted that the reason it was on sale was because it was about a week "overdue."

I suppose the butter was perfectly fine, but why take a risk?

In the modern world, I suspect that any dairy product even close to its sell by date has probably been on the shelf a little too long for my taste. If butter gets old, it gets a little darker and, lard knows, I don't much like "Cajun blackened" anything!

But as usual, I digress.

Anyway, I noticed the same brand of butter was being offered at the same sale price and it still carried the same August 2 sell by date. But now it was September 10. That's stretching things a bit, even by Ketchikan

Growing up in Ketchikan I had to take a rather casual approach to food "expiration.". Was it better to have six day old milk or no milk, for example. Especially if the only option was evaporated milk, which my
grandparents used to drink uncut, straight from the can, but that's another story.

Or how about "is that an avocado or just a really, really old orange?"

Once upon a time, Ketchikan "grew" at least some of its perishables. At one point, there were three or four dairies in the area. And there were small farms on Gravina and up the Unuk, that provided the occasional fresh vegetable.

But those had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur by the time I was kid.

After all, we had freezer vans to ensure that we got our food promptly (or at least promptly from the Seattle warehouses where some of it had been moldering since the Johnson (Andrew, not Lyndon) administration.

Sitting here right now with my rapidly spoiling bottle of designer water, I can't remember looking for sell-by dates when I was kid.

Maybe it was a case of don't look, don't tell. Some days we were just too danged excited to see an apple that was still some shade of red or a banana that wasn't either Green Hornet Green or Batman Black.

It was a joy to get some cottage cheese that didn't look like it had "maturing" in some English "cottage" since the Little Miss Muffet's time.

I don't remember there being much yogurt in those halcyon days. That's a shame because it would have been one product that would have been hard to put a shelf life on.. It was already "spoiled" to begin with.

Then there was the ice cream that was a bit past prime.

"Gee, is that Neopolitan?"

"No, just some vanilla."

"Never mind."

A carton of fresh milk was something you grabbed without question even it sometimes led to conversations like the following:

Me, spitting out: Pthew, I hate buttermilk.

My friend, looking at the carton: Uh, that's not buttermilk.

To make matters worse, I was not just a Ketchikan resident but I was also part of a fishing family. Fishing families are always living so close to the margin that anything and everything that is purchased must be consumed, expiration dates be hanged.

For example, while other families may have frequently consumed mystery meat and other delicacies of the spamanoid persuasion, our family specialized in mystery canned goods.

The basement in the house and the cupboards in the trolling boat often overflowed with cans that had long lost their labels You never knew if you were getting canned peaches or canned beans or canned ham. Life was an adventure when you wielded the can opener in those days.

One year we sank the boat and all the can goods lost their labels and got really rusty. Did we throw anything out? Of course not.

Living on a fishing boat meant getting creative with other "expired" food. Bacon used to get pretty fragrant by the end of a two week trip in small ice cooler on deck. My father used to cover the smell by having a six-pack with breakfast ("The sun's over the yardarm somewhere, sonny!")

And of course, you didn't let a little mold prevent you from making a sandwich. You just cut out the mold and hoped the old man wouldn't notice.

"Uh, gee, son. What's with the holes in the bread?"

"Uhh, that's that special Swiss cheese bread, Dad. Just like you like!"

Thank goodness those days are past. Most of the food we eat is at least sorta fresh.

Or it will be, if I can finish this water before November, 2008.

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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