Oh, come on! During our nation's midcentury moon race against the Soviets, sure, Mom and Dad may have yearned to suck their creamed spinach from a plastic teat and wash it down with a tube-shot of Tang while grooving to David Bowie's "Space Oddity." This I can accept.
I can even accept that when the Challenger explosion roused our collective imagination from JFK's astral dream, certain foods like ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard naturally lent themselves to tubing. Not only did the squeezable innovation slice the Gordian knot that had vexed sandwich-makers since the Fourth Earl of Sandwich first put bread to meat namely, how does one use the same knife to spread multiple condiments on a sandwich without cross-infecting the condiment jars but the tubes were clean, efficient and space-saving. Never again must we rattle our knives around the bottom of a months-old mayonnaise jar, collecting those final hangers-on. Oh! The ecstasy.
But at this late date, the tubular revolution is way off track. In a hurry? No problem! Grab a tube of Slim Jim forcemeat. Low blood sugar? Quick! Tear open a tubular bag of Capri Sun. Feeling peckish? That's nothing a tube of Go-Gurt won't fix. From cheese and tomato paste to pudding and applesauce, these days you can get just about any foodstuff you want from a tube.
Food tubes have been popular for years in Europe, but it wasn't until the Tube Council, a trade group, bestowed its 2003 "Tube of the Year" award to Skippy peanut butter that the stateside tubed-food movement got a big push forward.
Other industries were already catching on. McDonald's had just introduced its ill-fated salad in a tube-like cup concept. Frito-Lay launched Lay's Stax, a potato-chips-in-a-tube product. Even Campbell's Soups, that paragon of "home cooking" in a can, went tubular when it introduced its "Soup at Hand" line of drinkable soups in tube-like plastic containers.
No doubt, our cupboards are looking increasingly like medicine cabinets. But unlike our parents' tube-food dreams inspired by the stars, reminding us of the possible these newer tubed foods have a decidedly pedestrian message. Constructed to fit snugly in a car's cup holder and filled with empty calories, these tubed foods are silent about our hopes and dreams. So don't ask them for optimism about the future. They have nothing to say about that. Ask them instead about hourlong commutes, childhood obesity, type II diabetes and car-bred isolation. Rest assured: They'll speak volumes.
That's not to say that some of these tubed foods aren't practical and tasty; some are. But their gargantuan doses of salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate, combined with their food-as-reliever-of-boredom ethos, can make you positively nostalgic for, say, a tube of Kalles Creamed Smoked Roe.
Hailing from Sweden, this tube of scrambled fish eggs has all the sex appeal of an anchovy. But don't let that fool you. Whereas an anchovy is just one fish, a tube of Kalles Creamed Smoked Roe holds more than 100,000 balls of piscine potential. What does that mean? It means that extruding a star-shape line of creamed smoked roe onto a cracker and eating it tastes something like taking 1,000 tiny trips to the bottom of the living sea.
OK. So I'm guessing on the number of eggs, and the folks at Kalles have augmented their smoky roe with potato flakes, tomato purée and sugar. But you can't deny that there's something positively primordial about eating a tube of eggs.
Sure, that's fish flesh you taste. But what's that? A hint of amniotic fluid? A soupçon of inchoate intestine? Was that a stillborn egg that just slipped between my eyeteeth? How about the sea salt aftertaste? Do I detect hints of urine in the nose?
I'll never know for sure. Not only is Kalles Creamed Smoked Roe, well, creamed; it's also an acquired taste, and so far I'm not feeling very acquisitive. But given the choice between tubes filled with sea and stars, and tubes filled with hypertension and traffic jams, I'll be squeezing my meal with Major Tom.