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Appetizers for the Apocalypse

Do you have the stomach for survival ration crackers?

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When I saw the news about those hundreds of thousands of Cold War crackers found inside the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge, I hauled out my own stash: Two tall, 23-pound aluminum canisters, full of 3,200 biscuits. While doing laundry one morning in the basement, I’d noticed workers loading water-stained cardboard boxes labeled CIVIL DEFENSE SURVIVAL RATION CRACKER into a Dumpster. They’d been packed in 1963, left over from when my building had been designated as a Cold War fallout shelter. I decided to keep them.

A few weeks later, 9/11 happened. That’s when I started thinking about those decades-old crackers. Dirty bombs? Weaponized anthrax? No problem if I had CDs, DVDs, and my canisters. I’d get my kilocalories from the golden age of homeland security. Or so I thought, until the Brooklyn Bridge find, when city transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall sampled a cracker. “It tasted like cardboard,” she told the Times. “With a nasty backbite.”

Yuck. But was she just a picky eater? I decided to hold my own tasting with help from friends and gourmet condiments. I picked up pâté, caviar, capers, and cornichons. Salty and sour should mask any problems, I thought. Oh, and spicy—I added capricho de cabra, a hearty Spanish goat cheese laced with pepper. But none of it worked. Most of my guests were unable to swallow even a tad of survival cracker. “If I was starving,” said Tribeca printer Dikko Faust, 53, “I’d look around for bugs to eat instead.” Jesse Friedman, 36, a central figure in the documentary Capturing the Friedmans, had lived off prison food, but that didn’t prepare him for this. “Sawdust,” he declared. Still, some had better stomachs for survival. St. Francis College sociology professor Emily Horowitz, 36, gobbled down multiple pieces. “I’m a vegan,” she said. “I’m used to things tasting horrible.”


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