Best Before

I’ve never been a big fan of the “Best Before Date” which has appeared on comestibles, lo these many years.  My first objection is purely grammatical: the date divides the totality of time into only two parts and so it is incorrect to use the superlative (which would require time to be divided into at least as many parts as Gaul).  So, I would have one fewer objection to a “Better Before Date”.

For many products, the humble banana springs to mind, different consumers will take a different view as to when they are better.  I prefer a banana when its skin still has a slight viridian hue, whereas others would spurn such a fruit (OK, technically a herb – but you try seasoning a casserole with one) until its naturally casing had turned almost to ebony.  Even the “Better Before Date” is unable to take account of such differing tastes, and fails to make clear what aspects of “goodness” were being evaluated to select the date.

I have always largely ignored the Best Before Date, and have preferred to rely on my skill and judgement to identify whether an item is still edible.  As a result, I am still using sesame oil that was best before 1998 – though still seem perfectly flavoursome.  Last week I used some breadcrumbs that had been languishing at the back of the cupboard (in fact, several cupboards) for some time and had apparently peaked in January 2001.  They made a perfectly effective component of my cauliflower and kale cheese, and I seem to have lived to tell the tale (and fully plan to repeat the experience).

I have also for years, cheerfully cut the mould from food and eaten the apparently mould-free part.  However, after watching “After Life: The Strange Science of Decay” on BBC4, I may curtail these activities in future.  Apparently, the mould we see (much like the mushrooms that make up so much of my diet) is only the fruiting body of the fungus, while its hyphae extend much deeper into the bread (or cheese or whatever) and may be manufacturing a wide range of deadly toxins.  Circumspection is very much the better part of valour, to paraphrase Falstaff.

Still, at least the “Best Before” date is better than the “Display Until” date.  I have yet to feel the need to bring home a packet of raspberries (or anything else) and place it on display to astonish or amaze visitors or passers-by.  Still, even I would have to admit that it could be handy to include one on Christmas decorations (for those who are unsure when to take them down).  They could probably use a “Do Not Display Until” date as well.

I do like the idea of an Eat-Me Date as an alternative, but mostly in the context of the dried fruit which becomes inexplicably popular at this time of year.  I don’t remember the fruit of the Phoenix dactylifera featuring in the Nativity story – though it is native to the Middle East and I suppose I did major on St Luke’s gospel, so maybe one of the other lads covered the dried fruit aspect of the Christmas story.


Possibly the finest meal between the 10 o’clock, post-breakfast snack and the cook’s “perks” consumed while lunch is being prepared around noon.

Today is sponsored by the number eleven – well, it is for those of us using the Gregorian calendar and base ten – with many becoming rather over-excited by its prevalence within today’s date.  However, given that the base year for our dating system, the start of the year and the start of each month are all effectively arbitrary choices, it is hard to see how the date can have any real significance.

Curiously, the number eleven seems a popular choice of team size for sports developed (or so we like to claim) in these fair isles.  I am at a loss to explain why this particular prime number has been so favoured – nor why the heirs to William Webb-Ellis found it to provide insufficient players once you were permitted to handle the ball.

M-Theory suggests that eleven is the total number of dimensions required to make a universe – though this remains far from proven today (seven are currently missing, assumed to be folded up very small – or perhaps down the back of a sofa somewhere).  So, it seems unlikely that cosmology can have acted as an inspiration to those who first codified our more popular team sports in the 19th century.

I can only assume that the use of eleven players was another arbitrary choice – maybe the committee writing the rules were feeling a little peckish and were subconsciously influenced by the need for some cake (or biscuits) and a cuppa in the longueur between breakfast and lunch.  I think Freud may have rather under-estimated the influence of cake on human behaviour (he seemed rather obsessed with our baser instincts), or am I over-generalising from my own motivations?