Pondering Icelanders’ love affair with questionable canned veggies
Nostalgia marketing is big money but it is around the Holidays that it is most expertly wielded. Shady mega-conglomerates and unashamed monopolies doff their Christmas caps and electrocute their army of Yuletide lab monkeys into screeching Christmas carols.
But it wasn’t until the 1950s that companies found a way to market the Christmas celebrations and binge consumption to the middle and lower classes. And ever since the 50s, for one month out of the year, our corporate overlords transport us all to the 1880s. But this time around, instead of typhoid, we get cursive fonts, sepia filters and snapshots of the dining habits of ultra-wealthy Victorians. The butter from the milk monopoly MS is served by beatific maids in the national costume. Santa squeezes down Victorian chimneys, burdened with more corporate logos than a Formula One racecar.
The Icelandic ads will be shot in the open-air living history museum Árbæjarsafn, where a saccharine view of the 1950s and the 1880s exist side-by-side in perfect harmony.
However, there is one company which never has to don its nostalgia mask for the holidays and that’s the canning company Ora. Ora, like Futurama’s MomCorp, seems to be shielded by a permanent shroud of cuteness and blissful nostalgia. In fact, most Icelanders would say that Christmas wasn’t complete without Ora. That beats having a genericized trademark. That beats having a monopoly on cigarettes and cancer drugs.
Ora was founded in 1952, and it’s safe to say the business was borne out of the worldwide post-war boom in jarred and canned goods. But as the canning trend wore thin, Ora had to move with the times. By the 80s, they had thus shifted some of their focus on to frozen vegetables. It was probably during that same period that a mysterious surge in Ora nostalgia led to their canned food becoming firmly associated with celebrating Christmas.
How the Ora canning company came to be all bundled up with the Icelandic holiday celebrations like a pair of soft puppies in red bowties is hard to understand. It can’t be the quality of the food, as Ora’s canned goods are mostly associated with grey, cardboard-flavoured canned peas in, admittedly lovely retro packaging. Their other products include canned sweet corn that has bloated to three times its original size (like a waterlogged corpse), sickly sweet pickles rebranded as “cucumber salad,” a line of flavoured mayonnaise generously categorized as “sauces,” pickled herring in curry mayo, overpriced tuna, and canned moulded fish paste.
Full disclosure, I was raised on the boiled and canned fish paste that has been formed into flavourless eggs. It was my favourite food growing up and I still have a strange attraction to it. Incidentally, the traditional way of preparing them is to squirt ketchup into a béchamel sauce and heat the starch-white fish eggs and some potatoes in pink sauce. Just in case you were thinking of making some for dinner.
Get ‘em while they’re young
Maybe that’s the answer. Ora knows how to hook ‘em young with cheap carbs. Or maybe we are so desperate that that we’ll latch onto a 60-year-old company for some sense of history and tradition. And I guess it is faintly possible that people genuinely feel those mushy peas go great with the slices of smoked lamb and caramelized potatoes and that I’m letting snobbery get the better of me.
Whatever it is, no matter how I complain and tear my hair out in clumps, a can of Ora “green beans” (grey peas) and Ora “rauðkál” (pickled shredded red cabbage) will be fused to every dinner table in Iceland come Christmas, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
In fact it’s such an unbreakable bond that you can get sent your very own can of semi-solid squirrel droppings wherever you are in the world through www.nammi.is. Even to places that grow edible peas! Don’t wait, order now!
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