*Warning: Do not try this at home!

We’ve all been there, scavenging through the pantry, desperately looking for something to eat – especially while in lockdown. You look at the expiration date only after finishing the dusty tin way back in the cupboard and send up a prayer because you may have had your last meal. 2003 might have been a great year for wine… but for soup?

While it is important to stick to the best-before date, two brave taste testers on History Channel’s brand-new show, Eating History, are proving that you don’t necessarily end up in an ER after ignoring that barely visible date printed on the label. Josh Macuga and Old Smokey are two bros who are obsessed with the history of food, particularly packaged food. They go out of their way to not just learn more about a 72-year-old box of breakfast cereal or a 40-year-old bottle of hot sauce – but to actually taste it to see whether it has stood the test of time. Talk about tickling your tastebuds.

Watch it now on Catch Up

image

Tasting the past

Josh and Old Smokey (real name Gary Mitchell) are part of a long line of collectors who feel that the only way to truly understand the past is to taste it. Josh’s family collected vintage food jars and boxes for the cool artwork and labels, but even from a young age Josh was more interested in what still lurked inside the packaging.

Old Smokey got his nickname from his collecting hobby. “I was into collecting old tobacco. Old cigarettes, old vintage tobacco advertising,” he reveals. He has always been interested in food and the history behind it, but his interest was piqued even more when his grandad, a World War II veteran, died. “I spent a lot of time with him when I was younger. I thought I could make a connection with him and, maybe someday, actually eat the exact same food that he ate,” says Old Smokey.

The two hosts connected online over their shared passion for vintage food. “I saw his YouTube channel and I think he saw mine, and then we Skyped. I sent him some old food and he sent me an old military ration. And I sent him an old collector’s peanut butter jar from the early ’80s, and he sent me some military rations from the late ’80s, early ’90s. And then we kind of became friends on that,” reveals Josh.


In bad taste

At the start of each episode of this 10-episode series, there is a warning – “Eating old or expired food is extremely dangerous, we (Josh and Old Smokey) do this at home, but you shouldn’t.” The pair of presenters have an entire crew and medical staff there to assist them if the food should not agree with them. Josh warns, “Really and truly in this show, what we’re guarding against is not dying because of botulism because botulism is real. It can paralyse you, it can kill you. That’s one of the most powerful biotoxins we have on the planet. And so we have to be very, very safe when we’re doing that.”

It’s probably a lot more fun to sit back and watch their faces as they crack open a 40-year-old chocolate chip cookie mix (as they do in episode 2) than to try to scrub that lingering taste off your tongue. The guys are in for some nasty surprises in unexpected places, too. Who would have thought that a simple corn chip could muscle its way to the top of their list of nastiest tastes ever? “I thought it was going to be one of the cooler things that I would get to eat because it was something from before I was a kid: It was a 1979 corn chip, of all things. Honestly, it was like trying to eat a bunch of crushed-up medicine or something. It's one of the worst things I've ever put in my mouth,” says Old Smokey. In Josh’s words, it took both guys “out at the knees”.


image

Sourcing the “snack”

But where did they find the food? “The internet might be a crazy place, but sometimes it really works out for people, says Josh. “And it’s definitely worked out for this show because it’s there where we get in touch with the collectors of these foods that we feature on the show. Whether it’s a blog or on eBay or YouTube, we’re trying to find some of these amazing old collectors – because some of them might have a (1950s) bunker, some of them might have a (vintage) trailer, and we’ve been able to really track down some amazing products, and meet amazing people.”

Old Smokey has some contacts and friends who send him parcels. He and Josh also visit people to admire their collections, and of course, wangle a little taste. Members of the public can even contact the show and share some of their own vintage foods with the guys. So jump in if you have an old Marmite jar or a box of Ouma rusks from the way back when. Josh and Old Smokey will surely put it to the test.

Eating History also digs into the history of food processing and packaging, which turns out to be a fascinating window into the world’s history at the time that the tested and tasted food was made. Chow down, it’s good for you!


Watch Eating History S1 Wednesdays on History (DStv 186) at 20:15 & 20:45 or binge on Catch Up

How to watch DStv online

Sign up for DStv Now, a free service for all DStv subscribers. With DStv Now the same channels you watch on your decoder at home are available for you to stream online, or using the DStv Now app on your phone.

Get it on Google Play

Feel every moment with DStv