via Tragedy curtails holiday tradition, clarionledger.com
For many people, Christmas dinner is really just the prelude to mouth-watering, legendary desserts. Yes, we love a good turkey or ham, with stuffing or dressing, accompanied by casseroles and other sides. But really, if we’re honest about it, we really long for the desserts.
No Christmas dinner is complete without a scrumptious pie, created with love, an old family recipe, and no small amount of pecans, cherries, apples or one of a dozens of other orchard specialties. Growing up, our family’s Christmas meal often reached its denouement with a mouth-watering pecan pie, topped with a floret of whipped cream.
In the old days, that whipped cream was whipped with a mixer, but since the 1950s many cooks have quietly put a can or tub of whipped cream (such as Reddi-Wip, Cool-Whip and other brands) into their baskets, resulting in a new holiday tradition. But this Christmas, many consumers may find themselves having to get out the mixers again; there’s a shortage of canned whipped cream this year. It’s already been dubbed the “Great Reddi-Wip Crisis of 2016.”
And while it may not be the Griswoldian undoing of the perfect family Christmas tableau, it’s an interesting story and a reminder of how the interconnected nature of nearly everything we buy makes it vulnerable to unseen, unexpected — and sometimes tragic — forces.
It all started with an explosion back in the summer near Pensacola, Florida, where a tanker carrying nitrous oxide exploded while being refilled at a site operated by Airgas. Tragically, the explosion killed the man who was filling the tank and caused severe damage to the plant. (The cause of the incident is still under investigation.)
According to an article in The Atlantic, Airgas’ two other North American plants (one of which is in Yazoo City, the other in Canada) weren’t able to keep up with the demand for nitrous oxide, so the company halted production for most customers except for the medical industry. ConAgra, the maker of Reddi Wip, halted production of the product until at least January. Supplies have been limited, and many consumers have reported they can’t find it in the stores.
Nitrous oxide, you may remember, is the same gas that your dentist uses, the same stuff that race-car drivers use to supercharge their cars. And it’s why, when you push on the Reddi Wip nozzle, the result is the dairy-sweet goodness on your pecan pie.
We can trace the technology behind canned whipped cream to a man named Aaron S. “Bunny” Lapin, a St. Louis businessman who died in 1999. Lapin’s obituary in the New York Times notes it was his idea to put whipped cream into a can, and use a propellant such as nitrous oxide to push the product out of the can. Lapin made millions, became a celebrity (known as the “Whipped-Cream King”), and Reddi-Wip became a staple in Christmas desserts across America.
All these interconnections and backstories remind us that nearly everything we use in our daily lives is supported by a sometimes-fragile web of manufacturers and suppliers, relying on the assurance of a complicated supply-chain infrastructure, to get products to the stores and eventually to our table. We are really blessed to be able to rely on these things enough to take them for granted, and should be thankful that we live in a place where such luxuries as canned whipped cream are readily available most of the time.
So, this Christmas, although some of us may be put out by the unavailability of Reddi-Wip, it’s important to remember that the shortage is a minor inconvenience, and results from a tragic event, in which a family is experiencing its first Christmas without a loved one. And, perhaps, it’s time for us to count our own blessings, get out the mixer, and rediscover that sometimes, the best memories and gifts are those we make ourselves.