I read this short story in about 1974 or 1975. It was in a library book, definitely a hardcover collection of science fiction short stories.

Two men are marooned in space. They gain access to an alien space station (or maybe some sort of emergency shelter). They don't know anything about the aliens (there are none present; the station was either abandoned, automated, or an emergency outpost). The story is about them trying to figure out what the stuff in the station does, and whether any of it is food that they can eat. The phrase "One man's meat is another man's poison" was used several times; it's the first time I ever encountered it (I was about 8-9 at the time).

1 Answer 1


"Untouched by Human Hands" aka "One Man's Poison" by Robert Sheckley, available at Project Gutenberg; also the answer to the question Two men in an alien warehouse. You may have read in in the 1973 anthology Gates to Tomorrow: An Introduction to Science Fiction edited by Andre Norton and Ernestine Donaldy.

"Now look," Hellman said, "we'll have to work this out by pure logic—Are you listening to me?"

"Sure," Casker said.

"Okay. There's an old proverb that covers our situation perfectly: 'One man's meat is another man's poison.'"

"Yeah," Casker said. He was positive his stomach had shrunk to approximately the size of a marble.

"We can assume, first, that their meat is our meat."

Casker wrenched himself away from a vision of five juicy roast beefs dancing tantalizingly before him. "What if their meat is our poison? What then?"

"Then," Hellman said, "we will assume that their poison is our meat."

  • That's the one. Thanks!
    – LAK
    Aug 3, 2017 at 18:30
  • Also, I think I remember first reading 'A Pail of Air' in that same anthology. The cover even looks a little familiar.
    – LAK
    Aug 3, 2017 at 19:57

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