Last year, I took a spin through the common American supermarket. It was fun to write about, but I still felt as if I was judging from a distance. Recently, I wondered whether it was time for me to move from commenting on to experiencing these horrors of American snack food.
So, I found myself on Friday browsing through the very same Death Star-esque Shaw's supermarket on Commonwealth Avenue I wrote about last year.
What, though, to sample? I found myself cycling items in and out of my basket furiously. Do I focus on American candy, such as the humble Pez or Twizzlers? Do I sample the ridiculously named, such as the new Chex Mix brand, Muddy Buddies? Or just the ridiculous, like Apple Pie and Strawberry Shortcake flavoured chewing gum?
I decided to start timeless: a Twinkie, a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup, Jello Chocolate Pudding Cups and a box of Lucky Charms.
The Twinkie (in theory) is a small, cream-filled sponge cake, commonly believed to be indestructible and capable of surviving the apocalypse.
Hostess, which makes the Twinkie, recently filed for bankruptcy protection. There's a certain irony in this. You mean to say something durable enough to weather a nuclear winter couldn't survive a humble economic recession?
Well, two things need to be noted. A Twinkie doesn't have a lot of preservative in it, and can only survive a month. It has become the victim of a trend towards healthier eating in the USA; 32 per cent of Americans ate yoghurt at least fortnightly in 2011, up from 18 per cent in 2000.
The Twinkie is still a freak of science though. It is made almost entirely of sugar, and would not conduct an electrical current. It can survive a large fall almost entirely intact. It is 32 per cent air.
I was excited to eat my first Twinkie. I had no expectation that it would taste nice. For a start, it lists partially "hydrogenated vegetable and/or animal shortening" as an ingredient.
But it is a timeless American snack. It has a reputation that precedes it. And its logo is a cartoon Twinkie dressed like a cowboy, riding a real Twinkie.
Twinkies could only be bought in a pack of 10. To compensate that, we took a couple over to our friends, Carly and Josiah, when we had dinner with them on Saturday.
Josiah, training for a marathon, was happy to leave his in the packet. Carly took a bite or two of hers, winced, and started feeding it to her dog. LP took her Twinkie down efficiently, and without complaint.
The Twinkie, I can tell you, is disgusting. I had extremely low expectations, but even these were not met. Its short cake shell is ever so slightly sticky, and more air than cake. The faux-creamy centre is where the real grind lays: acrid, needlessly sweet, and heavy.
The peanut butter cup was always a hyped American chocolate product. It has always been a bitter disappointment for me, too. But, I thought I would give it another try, for blog's sake.
LP and I tucked into a cup each as we were headed out to a talk given by a director of the TV show Mad Men on Friday night. We viewed it as something to keep our sugar levels up, as we would not be eating for a while.
As I looked at the little flat brown disc in my hands, all of yesterday's anti-climaxes came back to me. "These things have only ever disappointed me," I said to LP.
"They're no greater than the sum of their parts," she replied.
"But there's no integration," I insisted.
"There's not supposed to be."
I couldn't let this go. I pressed on. "It's just peanut butter and chocolate. It is not peanut butter flavoured chocolate."
LP looked at me with about a fifty-fifty mix of amusement and disdain. "Why do I always have to repeat myself?"
I quit and ate my cup in silence. LP expounded on her experience as we walked to the train. "I love the way each bite tastes just a little bit different. On the sides it's a little saltier, a bit more chocolate than peanut butter. But then if you bite into the centre, it's all peanut butter."
The evening was cold. I buried my gloved hands into my coat pocket in search of warmth. "In some ways it is the quintessential American candy bar..." She trailed off.
"They remind me of my mother."
I wanted to include an American breakfast cereal in this blog, because there's something horrible about the format in the US.
According to its tag line, Lucky Charms are a "Frosted Toasted Oat Cereal With Marshmallows." On the front of the box there is a Leprechaun with a rainbow coming out of his hand. Further text declares, "They're magically delicious!" No! They're not! There's just marshmallows in there... in a breakfast cereal.
Further attempts to mislead the consumer continue on the packaging. We are told that there is "More whole grain than any other ingredient!" An asterisk tells you that this is compared to any other single ingredient, so we know immediately that the cereal is less than 51 per cent whole grain. As if to further try to trick you that buying this marshmallow-laden breakfast cereal for your children is a health-conscious decision, we are told that the USDA recommends purchasing products that name wholegrain first on the ingredient list. But do they also recommend marshmallows and gratuitous amounts of sugar?
The cereal itself is okay. The marshmallows are freeze-dried and need a while to sink into the milk before they stop tasting like something that has been prepared for an astronaut. There's a sort of addictive, sickly-sweet pleasure to eating Lucky Charms, the sort of pleasure that is hard to enjoy, because you're fairly certain that if indulged it could end with fairly massive medical ailments.
Pudding seems to have a different meaning in America from the rest of the world. Here, it refers to a mass-produced custard-based dessert snack. Itself, the phrase pudding cup seems quintessentially American.
The snack marathon hit its first snag when it was discovered that I had bought low-calorie pudding cups. But these cups became the small success of this venture. The pudding was smooth, chocolate-y and with none of the chemical aftertaste that usually comes with artificial sweetener.
The cup itself is a good size, and has a certain structural integrity to its form that gives it a leg-up over the standard pottle of Calci-Yum. Sure, it does look and feel like something that will end up choking a dolphin in the ocean, but it is a handy way to dispense a small dessert treat.
These came in a six-pack, and LP and I happily gobbled up the rest during the weekend, guilt-free. We will purchase again.
What snack foods to you associate as being typically American? Do you have any guilty pleasures yourself, or is your reaction mostly horror?
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