Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights reserved


Crank's Corner


                                                Playing With Food

     I just finished feeding the cats, although half of them aren't going to eat what I've set out for them, because they
prefer ground cat food to the chunky "choice cuts in sauce" that we bought by mistake.  They won't starve; they'll
just nibble kibble until I buy different cat food, and Chloe the Hellhound will lick their plates clean in the meanwhile.
 The cats have brainwashed her; she thinks she's one of them, and she prefers cat food to dog food.

     The felines don't like it when their food gets strange, and neither do I.  Nevertheless, Madison Avenue geniuses
keep playing around with my food, changing it for their own mystical reasons, and, in my opinion, usually changing
it for the worse.  I'd like them to stop; their failures crowd the shelves at my favorite discount store.  Whoever
thought that watermelon flavored toaster pastries would appeal to anyone was (obviously) very, very wrong.

     Bacon should come in slabs or strips, because it is meat and is made from a particular part of the pig.  Last
night I was in a grocery store, where I saw a display for something called "bacon in the round," presumably a more
convenient shape for adding it to one's cheeseburger.  I was afraid to inspect it more closely; the very idea was
creeping me out.  It's probably chopped, formed, lower-fat bacon hash leather, something that's easier to bite
through and won't try to slide out of the bun when you're not careful.  At least, I hope that's what it is; the idea of
mutant pigs that have been bred to produce round bacon is even creepier.  I doubt that it's physically possible for
round bacon to "taste" the same as strip bacon; like my cats, I think that texture is an important part of the taste.

     For years, Fig Newtons have been a perfectly good cookie; they're chewy, dense, and filled with good-for-you
fiber.  Not content to let a good thing be, Nabisco has developed a variety of "alternative" Newtons as well.  
Regular Fig Newtons have no saturated fat, which is one of the "bad" kinds of fat, but they do have 2.5 grams of
other fat per serving.  Now there's a Fat-Free Fig Newton for those fat-phobic dieters who are still eating
high-calorie cookies!  I bought a package by mistake once, and, if I had been on a diet, they would have helped
me skip the calories as well as the fat, because after I tasted one, I threw the rest of them out.  As for the other
fruit-flavored Newtons, if I want apple, raspberry, or apricot, I'll opt for pies and Danish, thanks all the same.

     Playing with food is kid's stuff, and The Geniuses take shameful advantage of it.  Have parents been having
such a hard time getting their kids to eat french fries that the world needed green and purple ketchup, because the
children would starve rather than eat fries with red ketchup or, good heavens, no ketchup at all?  The same logic
applies to hot dogs, hamburgers, and mac-and-cheese; with childhood obesity reaching epidemic proportions, why
develop colorful condiments that might make kids eat more junk food?  Or does anyone think that letting Junior
douse his Brussels sprouts with purple sludge will suddenly make him ask for a second helping?

     Combining cookies and obesity, I'll ask, "why are They making super-sized cookie bars now?"  If you want
more than a mouthful, go ahead and eat two or three or four cookies, and admit that you're having more than one.  
Why take an Oreo, stretch it longer, and cover it with chocolate, unless you're trying to call it "one" cookie?  
There's a chocolate-chip cookie version of the cookie bar, too, as well as cookies that now take two ordinary
cookies and add a creme filling, turning the whole mess into "one" cookie.  I ate my share of Oreos as a child, but,
even though I always unscrewed them and ate the filling first, when I tried Double Stuff Oreos with twice the filling,
I thought they were gross; too much of a good thing was, ultimately, not good at all.  And it probably isn't an
accident that the burly construction workers sitting around a lunch table, bidding on an Oreo with two-tone
mint/regular filling, are somewhat less than svelte.

     Maybe the longer cookie bars are supposed to make it easier to pack lunches, so that one doesn't need to put
a couple cookies into a plastic bag, but can just toss a pre-wrapped bar into the lunchbox.  The same goes for
those build-your-own canape kits that have cheese, crackers, and some sort of meat, or tiny pancakes and syrup,
or some other combination of quasi-foods, packed into a compartmentalized plastic tray (is that tray recyclable, or
are kids likely to recycle it if it is?); is it ease of packing for adults, or because kids can help themselves without
tearing the entire kitchen apart for the ingredients?  The help-yourself platic kits of cereal and milk worry me; if a
child is too young to manage the bowl, cereal box, and milk carton necessary to assembling a bowl of cereal, then
that child is too young to be eating alone, without adult supervision.  And now we can buy crustless, frozen peanut
butter and jelly "sandwiches"; they look like giant ravioli, and probably have aerodynamic properties similar to
those of a Frisbee.  Food fight, anyone?

     After school, while they wait for their hard-working, busy parents to come home with carry-out food "just like
Mom used to make" or the frozen skillet meal or casserole-in-a-box that pass for home cooking now, latch-key
children can forage for themselves in cupboards and freezers full of microwavable goodies.  Pizza rolls,
mac-n-cheese, pasta with sauce........what ever happened to milk and cookies, or a baloney sandwich?  If kids are
old enough to use the microwave, with its capacity for super-heating and steam burns, why aren't they using the
stove and cooking dinner, too?  They might accidentaly develop a taste for real food instead of convenient junk.  I
suspect that a lot of the foods marketed as "snacks" are actually being eaten for dinner.

     What's up with the commercial where the loving mom hands the kid his hot fruit-filled shingle, the kid meets his
friend who hands him something better, and the original pastry joins a pile of others in the kid's locker, or the
garage?  This must be the only child in creation whose mother isn't off at work, but she's feeding him some pre-fab
slab that he could've gotten himself, and that he doesn't want in the first place.  Other commercials show hectic
mornings, but stress the importance of a good breakfast, of which the product is an essential part, and still others
portray entire families in competition for a toasted frozen waffle.  With breakfast food portrayed as discardable,
essential, or a prize, it's little wonder we're confused, and likely to skip it entirely.

     Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, They're playing with our food, whether by bizzarre "improvements" to the
food itself, plastic overpackaging in the name of convenience, or marketing aimed at the gullible or the guilty.  We
should all sit down to dinner together, we should buy sectioned plasticware so home-cooked food that we don't
have time to eat at home doesn't get mixed together or spilled while we eat it in the car, we should buy fat-free, we
should eat more cheese, we should feed our kids lunches packed with pre-fab junk that "tastes just like
home-made" because we don't have time to make or pack the lunch in the first place, we should take them to the
burger joint because there's nothing like your first french fry, we should dine out because that way everyone can
have exactly what they want, we should develop and maintain healthy eating habits, we should curl up with a book
and some instant flavored gourmet coffee, we should try the latest thing, we should maintain traditional values, and
we should, by some miracle of mental legerdemain, somehow sort through all the hype and do what's best for
ourselves and our families.  But that's pretty difficult when They're playing with our food, and with our heads, too.