Coming Out of the Pantry

We all have them. Maybe you wore a denim jacket all through Junior High school. Maybe you think, when no one is looking, that Cyndi Lauper is actually pretty cool. Maybe you memorized the order in which Star Trek episodes first aired. Whatever your particular secret shames are, rest assured that everyone around you has their own as well.

We spend a lot of time and effort on this weblog talking about food. In the process, we radiate megawatts of attitude about things that you should care about, such as authenticity, honesty, simplicity, and quality ingredients. We have even been called “food snobs” or “foodies”, although I maintain I am actually more of a “chowhound.”

Occasionally we try to defend ourselves by pointing out that we like hot dogs. But let’s face it: the hot dog is too indie, too hip, too ironic a food to be truly shameful. Saying you like hot dogs is like wearing a Quisp t-shirt at a Fugazi concert: “Look at me, everyone! I’m so square, I’m hip!”

So today, I’m not going to screw around. Here, for your enjoyment and horror, are my real, honest-to-goodness, secret food shames. Most of them do not form a large part of my day to day diet; most of them I avoid for various reasons. But not eating and not liking are two different things. 10. Port wine cheese food. I don’t actually buy this, but every time I walk past it in the store I feel this tug, this pull to get it. Sure, it’s crap. Sure, it is extruded from a space alien spore farm. But it has the salt, and it has the sweet, and it has the crazy colors, like a lava lamp that has been somehow alchemically converted to food. If you have this stuff at a party, I will wait until I think no one is looking, and then I will eat it.

9. Ritz crackers. Well, you gotta have something to eat the port wine cheese food on. Oh, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. How you fulfill me.

8. Bacon-flavored textured soy protein bits. It’s a very simple equation: one small leaf of iceberg lettuce + an entire bottle of Bac-Os Æ brand fake bacon bits = crunching until your head explodes from happiness. Normally I’m first in the line against fake foods, but I heartily endorse this use of astronaut technology to imitate the taste of bacon.

7. Any sugared cereal with all three primary colors. But especially Fruity Pebbles. The fact that they’re so tiny lets you maximize both the surface area which can be covered in sugar, and the rate at which the sugar hits your bloodstream, making you feel like a tiny god.

6. Soft pretzels that have been injected with cheese food, and then deep fried. I’ll die young, but I’ll die happy.

5. Donuts. Not boutique donuts, not beignets, not churros, not homemade donuts. American donuts. Donuts made in a store, by a megacorporation, by the millions. The more soulless and institutional they are, the better they taste.

4. Coca-Cola. Yes, it’s disgusting acidic sugar water. I used to drink three or four a day, and now I only drink perhaps three or four a year (typically, with pizza. It’s the morally correct thing to drink with pizza). But it is, by this point, part of my DNA. I can’t even imagine how many of my neurons are devoted to detecting the subtle, almost nonexistent taste distinctions between various colas.

3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I can more or less eat these until I go into a diabetic coma.

2. Dairy Queen Blizzards. As cheese food is to cheese, so Dairy Queen soft-serve powdered and reconstituted ice cream product is to real ice cream. I don’t actually like their ice cream cones very much; when it comes to fake ice cream, the east coast Carvel chain has my heart under lock and key. Is there any child from New York that doesn’t know that in Heaven, you can eat Carvel vanilla cones with rainbow sprinkles all day long? I think not. But no one outside of the eastern seaboard knows who Carvel is, so I’ll use Dairy Queen as my example, with their Blizzard shake, which was the answer to the question “Hey! How can we possibly get more sugar into this thing?”

Cheesy Poofs

Cheesy Poofs

1. Cheesy Poofs. I haven’t bought any of this entire class of product in, literally, years. But you can’t escape what you are. Did you ever see an alcoholic quicken his step almost imperceptibly as he strode past a bar? That’s me walking past the Infinitely Large Aisle Of Cheesy Poofs at the supermarket. Yes, I understand exactly how horrific these things are, from conception, through extrusion, and all the way through delivery into my filthy, filthy hands. But I can’t help it. Even though I hate them, I love them. Somewhere deep inside me is an 8-year old boy who would absolutely jump at the chance to live in a world where everything was constructed entirely from Cheesy Poofs. And please, for the love of God, I beg you to click on that link.

All of this goes to prove a few things. First, what you like and what you eat are not necessarily the same things. Second, to some extent our taste (or at least my taste) for foods exists at least partially on a preconcious level. It doesn’t really matter that I know that Fruity Pebbles are garbage – that doesn’t make me not like them on that gut level. Lastly, it proves that the next time I recommend some hypersophisticated Italian cheese that costs $26/pound, you should snarkily comment “Oh, sure, right. Like I’m going to take advice on cheese from a guy who likes port wine cheese food.”

Since I’m going to Toronto this weekend, and will buy cheese there, you’ll probably have a chance to do that next week.

I am now completely out of the closet pantry. Those are my secret food shames. What are yours?