SCARY FOOD OF MY YOUTH
I am a food snob. I opt for whole, organic, tasty foods. I do not eat fast food and try to let as little processed food as possible pass my pure, holy lips. In other words, I am the classic Asshole Californian, prone to sacrificing farmer's market nectarines on the dark alter of Alice Waters, and whatnot.
This was not always the case.
Kids love weird food and I was no exception. If it was blue, microwaveable, artifically flavored or "crackling", I was all over it. Foods that I now do not even associate with being "edible" were my manna from heaven. I look back in astonishment that there was a time when I would be delighted to eat this stuff, but then again, I'm also worried about there being long term health repercussions. How long DOES blue food coloring stay in in the system anyway?
- Nerd Blizzards
A Dairy Queen Blizzard swirled with rainbow colored Nerds? Where the hell do I sign? I used to adore these: the combination of mild, soft vanilla ice cream with crunchy, tangy Nerds was about as good as it gets for the kiddy palate. Extra points when the Nerds dyed the ice cream a jillion different artificial colors. They don't make these anymore, and trust me, I mourned. (I have to admit, I would probably make these a once a year habit if they were still around.)
Why the hell do they call these things "Nerds" anyway? Isn't that discriminatory against the pocket-protector adorned segment of society? Should I start an interest group?
Ah yes, microwaveable instant meals for kids - what could possibly go wrong? Ahem. I think even I subconsciously knew these things were vile in my misspent youth, but the novelty of coming out of a box and containing candy outweighed any watery-Mac-N'-Cheese and creepy, mushy chicken nuggets concerns I might have had. There was also the benefit of a Free Included Toy, which was worthy any amount of crap food in my seven year old mind - have you ever wondered why people still eat Cracker Jack?
Today's Kid Cuisine varieties are, if anything, even more concerning then the ones I had in my (admittedly not far off) youth - I mean, look at it: bug shaped chicken nuggets?
Okay, I would have loved those.
- blue poptarts
Pop-tarts are of course a classic crappy kid food: shelf stable for yawning eternities, composed of entirely non-natural components, just as tasty cold as warm - and toasters take so long! Yes, we loved us some Pop-tarts, but you can bet we loved them even more when the Wild-berry flavor debuted, featuring - you guessed it! - blue and purple icing. They tasted okay in a bizarre, laboratory way, but the absolute best part of sucking down one of these bad boys was the blueish purple residue left on face and tongue and hands afterwards.
Look, when you are eight, that is the French fucking' Laundry, okay?
I looked on the totally surreal Pop-tarts website and discovered, to my horror, that these were just discontinued. They can however still be bought on Amazon. Who wants to go in on a case?!
-Lick A Color Popsicles (and others)
Popsicles were of course the easiest way to get in our daily artificial flavor requirement, without which we would of course sicken and slowly die. My friends and I plowed through a lot of popsicle flavors, but a continuous favorite was the almighty LIck A Color, which changed colors and flavors as it was consumed. No one, of course, was patient enough to actually sit still and lick slowly through every-single-last flavor - no, the way to do it was to bite the thing in half then be impressed at the layers upon layers of Real Fruit Flavors lying within its icy core.
We also loved Timon and Pumbaa bug popsicles, featuring real fruit flavors filled with gummy bugs. The gummy bugs took on a really interest texture in the freezer: somewhere delightfully between slimy and firm. An epicurean delight.
Push Pops were another big favorite. With Flintstones on them. I do not know what the Flintstones have with rainbow sherbet but rest assured, someday I will find out and write a blog post and no one will care.
- Bagel Bites
Okay, these actually weren't that vile all things considered, but I am automatically now suspicious of any frozen meat item marketed as a Healthy Snack. These always had a tendency to cook really unevenly in the oven, which meant you'd be confronted with a stone cold, inedible Bagel Bite and a lightly charred Vessel of Cancer on the same plate, which really could cramp your style. I also snapped off one or two bonded teeth components on these bad boys. In other words, Bagel Bites give me a bit of post traumatic stress.
I am fully aware I am the world's biggest pussy.
- Quaker Dinosaur Oatmeal
This stuff was absolutely amazing: boring ass instant oatmeal infused with TRANSFORMING DINOSAUR CANDY. Let me repeat: TRANSFORMING DINOSAUR CANDY. There was really nothing else needed to sell me on this stuff. Admittedly, it was a pretty cool process: you pour hot water into the bowl o' oatmeal filled with pink candy dinosaur eggs, which dissolve and leave you with little cinnamon sugar flavored multi colored dinosaurs, floating around in your bowl. Nirvana.
Like a salt lick in a box, these little pre-made Lunches In A Box were flagrantly bad for you, which of course meant kids simply adored them. I wasn't allowed to eat these very often but it was always a wonderful event when I found one in my lunchbox - apparently their inherent nastiness didn't make much of an impression upon me.
The most disgusting version was absolutely the Beef Taco, featuring shelf-stable taco "meat" in an easy squeeze tube. The stuff tasted and smelled exactly like wet dog food, but we ate it anyway - cold in the elementary school lunch room, mm, mm, good! Extra points awarded if you had the presence of mind to sprinkle pop-tarts/rainbow candy/nerds on the meat, creating the 4th grade version of "fusion cuisine." Or is that molecular gastronomy?
The Pizza version were beloved by everyone but me, primarily because a box (not surprisingly) made me barf once in second grade. I do recall observing kids eating chocolate frosting, pop-rock, and pepperoni pizza on a daily basis. We should totally do a study.
A brief disclaimer: My parents did not actively approve of this kind of crapola food and I did not eat it EVERY day, though trust me, I would have committed any subterfuge or crime to do so. Furthermore, eating this kind of crap actually 1. showed me by example what kind of food is REALLY tasty and 2. got all those urges out of my system nice n' early.
Organic free-range parents: your efforts are likely to backfire. I know a lot of kids raised holistically-organically-Anthrosophically-whatever and it is not a pretty site when they get to college and realize no one is forcing them to eat quinoa anymore. Many of them go on joyful junk-food binges that end only when they gain fifty pounds or go into Red-Lake induced shock, found slumped over a box of the Pop-tarts they've been hoarding. (I only exaggerate slightly: one kid I know in that situation got scurvy. Twice.)
So, parents: let your kids occasionally eat neon-blue-super-frozen-sour-crackle crap at least on occasion. Trust me, odds are good they will see the light of organic all natural Real Food - I did. I now enjoy cooking all natural healthy food for my parents and have not eaten a Lunchable, Dorito, or Bagel Bite in years (though I occasionally still have to have me some blue candy.) Befriend the chemicals!