All Your Childhood Snacks Were Garbage
We stuffed our bellies full of nostalgia to find out if our snack-food memories were all lies.
Last week, at the end of our session, my therapist said, "I think one the reasons you're unhappy is because you fetishize the past. You continually focus on your youth, and if we're being honest, during that time period you were pretty miserable. I want you to try and be present, take an objective view on things, and stop idealizing what's gone by."
It's solid advice. She's great at her job. At our follow-up session yesterday, my therapist asked if I had given any thought to our previous conversation.
"Yeah. I decided that I'm going to locate and consume my favorite childhood snacks?"
"The snacks I had as a child. I loved those things, but objectively they're probably pretty terrible. If I eat them, and the snacks are bad, it means everything I remember was a lie. Everything was always pretty terrible."
"I don't think you understood what I meant," she said.
The truth was that I understood exactly what she meant. I just chose to ignore it. My goal was to put together a listicle of all the best lunchtime snacks (The 90s!) and use that as a jumping off point to talk about how we're all hurtling towards death (Our 90s!). I crowd-sourced the list through a poll on my Facebook account. While some people offered nutritional advice ("I went to a sugar free Montessori school! Fruit Leathers are a decadent treat!") and other shared personal anecdotes ("I moved here when I was eleven! The stuff white people feed their children is literally appalling!") the poll gave me enough raw data to compile a shopping list.
Most of the items were surprisingly still available, though I was sad to learn that I'll never eat Soda Licious again (RIP). At the checkout aisle of my local No Frills, the elderly grocer made a comment about how nice it was to see a young father taking initiative with back to school lunches. I sighed and said, "Well, I'm all they've got now." He bagged the rest of the items in silence.
Back at home I enlisted the help of my roommate, comedian and writer Jillian Welsh, to undertake the harrowing task of eating snacks and talking about our fleeting youth. It was my idea to divide the writing into anecdotes, actual taste, and rating. It was Jill's idea to make all the snacks into a charcuterie board. Her rationale was that if we made everything look really pretty then maybe we could forget that we were about to eat garbage.
Anecdote: As a kid I remember frantically begging my mom to buy me Lunchables. The pizza Lunchables were great because I could use the tomato sauce packet for fake blood during our recess wrestling matches. Normal Lunchables were also great because you could make them into tiny sandwiches that resembled actual food. Lunchables were delicious. I loved them.
Taste: Before biting into our tiny sandwiches, Jill pointed out that the "kielbasa" looked shiny. She then made the mistake of reading the label, which informed us that the meat product was made up of chicken, beef, and pork! One meat, three animals! Lucky us! While the cheese tasted processed and the cracker was a bit salty, it was the meat that was overwhelming. It was simultaneously spongy and gritty. Jill pointed out that it smelled like both new car and old shoe. Neither of us finished the cracker sandwich. Vile.
Rating: A half eaten piece of kielbasa out of the three animals that were in the kielbasa.
Fruit by the Foot
Anecdote: In first grade, a kid tried to measure the size of his wiener against the paper left over after you eat a fruit by the foot. Someone snitched and he had to sit behind a bookshelf for two days. Fruit by the foot was one of the A-list desserts of brown bag lunches. It could be traded for pretty much any other snack and was highly sought out in the schoolyard.
Taste: Fruit by the Foot was one of the few snacks we ate that actually lived up to its memory. The red Fruit by the Foot tasted vaguely like actual strawberry, and while the snack stuck to our teeth, we both said we could see eating it again.
Rating: Two days sitting behind a bookshelf out of two.
Crackers and Cheese Product with Red Stick
Anecdote: This was the snack that they had in the office for when kids forgot their lunches at home or couldn't afford food. One day at the store when my mom bought us a pack of crackers and cheese product, I asked if she wanted everyone to think we were poor. She told me that I was spoiled and I didn't get snacks for a week.
Taste: The crackers tasted like crackers, but the cheese sauce was the salty to the point where I needed two sips of Sunny Delight to get the thing down. The only thing the cheese product had to do with cheese is its orange colour and its name.
Rating: No snacks for a week.
Anecdote: In my mind Gushers are forever linked withUH-OH, a game show where young children were covered with slime if they didn't know the answers to questions about Canadian geography. Gushers were the major sponsor for the program, which we all thought was awesome, and the snack was as weird as the show. Somehow as kids we collectively agreed that a "fruit" hexagon full of hot juice was something we not only wanted, but desired.
Taste: Have you ever known something was going to explode in your mouth, mentally prepared for it, and then when it happened you were kind of upset anyways? Green Gushers are like that if you add in the taste of Pine Sol. The other colours are slightly better, but still taste as plastic as they look. They were all super gross, but then again the food is called Gushers. I don't know what I wanted.
Rating: Six and a half slime buckets out of seven.
Anecdote: Dunkaroos were the king of schoolyard snacks. The cookies with the frosting dip were so good that I once traded four packets for a holographic Snorlax card. The kids who had Dunkaroos had status and power in elementary school. You knew that their parents gave them whatever they wanted, and you knew these kids would move onto bigger things.
Taste: Both Jill and I remembered the cookies in Dunkaroos to be small and plentiful, but since we were kids they've been replaced with three larger cookies. Jill said the cookies themselves tasted like baby spit, and the frosting was like birthday cake that had been left in the sun for too long. It was tremendously disappointing. I'm pretty sure this is what Wolfe was talking about when he said you can never go home again.
Ranking: "Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away."
Jos Louis/Passion Flakie
Anecdote: During our school's monthly pizza day kids were able to choose between a Jos Louis or a Passion Flakie pastry as their accompanying snack. For years I was the only person in the class to choose the Flakie. I vehemently defended the choice and everyone called me an idiot. When crowdsourcing the food list, Jos Louis were on everyone's list. Not one person wrote down Passion Flakie. The only reason I bought a pack was to do the comparison between the two.
Taste: "It tastes like old lady's skin," said Jill after biting into the Flakie. The pastry was dry and the apple/strawberry fruit mixed with the cream managed to taste and smell like cat throw up. I defended Flakie over Jos Louis into grade six. I was sure I was right, but at the time I also thought Korn's Follow The Leader was the greatest album of all time. In retrospect both of these opinions are objectively stupid. The Jos Louis themselves were great, if a bit waxy.
Ranking: Da boom na da mmm dum na ema. NO!
Sunny Delight/Kool-Aid Jammers
Anecdote: I never remember having Sunny D as a kid. I think the only reason anyone remembers the drink at all is because of the excellent Dave Chapelle bit. The Kool-Aid Jammers were purchased because I couldn't find any Capri Sun, and the idea of drinking out of a weird little shiny bag is something I only would have tolerated as a child. Someone on Twitter also pointed out that The Capri Sun commercial utilized the same technology as the T1000 and Jason Waterfalls in the TLC video for "Waterfalls," and I thought that joke was very funny.
Taste: This was sugary orange drink. It was like Gatorade, but worse.
Ranking: I wanted the purple stuff.
Snack Pack/Delmonte Fruit Cup
Anecdote: In second grade there was a girl named Courtney who claimed she had Fuzzy Peaches and wanted to trade for my butterscotch Snack Pack. Like a dummy, I did this trade sight unseen. Courtney quickly ate the Snack Pack before handing back a Delmonte fruit cup. She said that's what her family called fuzzy peaches. I'm still mad whenever I think about it.
Taste: As an adult, when was the last time you ate pudding? It's fine, but I think it is reserved for the very young and very old because it is easy to swallow. The fruit cup was a welcome change to the rest of the snacks, insomuch as it tasted borderline natural, though we were not able to differentiate between the four different kinds of fruit that were supposedly in the cup.
Ranking: Zero Fuzzy Peaches out of a terrible trade.
Anecdote: Fun Dip is dipping sugar into more sugar. It's not even trying to disguise it. By the end of the whole thing your mouth was sore and your taste buds didn't work, but the ride and the subsequent twenty minutes was magical. As a kid it was a rare treat and I thought it was the greatest. I cannot think of anything that might be analogous in adult life.
Taste: Sugar on Sugar. It was great, despite immediately giving me a headache.
Ranking: One sleepless night wondering why I do this to myself out of three.
Conclusion: Most of the snacks were really bad. I'm trying to decide whether the things I loved as a child were never that good in the first place, or that I need to accept that as I grow up my tastes will continue to evolve, and respect that what I loved served its purpose. I am also pitching a book deal called Zen and the Art of Refined Sugar, if you know any publishers.
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