In honor of my hectic schedule and MidPoint’s 10th fest,
I’ve decided to celebrate the 21-month anniversary of Lost in the
Supermarket with a round-up of some of the horrible things I’ve consumed
so that you don’t have to. Taste test results have ranged from “Oh my
God, how can people eat this?” to “Not too bad,” which is akin to five
In some ways, SPAM is the Paris Hilton of the supermarket. It’s always there, it’s a perpetual punchline, everybody knows its name and no one really knows why it’s so popular. SPAM’s moments in contemporary pop culture have been mocking — it’s the name given to all the “junk” in our email, while a silly musical, Spamalot, put SPAM’s name in lights on Broadway.
For this week’s exploration of the wacky and wild items found at most neighborhood supermarkets, I decided to go gummy. I’ve always been bewildered by the random shapes of gummy candy, which are often molded to resemble spiders, snakes, frogs and other creepy pests. In a short time span, I found around 15 different weird gummy items and also became a passable gummy expert.
I usually do my taste-test prior to researching or reading ingredient labels; it’s usually hard enough to swallow some of the things I have in the name of journalism. But I’ve been nursing a stomachache lately, so to procrastinate and hopefully discover something encouraging (like “Pickled eggs actually taste like Hostess Ding Dongs”), I decided to read up on these somehow-delicacies first.
I don’t think Muslim extremists “hate us for our freedom,” as George W. liked to say. I think the hatred is directly related to our eating habits, specifically our gratuitous, flamboyant consumption of pig meat and organs. While some might react to the thought of putting any filthy pig meat in their mouth with the dry-heaving disgust most people experience when seeing a dog mindlessly eating its own poo, the crack-like hold pork products has on American consumers emboldens food manufacturers to continue making endless variations of pig products.
At one time I successful careers as an Associate Desserts Technician and a Pre-Certified Delicatessenal Culinarian. At least, that’s what it says on my résumé. In layman/non-bullshit terms, I worked behind the counter at the deli/bakery combo station at the Kroger store on Harrison Avenue in Westwood. Kroger recently announced it would be closing the store.
While many of the items taste-tested in this column each month are “weird” or “unusual” ethnic foods — uncommon perhaps in our general culture but the norm for many others — we’ve also examined products that showcase all-American gluttony at its finest, from KFC’s brazenly unhealthy Double Down to the daffy concoctions made for hard-to-please kids and lazy parents like the “Carnival Corn Dog” Kids Cuisine frozen dinners.
On my grocery store excursions to find subject matter for this column, I’ve always had a safety net in the event I’m unable to find something suitably peculiar or gross to taste-test. This month, Plan B was finally enacted, but not out of desperation. At long last, I felt compelled to take on pigs’ feet to support an industry facing a real crisis.
The evolution of flavor represented in Americans’ diet over the course of U.S. history has gone from a timid, “lightly salted” hint to today’s loud barrage of often bewildering tastes. During a recent grocery trip, I was in the snack aisle and was stopped dead in my tracks by an almost psychedelically colorful tower of products. It was the magical land of Pringles, standing out with gaudy insistency.
I had no reason to doubt the disgustingness of fruitcake, which resembles a dessert pimento loaf with green and red acne (16th-century bakers came up with fruitcake using fruit scraps left over from other baking). Great for a doorstop or maybe a weapon, but to eat? No thanks. My perception of fruitcake shifted when I actually tried some. Not that I instantly became a fruitcake fiend, but I did wonder how this innocuous spice cake got such a bad rap.
The stigma attached to vegetarians has lessened over the decades. When I was in high school, "vegetarian" was just code for "pretentious Smiths fan." These days, major chain restaurants and supermarkets actually cater to the non-carnivores of society. So in the spirit of adventure, I gathered a few meatless meat products (all quite a bit more expensive than real meat) to find out how close they've come to the real thing.
Raising children can be the most rewarding experience you'll ever have. It's also the most difficult. Technological advances have made the job easier, but you still have to feed them. Food companies have done their best to make that easier, too, mass-marketing quick, easy products that your kids will actually eat. And so, in honor of "back to school" time, here are a few kids items I picked up at the grocery store and tried ... so you don't have to.
There was one genre of meat I never got used to during my years as a deli worker (well, two, but the less we talk about liverwurst, the better). I was largely unfamiliar with head cheese and hot souse until some of the older customers began ordering them and I finally laid eyes (and, eventually, hands) on these meat-esque wonderments.
For this month's report on "crazy," "weird" and "gross-looking/sounding" food items found at your local supermarket, the tables have been turned. CityBeat's Contributing Dining Editor Anne Mitchell offered me a potential topic: mock turtle soup. "Obviously it's not made from turtles," she wrote in an e-mail, "but I've never had the nerve to try it." Mock turtle soup? Ha, I've been eating since I was a small child, saddling up to the Hitching Post restaurant on the West Side.
Everyone wants to be skinnier, smarter, happier. But the best/least most of us hope for is to just stay awake, which probably explains the popularity of energy drinks — and coffee, cocaine and meth, for that matter. After marveling at the over-saturation of energy drinks on the market for years, I finally decided to taste a few and see how they might enhance my day.