Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa
Submitted by Eric Nelson
Aside from the title of the pertinent dystopian Orwell novel, 1984 was also the year that saw Ronald Reagan’s re-election helped in part, by a television advertising campaign helmed by ad wizard Hal Riney, which included the commercials “There is a bear in the woods” and “It’s morning again in America.” (Sound familiar?) Looking back, it should come as no surprise that the same election year started with Michael Jackson’s hair up in flames while filming a commercial for Pepsi.
White America tends to have a conveniently short memory, something I myself am guilty of as well, more specifically with fast food. A friend of mine had once told me “The last time I took a bite of meat from Taco Bell I threw the whole thing out the window of the car I was driving.” To be fair, he told me this more than once, but after five beers and nothing open save a 7-11, it didn’t matter.
When I walked into my local Taco Bell in Queens and saw the signs for the “Naked Chicken Chalupa” I was immediately reminded of KFC’s “Double Down,” a breadless sandwich announced on April Fool’s Day of 2010 that thumbed its nose at childhood obesity rates and promised “so much 100 percent premium chicken, we didn’t have room for a bun.”
The Bell’s version uses minced and reconstituted all-white meat chicken in a rubbery patty as its outer shell. Unlike its older sister, which saw melted cheese, bacon and “the Colonel’s secret sauce,” the Naked and the Dead opts for lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese and a cool avocado ranch sauce as its fillings. I noted that the spicy chicken, with its thin coating of grease, provided a balance with the somewhat tart sauce coating the vegetables within, like a reverse engineered salad topped with chicken strips. I wanted to buy another one that following weekend to try it again.
But the next day, my stomach was in mourning again in America, Pa Bell’s chicken discus taking a ride through my digestive system that echoed the five stages of grief, “Anger” being my hour-long case of heartburn. Perhaps I deserved it, having my head buried in sand, ignorant of the latest fast food science had to offer me, a consumer and member of Yum! Brands’ key demographic. I certainly was unaware, until I ate it and then searched for the product on Google, that there was a national ad campaign for it based on a combination of tongue-in-cheek 1950’s aesthetic and essentially the company trolling itself via a fake “The Council for Eating Fried Chicken the Same Way You Always Have.” The question is: Will America Buy it?
I don’t know. Does a bear shit in the woods?
Kettle’s Moscow Mule Poato Chips
Submitted by Kevin Tasker
Tangy tart with an odd bubble-facsimile powder that honest-to-god makes one’s nostrils twitch à la the genuine article, the newest entry into Kettle Brand’s adventurous pantheon o’cruch, the Moscow Mule, largely succeeds despite its bewildering ambitions. Transposing a gingery vodka cocktail served in a copper mug into a paper thin, flavor-dusted crinkle disc is, one imagines, no small feat of foodie engineering. There had to have been some serious focus group investigation into the philosophical underpinnings of this weird little vixen (e.g. What consumerist palate-itch is the Mule in liquid form failing to satisfyingly scratch? If it’s sheer novelty, then what’s next, Singapore Sling chips? What on earth would a White Russian become when zapped with Kettle’s metamorphic ray?) In any case, once the chip vessel proper has been swallowed up, whatever would be the taste bud equivalent of the Uncanny Valley sensation begins to take hold, and a Turing Test of flavor profiles would be needed to really understand if one were eating the stuff or drinking it. The Mulishness is so suspiciously precise, in fact, that if that recent Seth Rogan atheistic diatribe is to be believed, and food is secretly anthropomorphic, I would give the following quasi-Pynchonian advice to the whole of the grocery store: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to replicate you via Kettle chip. What more can one say? The chip’s smell is lemon-heavy and ruthlessly bright, not unlike certain cleaning products. And despite the cognitive dissonance inspired by the eating/drinking confusion outlined above, the things really are fiendishly addictive. Try one for yourself and see.
Sneaky Chef No-Nut Butter
Submitted by Jen Knox
I do not have a peanut allergy, but I have a similar allergy that makes me curious about products in condiment aisles. Said curiosity, along with a fondness for peanut butter, brought me to the oddly palatable flavor lovechild of baby food and peanuts: a peanut butter-ish product made from yellow peas, No-Nut Butter.
I haven’t always had such food curiosities. It all began with hives, which were a result of an actual allergy to a product that I had been over-consuming: almonds. At the time, I had been drinking almond milk in my coffee, adding a scoop of almond butter to my oatmeal each morning, and drinking more almond milk on days when I had an afternoon black tea or a late-afternoon White Russian, not to mention the myriad other milk-craving beverages that may have required the milk substitute (side note: the dairy industry has never been much of a fan of milk-like substances being sold using the word milk. It’s a contentious subject in some circles and has been for many years — I think because branding is EVERYTHING).
Anyway, I was at a run-down but charming farm in Nebraska when my hives peaked (long story). At first, I figured they were an allergic reaction to something airborne. I took allergy pills, washing them down with almond milk-infused coffee. The hives got worse. When I finally got a prick test, the results came back that I was almond-allergic. Alas, I made the sad transition to rice milk. Why no regular milk, you ask? Look, I’m a redhead, a walking recessive gene. Let’s just leave it at that.
So I came across this novel food item at Target, where any true food connoisseur does her shopping. In all fairness, it was on a short trip to buy some new socks and a bra. I didn’t seek the product out. I just happened to take a quick side trip over to the condiment aisle, nearby a sample station, just to see what was up.
It was here, in a South Texas Target, that I first found Sneaky Chef’s Creamy No-Nut Butter. I was ecstatic because I had tried almond butter (sigh), sun butter, myriad “classic” peanut butters, natural peanut butters, peanut butter powders (peanut butter with all the fat sucked out of it so that there’s nothing more than peanut dust that you need to hydrate to resurrect), and cashew butter. I had also tried pea protein in drinks and smoothies because I don’t eat meat and try to curb soy, which leaves me … pea protein. Why don’t I eat meat you ask? Soy?
When one uses gold peas to make a peanut butter-like product, the natural inclination would be wordplay. Pea(nut) butter spread or pea-no-nut butter spread or peanut butter spread. The fact that the Sneaky Chef was so confident in her product that she didn’t need to resort to wordplay impressed me. I have since found some competing brands that come a little closer, but perhaps there’s a trademark on “peanut” when used before “butter” in the mentioning of a “spread.”
Oh food industry! So. I saw that the stuff was about the same caloric count and consistency of peanut butter, and it was a healthy protein, so I bought it. I bought it without even looking at the price. It was a non-negotiable purchase, and no sooner was I home was I sticking a teaspoon into my new “No-Nut Butter.”
Remind me to never read this aloud.
The first bite was impressive. The consistency was about as on-point as any natural peanut butter. I had to stir! Talk about authenticity. I took a small bit on my tongue and mushed the stuff to the roof of my mouth. It reminded me of childhood, the way the peas were already mashed for me, their subtle sweetness and peanut-infused flavoring almost too much to handle. I put a touch more on a cracker, and it was pretty damn good.
But then I ate a bit more. I had started with no more than a pea-sized amount. By this time, I was working with a serious dollop that covered almost the entire second cracker, and things changed. The mushiness began to overpower the slight resemblance to peanut butter, and all I could taste was baby food. I imagined the jar I was holding shrinking and being served alongside stringed carrots.
I don’t know what to do with this plastic jar of yellow peas, canola oil, sugar (containing tapioca starch), palm oil, salt, mono, and diglycerides, cocoa powder, and natural flavors. I may eat some more one day, in a very small dose. I don’t know.
I do know that it did not taste awful. I did not get hives, and when I looked back at my Target receipt, I felt no real regret. The pain of never knowing would’ve been much worse. So now I keep the jar next to my jar of peanut butter, or slightly behind it, and should anyone with an appropriate allergy swing by, I’m ready.
Oolong Tea (Several Varieties)
Submitted by Becky Adnot-Haynes
It was a difficult time. I was four months pregnant and recently laid off from a job writing fanciful catalogue descriptions for a clothing purveyor famous for its floor-length dusters and whimsical narratives. I’d spent the last year describing international adventures undertaken by roguish diplomats and seaplane pilots and several fictional women who, in sexy ways, were not who they claimed to be. Naturally, each of the protagonists was extremely well-dressed.
So it didn’t seem so far off to take a gig describing fine oolong teas that hailed from the fog-covered mountainside of Nantou, Taiwan. The client promised to send me a sample of each of the teas, which arrived in little plastic baggies labeled with Sharpie.
I laid them out on the dining room table and felt like a drug lord surveying her empire. OK, I thought. I got this. They’d hired me because they liked that I had experience with product description, but the products I’d described were mostly tattersall shirts and wide-wale corduroy pants and, once, a women’s motorcycle jacket you could wear if you wanted to be noticed by the mysterious gentleman in front of the Trevi Fountain. I promised to try my hardest.
Still, the timing wasn’t the best. I had reached a point in my pregnancy where most solid and liquid foods normally consumed by humans over the age of five were out. Omelets disgusted me. BLTs were repulsive. Marinara sauce might as well have been the blood of orphans. The dog’s farts smelled exactly like boiled eggs, though in retrospect that had always been the case.
It is an understatement to say I did not want to drink those teas. But goddammit I am a professional woman and I needed that money and I would drink those teas. I brewed the first one in the Cuisinart kettle that I normally used to heat water for Swiss Miss Marshmallow Lovers. All twelve varieties of tea tasted exactly the same: like wet spinach leaves with after notes of dirt. I wrote the descriptions based on things other people said on the internet.
I tried the teas again later, after my son was born and I was gainfully employed again. They still tasted like dirt, but I noticed some had pleasing qualities I hadn’t appreciated before, fruity and floral and subtly bitter, like my feelings toward my former employer. My favorite tea had notes of honey and a spicy ginger finish; I found myself brewing it again the next day. I wouldn’t say I liked it, exactly, but it was enticing. Of course I knew by then that the most enthralling emotions are the ones that are most difficult to explain.
Soon enough, I understood that these were special teas. They would be appreciated by someone extraordinary and just the tiniest bit nuts: a person who ached to swim the Hellespont to the Aegean Sea. To fly a Stinson over the Badlands. They were teas to be consumed by a romantic, a pioneer, a writer of love letters — the kind of person who wore her Chesterfield through the harshest of winters, with bravado, open to the wind.
Brennivín “The Black Death” Original Icelandic Spirit
Submitted by Ellen Gordon
I like brennivín because I like the way it makes me sound when I describe it to friends. "Oh, it’s just liquor that you can only buy in Iceland, it’s known as ‘Black Death,’ and, oh yeah, I happen to have a whole big bottle of it.” While I did taste some on a brewery tour in Iceland, I was seven drinks in and, therefore, want a real, unbiased taste to see if it’s all I remember it to be.
The beverage is made of potato mash and caraway seeds, 75 to 80 proof, and is part of Iceland’s rocky history with Templar (think Nic Cage, National Treasure) enforced prohibition. In this day and age, it is either drank once a year with fermented shark by locals or every night by tourists searching for something to make them look cool.
The “bottle” I have, bought with my leftover kronas at the Duty Free in Keflavik airport, is actually a plastic flask accompanied by two shot glasses all neatly packaged together in a box covered in a picture of a man who looks like Santa would look. Or, at least, he looks how one would imagine Santa would look if he worked out and threw cool parties where they only played vinyl. I was hoping to channel all of this during my grand plan for tonight: use this drinking experience to incite a hang out with the boy I’m trying to trick into dating me. He would have been enticed by the whole package — Black Death, hipster Santa, and then me — effortlessly cool, edgy, and wearing an Icelandic wool sweater with perfectly untied boots.
Instead, my roommate and her boyfriend are staring at me with condescending fascination as I try to find a spot on our messy coffee table for my room temperature, plastic handle full of Icelandic potato liquor. I’m grumbling about taking this shot, but still refuse to budge. At least if I finish, I can tell myself that this whole endeavor wasn’t just an excuse to hang out with that aforementioned boy.
When the drink finally sloshes down my throat, it ends up tasting like a combination of black licorice and ground up metal poles. Not as great as I remember. I don’t even get tipsy from it, but I’m not sure that’s what drinking brennivín is really about anyway. The only thing I am completely sure of is that while some questionable decision-making led me here in the first place, I’m glad I skipped the fermented shark.
Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes
Submitted by Yelena Taytslin
Normally, I’m not a sweets person. My favorite food item, for context, is a tomato; favorite drink, black coffee. I avoid frosting on cakes, and really only eat the cake part if it’s some sort of semi-sweet ultra-dark chocolate lava cake, more reminiscent of actual dried, burnt-to-a-soullessly-dark-crisp lava than cake. Naturally, no one, myself included, would choose cookies as my go-to snack, but for some reason the package of Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes grabbed my attention. Most likely because, really who the fuck thinks of these names? Whole Paycheck should be able to afford creative marketing/labeling. Perhaps it was this very dichotomy between the simple, overly honest packaging of the 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes and my standard expectations of cookie advertising — loud, colorful, difficult to look at for long periods of time, thus leading the consumer to never fully read the nutrition facts so that any shame and buyer’s remorse become impossible — that forced my hand on that fateful Thursday afternoon, East Providence, RI shopping trip. Immediately after putting my groceries away, I climbed out my roommate’s window to the coziest part of the roof and proceeded to watch traffic and get unbelievably stoned. Somehow, after ending up in the kitchen (no memory of conquering the stairs, I’m just going to assume I figured out how to teleport), I realized how badly the munchies had set in. Luckily for me, I had an entire fridge stuffed with Whole Foods goodies, mostly an obnoxious amount of tomatoes, plus some greener, leafier, less ambiguously fruity vegetables (or is it vegetative fruit?). None of these things, satisfying as they surely would be when cooked into one of my usual curries, a tagine, or freshly chopped into a salad with hummus, were already prepared. In my current mental state, the pots and pans were too much to handle; I needed something now, not half an hour from now. I had completely forgotten about my earlier impulse snack buy, and honestly it was like the second coming of Jesus, my personal munchies salvation. Take me to the Rapture, 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes, and let me bring along a big glass of coconut milk since I doubt they make that in heaven, and also those cookies look as dry as their unimaginative title. I get the box open, and suddenly I’m faced with a rather huge dilemma: the “mismatched” part of the cookie’s namesake means that half the cookie (I’m sorry, “sandwich creme”) is dark chocolate, and the other half is like a blonde Oreo, that off-color vanilla/sugar cookie. Inside is the usual “creme” taste — sort of like buttercream, but grainier. Everyone knows what that taste is, even if we don’t have a specific flavor name for it. Cream-and-sugar blob flavor. Anyway, I was frozen, cookie split in half, coconut milk in front of me, and a little bit of creme per mismatched sandwich half. I decided not to panic. Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes were merely providing multiple snacking options, and I hadn’t realized it until that moment. Now, I was able to forgive the non-advertising that initially made me so curious about this snack: calling these 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Three Way Sandwich Cremes would probably create too many mental images of really dysfunctional threesomes, like combining a horny giraffe, a contortionist from Cirque du Soleil, and Mel Gibson. Nothing good can come of that, but good things absolutely can and do come from 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes. I started with the simplest option, since I had already split my sandwich creme in half: eat the creme off both sides, as usual, then dip the blonde/vanilla, eat it. Not a bad flavor, richer than I had expected. Then I dipped the dark chocolate half. I was right to save it for last, as it was hands-down the best part of the sandwich creme mismatching. But, I still had two other methods for eating these things to try, and like any good stoner-cum-food scientist and critic, try them I did. I switched the order in which I dipped — same flavors, chocolate still needed to go last since the vanilla side was very bland in relation, especially when eaten right after. Then I did a mildly heathenish thing and bit right into the whole thing, a dry bite with an after-sip, followed by a whole dipped bite. Whole dipped bite won, across the board. There’s something about snacks from Whole Foods which ensures that they won’t be too sweet, probably the cult-like following of sugar hating yogi moms who shop there. Add too much sugar and not enough Stevia, and they will know. They will know, and they will be angry. They will storm the corporate headquarters armed with sustainable, bamboo-handled knives and tight, sweat-wicking pants for ultimate comfort and an excuse to show their toned, little white married asses in public. So yes, Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes, “the cookie with the really stupid name,” (you’re welcome, WF branding team) makes for a great stoner snack, as well as a somewhat threateningly versatile, pretty tasty cookie.