Swedish Fish Oreos
Submitted by Denise Robbins

Hello, nice to meet you. My name is The World’s Greatest Oreo Fan.

For the past several years, one of my life goals has been to taste every flavor Oreo that ever has and ever will exist. But, I will note that I am a woman of many Oreo standards. They include:

1: “Oreo Thins” don’t count

2: Oreos must be purchased in person or gifted, never ordered/shipped via the internet (because THAT would be too obsessive)

3: “Oreo Thins” don’t count

Now, my personal journey to Swedish Fish Oreos began on May 24, the day rumors popped up about the forthcoming flavor. (Do I have google alerts set up for “Oreo”? The world will never know.) When the flavor was finally released in early August, reviews ranged from devastating:

  • “straight trash”
  • “this is toothpaste”
  • “it is a personal crisis”

… to slightly less devastating:

  • “reminded me of that fantastic Young the Giant song ‘Cough Syrup’”
  • “like a child’s Play-Doh diorama of the Berlin Wall”
  • “no one asked for this” (but no one asks for the great changes of life, do they?)

So I knew that the Swedish Fish-flavored Oreos would be the true test of my fandom. I spent months searching for them. Apparently they are only sold at Kroger brand grocery stores, which, after some research I learned is not a croissant flavor but does own Harris Teeter. There are two HT’s accessible from where I live, but neither one had them. After a few weeks, I started to lose hope; given Oreo Standard #2 (one must never buy Oreos online), I feared I would have to give up the search and let this one go.

Until my housemate texted me one warm September evening: “I have a present for you.”

I texted back: “Uh-oh.”

But thank the cookie-gods, said housemate was not asking me to clean up cat barf. He somehow got hold of the Holy Fishy Grail of Oreos.

Now came the formidable task of tasting them. I had to do it right. I needed broad daylight, an empty-ish stomach, and documentation. It happened the following day, and here is proof.

“Amazing,” said one friend. “Elegant and beautiful like a golden diamond,” said another. “Fruit-flavored Oreos are just a horrible idea,” said a former-friend-turned-mortal-enemy. “You should submit this to the Cannes Film Festival,” said me to myself.

Now let me describe what you just witnessed me experience.

First, the smell. It was undeniable: after the bag opens, every organ of your body transforms into a giant olfactory receptor, overcome by the aroma of medicinal cherry.

Then, the taste. The first wave of flavor brings the taste of Benadryl. After a few seconds of chewing, it switches to the chocolate Oreo wafer. One more second, it’s back to Swedish Fish, then back to chocolate, then continues switching faster and faster until you’re not sure which flavor is happening at any given moment. It is as if the two different tastes are so far apart on the flavor spectrum they simply cannot to mingle. It is the necker cube of Oreos, where the perspective changes from left to right over and over depending on how you think about it. It is Schrödinger’s cat of Oreos, dead or alive, but not both. Never both.

Somehow, between the third and fourth bite, the chocolate flavor wins. The Swedish Fish flavor completely disappears. I pulled my next Oreo apart so I could taste the ingredients separately. But when I licked the pinkish red crème, I tasted nothing. I scraped some off with my teeth; again, nothing. You open the paradox box and see the stupid cat was dead all along.

It was beyond eerie. Was the flavor so offensive that my taste buds were forced to shut down? “I won’t allow it!” they scream. “This is not how Oreos are supposed to be!” they cry. “This flavor does not exist!” they sob, burying faces into elbows to hide their shameful tears.

I can tell you that the Swedish Fish Oreos did not make me want to puke like a certain undisclosed flavor did. (Unrelated piece of information: Did you know that if you stash a bag of weed [legal in DC, hey!] into a box of lemon Oreos, the scent of marijuana permeates deeply into every Oreo even long after the weed is gone, and why there will never be a limited edition Oreo flavor of “marijuana-infused lemon”? Now you know!) They also weren’t as horrible as all the reviews made them sound. But I didn’t actively want to eat another one, which was new for me.

Let’s take a moment to address the elephish in the cookie. I’ll be the first to admit that neither Oreos nor Swedish Fish are actually real “food.” You can’t catch a Swedish Fish in the wild, nor can you make an Oreo from scratch. In fact, my love for Oreos spawned in my vegan years, when I learned they contained no dairy products, a tidbit that freaked out my non-vegan friends (what the hell is that “crème” made of?). Oreos are an artificial chemical creation that combines into vegan cookie heaven. And Swedish Fish doesn’t actually have a real “flavor” — the gummy flavor itself can’t be described as anything other than “red.”

Thus, the crux of the problem: Here are these two foodstuffs, with two distinctive flavors and textures, both completely manufactured, combined into one. Of course it doesn’t work! Your body barely understands how to handle one fake food — now you’re forcing it to experience two simultaneously?? It can only result in catastrophe.

Don’t get me wrong. I will never stop eating weird Oreos. I commend Oreo for experimenting, and eagerly await a PB&J flavor (you’re welcome for the free idea). But oh, my dearest Oreo, how you failed this time. Please, I beg you, don’t experiment with more fake flavors. Let’s start working on perfecting that jam/peanut butter crème combo, and put the past behind us.

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Seven-Layer Dip Combos
Submitted by Alison Satterlee

When the world’s food supply dwindles because we will have wrought some futuristic dustbowl earth reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath upon ourselves, and all natural foods have become nonexistent leaving us with “edible” chemicals and in all likelihood, immortal Monsanto corn topped with cockroaches, I like to imagine we will be living in every sci-fi movie that has pellet food. You know what I mean: entire meals encapsulated in a tiny pill that explodes with the flavors of say, a TV dinner, breakfast cereal, cheesecake, etc, all little memory drops of what real food used to taste like.

Seven Layer Dip Combos are the future of food, in a depressing but delicious way. You taste every layer starting with the chip, which eases into the cheese, salsa, and guacamole mix, ending with the salty tang of a canned black olive. The package has a picture of a bowl of stratified dip complete with sliced black olives resting gently on the top layer of sour cream and I shit you fucking not, you TASTE that olive. The whole thing is rolled in a crunchy outer shell partly made of/dusted with (Monsanto) corn masa. The experience — and seriously, it’s an experience — is tantamount to being in the Jetson’s living room pod eating the future plucked from a glistening chrome tray held by a robot maid. Whoever makes these Combos is the real-life Willy Wonka, and you are Veruca Salt eating the pill of Thanksgiving dinner, giggling with child-like glee as each new flavor melts on your tongue. Every layer presents itself to you in the Combo. It is science at it’s most magical and attainable. Skip on down to whatever Walgreens/CVS/Rite-Aid is undoubtedly less than 3 miles from your home and fucking try these encapsulated wonders.

You will probably want to literally walk or run there because jesus, these things are not good for you. There are six servings in that tiny bag and you will eat almost the entire bag in abject wonder before you realize what horror you brought upon your digestive system. I personally sat under a blanket and ate them imagining that they were the first food I’d had in days after the apocalypse. It made them taste even better.

Sponsored snack of NASCAR®.

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The Whopperito
Submitted by Meg Thompson

The Whopperito sat alone in my stomach, thinking about what it had done, which was loosen the moral boundaries that keeps sandwich genres to themselves.

Like most 30-somethings with a liberal arts degree, I put off home ownership because I didn’t want to buy a lawnmower. I savored not knowing what the word “escrow” meant, and spent my evenings drinking wine and perusing esoteric wedding registries. But then, in no particular order, I had a baby and bought a Honda CR-V and started getting drunk on something else: The American Dream.

And that’s how I ended up in the drive-through lane at Burger King, whispering the name of their latest portmanteau into the speaker.

Do you want the meal or just the Whopperito?

I listened for the tone of the employee’s voice coming through. Are we in on this joke together? Is the cruelest part of this market plan the fact that she has to ask these questions? Can she see me?

Just the Whopperito.

I’m sad enough, thank you.

Also, who eats FRIES with a Whopperito?

I couldn’t believe how many times we had to utter “Whopperito” to one another. I longed for the conversation to be over, but like a Garth Brooks coming-out-of-retirement-concert, it just kept going.

Once I was safely at home with the doors locked and blinds drawn, I set my Whopperito on the table and unfolded the tortilla. It dawned on me that the Whopperito is essentially a burrito with pickles. The other ingredients: meat, lettuce, tomato, are fluid food items that can easily wend their way into many of our everyday meals. Was the Whopperito all that different? Was it like when Apple makes the slightest variation on the charger so we all have to go buy a new one?

If you haven’t already guessed, I am not what you might call a “foodie.” I was raised by my mother, who thinks ice in a glass of water or a sandwich with two kinds of cheese count as “excessive.” I am merely a self-labeled, post-modern consumer, savoring all the levels our country has to offer. I have dined at well-to-do establishments, like those McDonald’s that have a chandelier and an upstairs, and the ones that are inside turnpike gas stations. In my eyes, I see little difference, but I guess that’s just the way I was raised.

Similar to my MFA in creative writing, however, the Whopperito let me down. Neither Whopper nor burrito, I felt overwhelmed by the inevitable slippery slope I was riding down, but if burgers and burritos can unite in marriage, why can’t the rest of us?

On the Burger King website, the Whopperito is listed under the “chicken & more” menu category. I actually find this to be the most alarming development of the Whopperito. Talk about a slippery slope, not to mention imprecision. However, I suppose “chicken & linguistic blends of words,” illustrates a showy, heightened form of self-awareness Burger King is not ready to embrace.

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China’s Green Tea Ice Cream Oreo
Submitted by Kaya York

The most wonderful thing I learned while living in China is of the great diversity of corporate snack flavors around the world. Oreos, for example. There’s a lot of Oreos out there. The Oreo Wikipedia page has a pretty comprehensive and surprisingly well-cited documentation of Oreo variations with comically officious (and borderline Nietzschean) section headings like “Beyond Sandwich Cookies”.

It’s mysterious in what way Oreo flavors are facilitated through the idea of ice cream. How does ice cream figure in, ontologically speaking? Why not simply a green tea flavored Oreo? Were they afraid we would think it wasn’t sweet? Like that it was gonna be an Oreo that actually tasted like tea? The natural hope is for a brand-crossover ice cream called Green Tea Ice Cream Oreo Ice Cream.

But still I get it. Green Tea Ice Cream is delicious. Oreos are delicious. The idea of putting them together does not disgust me like the Double Delight Oreo series that combines orange/mango, raspberry/blueberry, and grape/peach. These taste like toothpaste. A cookie should not be refreshing.

I was excited to try the Green Tea Ice Cream Oreo.

They were sold to me by the 市斤 (jin — about a pound) out of a bucket of individually packaged Oreos, which made me feel like I was buying a timeless staple-like grain.

I was disappointed.

It didn’t taste anything like green tea flavored ice cream. Or green tea. Or ice cream. It tasted a little like mint. Like a parched Girl Scouts Grasshopper cookie. But I checked: it enthusiastically claimed itself to be green tea flavored ice cream flavored.

Eat this cookie only if you wish to be reminded of all the things in the world that do not live up to their potential. Or don’t. The orangutans will thank you. But still go to China for the green tea toothpaste. That’s actually very good.

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Burger King’s Mac n Cheetos
Submitted by Stacey Greenberg

When Taco Bell came out with the Doritos Locos Tacos we were all ecstatic. Taco Bell and Doritos together? I mean, how could life get any better than that? As a child of the 70s and a mom, I was 100% impressed by their genius marketing team (which probably consisted of people in their 20s). I didn’t even care that the shell wasn’t actually a giant Dorito, just the same old shell with Doritos flavored powder on it.

Fast forward a few years and now we have Burger King’s retort, the Mac n Cheetos. What. The. Fuck. How do they get the macaroni to cooperate long enough to be encased in the Cheetos shell? What on earth must go into the Cheetos shell to make it strong enough to contain the macaroni? And is it fried? There are just so many questions I want to remain unanswered.

Oddly enough, the Mac n Cheetos hit my radar via a vegan friend on Facebook. She was lamenting the fact that she would never know the pleasure of the Mac n Cheetos. My first thought was, “Ew is there meat in them too?” Then I remembered that vegans don’t eat cheese. I could see the Mac n Cheetos turning just about anybody off of cheese eternally, assuming it actually contains real cheese, which surely it doesn’t. Ew, maybe there is meat in there too. Or ground up baby cow hoofs. Or that pesky gelatin that ruins so many things for vegans.

Because my now fourteen-year-old son only talks to me if it pertains to food (as in me buying him food, preparing him food, carrying food to him while he lays in bed watching YouTube), I asked, “Hey did you see the new Cheetos thing at Burger King?”

His eyes lit up, and he showed a level of excitement I hadn’t seen since agreeing to buy him four burritos at Chipotle a couple of weeks prior. “The Mac n Cheetos! Let’s go!” he said.

I’ll be honest. I wanted to go get them not just because I basically will do anything to keep my teenage son from getting hangry, but because I had to see one in person. Then I remembered we had just discussed the fact that he’d eaten a whole bag of pork rinds at his dad’s house the night before and had been suffering some pretty ill effects most of the morning. “Let’s wait until you can go several hours without using the restroom,” I suggested.

After having a few days to think about my offer of driving to Burger King, making the order for one Mac n Cheetos and paying with money I earned myself, I had second thoughts. Mostly of the fourteen year old becoming addicted to Mac n Cheetos and this being the first of many, many trips, especially since I had officially refused to ever go to Chik fil-A again.

We made a deal between the menu board and the pay window. He could have one order, and his little brother and I would each have one bite. The experience would be Snapchatted and then we’d all move on with our lives.

In the plus column, they didn’t take extra time to cook like the stoopid Buffalo Chicken Fries. The packaging is attractive. The actual product is quite a sight to behold—a tube with lots of little tubes inside. Totally tubular!

In the minus column, they just taste like super soft and cheesy fake cheese wrapped in mildly crunchy even faker cheese. They are truly disgusting and cause you to feel all the shame you knew you would. Unless you are fourteen. And then your eyes roll back into your head and you tell your mom that you’ve achieved nirvana.

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All-Natural 100% Veggies Sweet Corn Crunch Dried Kernels Sprinkled With Sea Salt
Submitted by Amy Barnes

I am a city girl. For a 70s summer, I was a country girl. Back then it was a real farm and not a $4,000-a-week yuppy kid summer camp experience with free-range chickens and sustainable meals prepared by Wolfgang Puck. A tween boy drove my sister and I around a Kansas farm in a truck that was older than his dad. I stepped in pig poop. And horse poop. Dog poop. Chicken poop. Lots and lots of poop. After the requisite feeding of the animals in the poop, we should have all cleaned up before our next farm-related fun: the dry feed corn silo. We did not.

The dry feed corn silo was a wonderland. We climbed the long and rusty metal ladder to the top and shimmied in through the equally rusty submarine-style entry at the top. And then we jumped. Like kids into the first uber-cold swimming pool water. Into dry corn. Poop-covered pants, shoes and all. And slid down probably 40 or 50 feet to the bottom. Screaming and giggling. I now know as an adult that was a very, very, very dangerous thing to do. My mother was sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse drinking tea unaware or didn’t care that she might lose both of her daughter’s to dried corn. It was the 70s. The poetic justice of all that farm poop returning to the animals on their feed aside, the three of us could have died. It was far more dangerous than the 11-year-old driving a stick shift truck at 50 miles an hour through the farm. However, there is nothing like the smell and feel of dried corn on a hot Kansas summer afternoon. The corn dust on your clothes. In your hair. The smell of that corn sucks into your lungs (in much the way that a big mouthful of that same corn might also kill you). You are instantly drowning and sliding on the best roller coaster ever. 35 years later, I thought I would never live that experience again. There is no way in hell that I would willingly climb that ladder and take that plunge now. Get ready all you fellow city slickers. However, farm summers are here again for everyone! I have found the suburb, middle-aged version of the farm silo corn:

All-Natural 100% Veggies Sweet Corn Crunch Dried Kernels Sprinkled with Sea Salt.

Apparently, the company thinks their product is not good enough on its own and so they include ALL of the following information on the bag:

Non-GMO Project, Sensible Foods Crunch Dried Kernels, Corn, sea salt and nothing else (trademark), meets USDA “Smart Snacks in School” Guidelines, packed in a facility free from peanuts, gluten, dairy and eggs, vegan, gluten free, non GMO, low fat, no additives, no sugar added, no preservatives, kosher certified, Perfect topping: salads, soups, salsas, excellent addition to stews, casseroles, pizza or tacos, A delicious ingredient for baking or trail mix, tasty snack right out of the bag, satisfy corn cravings 100% sweet corn and nothing else, picked at peak of ripeness, lightly dusted with sea salt, crunch dried, ideal for any eating occasion, re-sealable, perfectly amazing on the go snack anytime, anywhere, Office, enjoy with a movie, or refuel on a hike, Best by 08/03/2017

Seriously, just say:

Our dried corn is a Kansas farm summer. Minus death by dry-corn-drowning and farm animal poop.

This stuff is city-girl nostalgia crack. I do eat it on salads and on-the-go and maybe even on top of my green eggs and ham. Maybe not on tacos or stews (really stew—what marketing writer adds in stews?) but you have to draw the line somewhere. You have just avoided death by silo and can buy this remarkably simple product at Costco. Costco. Costco! Just take it up the register and pull out your Costco membership card and say, “I’d like one bag of summer corn.” No, don’t say that. They might think you are crazy and might take away your bag of ½ eaten corn. Because now you will have to open the bag in the store and eat it before you pay for it and you will be standing there with a Volkswagen-sized tub of ice cream melting while eating dried corn out of the bag and weeping that you need to have backyard chickens (home chicken coop — aisle 6). Just put the bag-o-corn on the conveyor belt and pray that all the loose corn doesn’t roll back down and drown the toddler perched screaming, covered in poop in the next cart down.

Proof positive that you CAN put the country (corn) into a city girl all over again.

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Trader Joe’s Shooting Stars
Submitted by Ellen Rhundy

As a 30-year-old woman who drinks her coffee from a NASA mug (a gift from your parents after a crushing but earthbound layoff), it should come as no surprise that you are drawn to the packaging of Trader Joe’s Shooting Stars cookies. A star-shaped cookie? Drizzled with chocolate? And a drawing of a spaceship? And a drawing of an astronaut? Sold!

Alas, these are cookies you should have considered more closely before purchase. Out of the packaging, they are just as they appear on the box, with the added bonus of crumbled graham cracker sprinkled atop the chocolate drizzles. It is 10 AM but work is tough, and a donut is really just a cookie in disguise—so in you go, only to find the cookie exploding against your lip, a piece of graham cracker ricocheting off your desk as you stare in shock at the devil cookie. You cautiously launch its return trip towards your wounded lip, but pause: the cookie is fizzing, crackling, another graham cracker crumb has flung itself free, to be discovered hours later implacably attached to your jeans.

In your pure love for the stars, you realize you failed to notice one critical fact: these cookies are covered in fucking pop-rocks. The only appropriate home for Trader Joe’s Shooting Stars is the office kitchen, absent their packaging, where you sit giggling nervously every time a coworker is about to be deceived just as you were a few short hours ago. But not again, bucko. Not again.

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Reynaldo’s Rice Pudding
Submitted by Julia Cervantes

It’s 2 PM on a Thursday afternoon, the weekly nadir of my dietary willpower. Each week is a Sisyphean struggle to avoid the snacks at the office marketplace. My inert lifestyle is in league with my pants, and together they refuse to be accommodating of sweets.

The marketplace is on the opposite side of the office, roughly 600 steps from my desk. I try to make this journey every two hours (for my cardiovascular health, naturally), and that brings me into contact with temptation approximately 20 times per week. That’s twenty opportunities for me to lose my grip, and the moment I do I feel triumphant in my own defeat. (Did not Sisyphus feel the same surge of wild, pointless joy at his momentary easement?) I paw through the chips, trail mixes, and candy bars with unfettered glee. I shiver mostly from excitement as I peruse the refrigerated section, and then I see it. The ancestors have shown me favor this day in the form of my favorite, but rarely stocked, delicacy—Reynaldo’s Rice Pudding.

The logo, a man dark of hair and pale of skin, looks a bit like me that one time I wore a sombrero for Cinco de Mayo and drew a mustache on myself with a sharpie. The label proclaims it to be both Rice Pudding and Arroz con Leche, a duality that I can appreciate. It proclaims, like that government census I filled out, that White and Hispanic can and often do label the same package.

That’s all well and good on paper, but if someone in my open-plan office asks what I’m eating—and some nosy desk mate will—I will refer to it strictly as rice pudding. Despite being half Hispanic, I am translucently pale and was raised by white people of European descent. To pepper my speech with Spanish and ineptly roll my r’s would invite only the incredulity of my colleagues. Such is the nature of my own duality.

Ethnic anxieties aside, I get down to the best part of my workweek. The lid is a thin, tear-away film, but not one of those membranous manhole covers so fused to the round plastic lip of the container that it precipitates a fierce tooth-and-nail-and-very-often-knife struggle. No. This lamina lifts away with the subtlest allusion to force by my weakened and benumbed carpal-tunnel-stricken hands.

The semi-solid top skin of the pudding looks like the cinnamon-flecked, highly folded brain of a deeply intelligent species. As I push the spoon into its depths, I imagine myself in an ancient rain forest eating from the cavity of a small monkey’s skull. The texture of the pudding beneath the surface skin is best described as quantal; the creamy lumpiness is either entirely sublime or utterly revolting, depending on your textural preferences and powers of imagination. As for the taste, there can be nothing in heaven or on earth that is more satisfying than full-fat dairy with sugar and cinnamon.

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McDonald’s Signature Sriracha Big Mac Sauce
Submitted by Thomas Cook

Right, so the first question you’re asking yourself is the first question I neglected to ask myself: is this a sauce or a sandwich? The answer: it’s a sauce. Maybe if I had paid closer attention to the commercial before putting away the end of a bottle of wine and heading for the drive-thru I would have known this, but instead I steamed into the parking lot and tried to order the “Sriracha Sandwich.” No such thing.

I should point out that I don’t recommend finishing a bottle of wine and heading for McDonald’s in search of McDonald’s Signature Sriracha Big Mac Sauce in general, necessarily, mainly because of the drinking and driving dimension of the act, but also because research tells me this sauce may be, at least for a time, available in Los Angeles and San Diego only, the former being where I tracked it down.

It had been awhile since I’d driven thru a McDonald’s, so it’s probably worth saying also, in case you’re in the same boat as I was, that things have changed. The first thing you should know is that there’s now a Signature Sandwich Menu (at least here in L.A.), and knowing that is key to placing a coherent order, that is if you see a commercial for an addition to the sauce portion of the menu and are compelled at that very movement to pursue the sauce on a sandwich, as I was.

For instance, had you known about the menu, you likely would have nodded your head or produced some equivalent gesture of ascent at the news of a spicy addendum to an existing menu of sauces (i.e., Creamy Dijon Mustard, Sweet BBQ Sauce, and Pico de Gallo) that now, at second glance, seemed to have been missing such a thing. Unfortunately for Kareem, the kind gentleman who guided me through the process of “building my own sandwich” in the drive-thru, I had no such prior knowledge of the sauce line-up or the menu in general.

(I should point out that there is good chance, based on how I likely sounded, coupled with my ignorance of the menu, that Kareem may have regarded me as damaged.)

Kareem first led me through the selection of a bun product — Artisan Roll, Potato Bun, or Sesame Seed Bun — to which I deferred to him. He expressed his preference for the Potato Bun, and I said that if it was good enough for him it was good enough for me.

Next, I chose from the options of a 100% Pure Beef Patty, Buttermilk Crispy Chicken or Artisan Grilled Chicken. Here, I did not hesitate. Having seen the sandwich in the commercial advertised with the Signature Sriracha Big Mac Sauce spread over a beef patty, there was only one choice.

Eventually, I ended up with a beef patty served on a potato roll with the promised Signature Sriracha Big Mac Sauce, white cheddar, crispy onions, a spinach/kale blend, and a tomato. I began eating as I pulled away from Kareem, thanking him for his help through the ordering process.

What I can report, I must admit, could potentially be colored by my previously admitted McDonald’s hiatus: in a nutshell, McDonald’s has done it. This sandwich, at least as constructed with the potato roll and beef patty, is a funhouse of flavor and texture. The crispy onions, though I could have done with more, maintained their crunch while at the same time sinking in to the partially melted slice of white cheddar. I attribute this to the onion-to-cheddar ratio, and so recommend that, if the product makes it out to more markets, the amount of cheese is upped along with the amount of onions.

As regards the kale/spinach blend, the raw nature of the leaves was a bit of an issue. As I drove and ate, looking down at the sandwich to gaze upon what I had created, it appeared (and tasted) as though the leaves of kale and spinach simply wilted upon contact with the other hot ingredients, darkening, falling off of the sandwich, sullying my lap. A sautéed blend might perform better and stay inbounds.

The roll — Kareem was right — I found both sweet and also substantial, absorbing of the access fat and cooking liquid, though not soaking through, the gummy starchiness of the potato shining in its compliment of the beef patty.

And then of course the sauce. McDonald’s Signature Sriracha Big Mac Sauce is on the sweeter side of Sriracha. It is, I confirmed, simply Sriracha mixed in with Original Big Mac Sauce, which means it’s really good.

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Nabisco Oreo Strawberry Shortcake Sandwich Cookies
Submitted by Katie Walsh

I have been an avid Oreo lover since I was old enough to eat solid food. I have fond memories of deconstructing these sinful sandwiches with my dad and stacking them back together with peanut butter, whipped cream, and other sweets to make towering, saccharine-filled monstrosities that would make any dentist cringe. (My dad actually is a dentist, making this even more ironic.) Needless to say, when my fiancé and I saw the Strawberry Shortcake variety at our local Walmart one innocuous Friday afternoon, I nearly trampled some kids in the aisle on the way to grab a bag. (Side note: Walmart is the only, and I mean ONLY, place we have been able to find these fucking things – meaning that whenever I get a craving for them, I must first endure horrific parking lots, masses of stupidity, and blinding florescent lights before I can finally tear into the famous blue bag. But that’s an entirely different story.)

Over the years, whenever Oreo has released a new flavor, I have always been first in line to try them: lemon, gingerbread, mint, even the various flavors in the super-chocolatey “Fudge Creme” line. My favorite has always been the white chocolate-covered Oreos that show up around the holidays – until now. These have the golden Oreo cookie with a strawberry cream filling, and are a total game-changer. As soon as we got home we each poured a tall glass of whole milk (fuck that 2% bullshit — if I’m going to indulge, I’m committing 100%) and brought the bag into our room, where we closed the curtains, turned on Netflix, and ripped them open.

The first thing we noticed was the aroma: In my 33 years on this Earth, I have tried many a “strawberry-shortcake-flavored” treat, only to be severely disappointed (and, truthfully, pissed) by the end result. Not with these. Nabisco did it right, my friend. These little sons of bitches tasted like the best strawberry shortcake dessert I could ever imagine. I like to twist, eat one cookie first, lick the cream off the second, and then dip the naked cookie into milk and eat it, while my fiancé dunks the whole cookie at once and eats it lke that. I recommend eating these fuckers any way you can — there is no wrong way. The golden Oreos served as a perfect foil to the strawberry cream — the shortcake part of the dessert, if you will. Suffice it to say that we devoured that entire goddamn bag in one sitting, and were only left wanting more. We made three more unnecessary, horrendous, migraine-inducing trips to Walmart that weekend alone, each trip resulting the same way — shame — eating the entire package by ourselves in the dark.

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Starbucks “Pink Drink”
Submitted by Ella Gonzalez

Like most millennials and individuals of the 21st century, I believe that the foods and beverages I consume should be photogenic and contain no less than two whole avocados. They are an extension of my four cavities and counting, a culinary expression of floundering in a deep sea of my own pretension. Each bite and every morsel and crumb is at risk of being photographed, and even when they’re not, the thought of having Instagram-able food is one of the greatest achievements of all. If food has a purpose, it’s to stand (lie in repose?) behind the camera to not be consumed.

I tried the new Starbucks “pink drink” for a similar reason and ratio of superficiality: 90% because it looks cool; 10% so I could be the first of my friends. If there were a lull in any conversation, my sampling of this trendy beverage would diffuse the tension. “Have you guys tried the pink drink?” I would ask. The conversation would pick up, coconut milk wins again.

The “pink drink” — Starbucks’ strawberry acai refresher with coconut milk instead of water — is as disappointing as it is difficult to say.

Described as a pink Starburst liquefied, it combines the right amount of disappointment with “I paid four bucks for this?” It sure tastes like pink Starburst, which is good if you’re eating a pink Starburst, otherwise it’s a beverage committing fraud. Its pink Starburst taste is second to the disappointment that follows an ill ratio of coconut milk to the freeze-dried Lunchable meat powder the strawberry acai sat in for the past decade. Coconut milk, like it’s older sibling and sewer water stunt double, coconut water, is a sorry excuse for a milk replacement. It tasted like a pink Starburst soaked in tepid skim milk with too many ice cubes left overnight in an old bodega.

Watery and disappointing like Lunchable meat.

But it’s pretty enough to photograph, and there my priorities lay.

- - -

JuXiangYuan Health Food Co. Almond Cookies with Lard Center, China Time-honored Brand
Submitted by Jenn Mar

They watch you, the office guinea pig, cross-examining a box of cookies Mei had smuggled 7,019 miles from China, under the most frightening conditions of airplane turbulence in an economy-class toilet stall. Mummified in layers of newspaper, the cookies had spent 12 hours buried at the bottom of Mei’s purse beneath a sweater and complimentary in-flight banana. Leave it to a middle-aged Chinese woman to disguise a restricted agricultural item — exported almond cookies — as a discrete package resembling stashed cocaine.

Staring vacantly at the box, Derrick from I.T. shares his gloomiest expression. On appearance alone, the box ought to be filled with utilitarian items — dietary capsules, herbal remedies, gunpowder. Uninspired in design, the striped orange and green box could’ve been lifted straight from the archives of TIME, in a photo of decimated state-run communist markets, during a time of scarcity when shelves were nearly always emptied of food, well, except for the “JuXiangYuan China Time-honored Brand Almond Cookies with Lard Center.” At least in your historical reimagining.

Beneath the wrapper is a stony disk stamped with a mysterious symbol, like a prop from Indiana Jones, something discovered on an archaeological dig when land winds sweep in and brush off just enough sand grains from the surface to reveal squiggly impressions that most certainly is an ancient code to a forgotten language of the universe. As you slide the disk into your mouth, you gain the seriousness of a man who is about to turn the key to a secret door that guards so much knowledge.

The disk cracks in half, then in quarters, and disintegrates into a sand dune that shifts and spreads across the dark holes of your mouth. Every dribble of saliva secreted by your glands is subsumed by the ultra-absorbent sand, a granular sand that pulls in moisture and induces dust storms.

Singularly helpless, look into the gentle eyes of Mei and find a way inside yourself, survival mode, to negotiate the tedium of chewing and swallowing a dry, choking cookie. Think about the time-stillness of your life, in an office that has ravaged your youth, your Joey-Chandler-Ross years: how the quotidian can be so fundamentally cruel.

Your colleagues — Derrick, Mary, and Mei — openly stare at you, their warm morning breaths and neutrally scented, perspiring bodies.

“How is it?” Mary asks.

“Mm,” you mumble, pointing to your mouth.

“He totally hates your cookies.” Derrick snickers. He is wearing those ridiculous sneakers with his potato-colored slacks.

“That’s not something to say,” Mary says in her sing-song voice. She crosses her arms.

Mei stands shyly beside the community table where there is a potted fern and a pile of assorted napkins, brown napkins from the Chipotle, white cafeteria-style napkins from the Thai kiosk downstairs, a roll of paper towels, fluffy picnic napkins with hearts and teddy bears.

Mei once called you a friend, whereas your definition of friendship is significantly more narrow in scope—not that you are frugal in your relationships, but this, incidentally, is making you reconsider the terms of your “friendship” goals.

This is why it would not be good to spit out the cookie, not even discretely into a paper napkin, although you are staring at the napkins.

“Hey.” Derrick charges at you. He lowers his voice, leaning towards you for a conversation of secrets between men. “What is it, gross? Should I take one or no?”

You shrug.

Mei sees you shrug. Uh, oh.

(Where’d Derrick go?)

Mei’s eyes are big and watery, and she forces herself to smile. She had exploded into her soup last month before her trip to China. No one knows why.

You want to comfort her but the near-invisible mechanism in your throat, a tiny latch, is being pulled closed, constricting your voice by centimeters as it locks. You can almost visualize how you must look to Mei as you choke, you choke and you smile, eyes watering, like the choking is a joke between two friends, a meta-joke of sorts that acknowledges the polemical minefield you are in.

Mary, who gives you this look like you will never be forgiven, has gone on to correct the problem herself. She breaks open a package and shoves the sandy disk into her mouth. Her pleasure is a practiced, lusty chewing that is performed by parents before their children to teach lessons on gratitude.

Now cornering Mei, Mary is pressing her to talk about the cultural significance of the cookies, the history of traditional stone-grinding practices of women and children on straw mats beneath sun-baked huts… is she making this stuff up? She half-listens to Mei while waiting for her tea to nuke in the microwave. She pulls out her giant mug and dunks the dirty teabag inside — medicinal roots — and drives her fingers into the water, pushing down on the teabag. “Now, historically, where do they come from, Mei?”

Mei reveals they were not handmade but gotten from a store. The Duty-Free Shop of the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, T2.

Mary’s disappointment can be felt by the room. “No tradition?”

Mei shakes her head. They’re just her favorite cookies. Delicious cookies. Mei turns to you. “Right?”

Looking at Mei, you feel like you’re caught between two stories, knowing hers is a lie.

“They’re alright,” you say, surprising yourself.

Mei, who is somewhat frail but quietly spirited, shrinks back. She claps her neck with her slender fingers, creasing her crisp white Oxford shirt. Her usually cheery voice flies away from her like a runaway balloon.

“But I’m sure there are traditions!” Mary blurts out. Mei on the verge of tears.

Glancing at the boxes, her eyes welling, Mei starts on the Cultural Revolution, her mother who had died from health complications, a mysterious cancer, the family suspects, related to her grief of separation from her three children, whom she only saw twice a year when they pressed their young faces against a rusted border fence outlining China and not-China territories of a world young Mei intuited was a place of riches — migod! Bell-bottom pants and pop records and Coca-Cola and warehouses full of cooking oil. Back then cooking oil was scarce and pork fat was loaded into anything to address severe winters of side-dashing snow storms that seethed over the countryside and made you want to die a gentle sleep, tin canisters were used to store fat drippings, her grandmother used a spatula to skim off curls of hardened lard and used this to supplement anything eatable found in the house. The almond cookies came from this tradition of packing calorie-rich lard into unsweet — yes! – bland — yes! — almond-less — yes! — but attainable cookies that silvered their lonely, desperate lives. They are cookies she is perpetually homesick for, an innovation born of misery, representing the happiest moments of her life.

Your hands get colder and colder and you cannot hear a thing. The fluorescent lights dim over the kitchen, the community kitchen where folks of all colors between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. sit beside one another and leaf through magazines.

- - -

Tropicana’s Watermelon (drink with other natural flavors)
Submitted by Victoria Fombelle

I’m what they call a woman of adventure, at least when you consider my experimental juice tendencies. As a pioneer of progress, I couldn’t be happier when I saw an underrepresented fruit finally take the spotlight. Tropicana’s Watermelon (drink with other natural flavors) spoke to me with a rare kind of seductive intensity. Maybe it was the commanding urgency of this naughtily flirtatious pink bottle that instructed me, in fine print, to “drink with other natural flavors.” Before I knew it, I was invited into a realm of flavor exploration and creative license not previously granted to me by other, less daring beverages. Modern Americans live in a land of watered-down soda and crumpled up Crystal Light packets found at the bottom of purses (and murses — like I said, I’m a champion of equality). I’m not one to stand in the way of destiny, so I gave into the rush of an impulse buy. The adrenaline rushed through my veins, and the numbness of excessive consumerism pervasive in fruit drink culture was replaced by a juice-induced euphoria. I felt so alive!

But this was no love at first sip; things got off to a rough start. I’m not one to be bossed around, so I resented the drink’s assertions that I USE BY, SHAKE WELL, and PLEASE RECYCLE. I’ll do whatever the hell I want, Watermelon drink with other natural flavors. This is my moment, and MY America. If we were to forge a bond, I would have none of that domineering Fifty Shades of Pink nonsense. It’s time for juice drinkers to take back the power.

It was all downhill from there. As soon as I learned that this so called “natural” drink contained only 10% juice, I let my tears flow freely. If the God-forsaken wasteland of Taco Bell can find enough cows overlooked by even the likes of McDonald’s to muster up 88% beef and they’re not even allowed to call it beef, then Tropicana needs to up their game. I knew we were entering a dark time in American history, but when Taco Bell presents itself as a moral compass, it’s simply too much for my unbridled spirit to bear.

Putting my aesthetic and ethical principles aside, I dried my bitter tears and opened the twist-off cap separating me and the future of 21st century hydration. If you enjoy the sour sting of defeat upon your tongue accompanied with the assurance of dental decay, please, proceed past the first sip. I certainly did. I was “lit,” as the millennials say. My heart ablaze, I wondered how something can simultaneously taste sweet, sour, and soggy. If you cannot find watermelon drink with other flavors at your local juice emporium, a decent alternative would be leaving a handful of pink starbursts out to melt in the sun (paper on) and promptly adding them to watered-down lemonade — to taste. I know you won’t regret it.

Some say love is a red, red rose. I say it is a pink, pink drink. But the ecstasy of romance is always accompanied by agony. Questions left unanswered haunted my mind even after the roller-coaster-like emotions of this mind-altering and spiritually awakening experience settled. Am I the first to google “salt in juice” with sincere confusion and concern in my heart, or am I living in a state of juiceless naivety? Since mainstream American juice culture is dominated by privileged, elitist fruits such as Apple and Grape, did they really need to be included in Watermelon’s first real gig? Talk about cultural appropriation. Grapes get to participate in wine while big-name apples like Granny Smith and Honey Crisp are highly touted and even featured on shows like Keeping Up With The Kardappleins. The scandalous pumpkin, ever since it has been legally recognized as a fruit, knows its place is in the PSL. Why can’t all fruits just stick to their latte in life? Seedy evidence aside, a question of morals comes to mind: how do you juice a watermelon, let alone ethically? These core issues need to be addressed, but until then, I suggest you bask in the sensory glory that is to be offered by Watermelon (drink with other natural flavors). Sure, I may be a dreamer, but for now, I’ll accept this step in the right direction. Now that’s something to concentrate on.

- - -

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Brooklyn Babka
Submitted by Jaylene Chung

I’d recently moved to Los Angeles for a job. Things were new and exciting, and I explored every neighborhood I could, going to strange LA salons and tastings and tours and hosted dinners, in part so I could tell my friends about them later, finishing each story with, “It was soooo LA.” I felt great about my agency, and by god, I was really living.

But I bet even Oprah has her down days, which is what I told myself when I was feeling alone one Tuesday evening. A work project wasn’t going well, I’d had a particularly bad Tinder date the day before, and even my own mother wasn’t returning my phone calls. I went home to my very LA loft downtown, and upon opening the fridge, realized that apart from a jar of kimchi and some mustard, I had nothing to eat.

And so it was off to Trader Joe’s, where every visit a battle with my wallet. Your maximum spending limit is $40, I told myself sternly. Even Oprah has to practice self-restraint.

I did a requisite pass through the cheeses and packaged dinners, even though I was sure I didn’t need anything in that aisle. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the baked goods were also in that section, packaged and stacked on floating tables like gluten-ed and sugared Homerian sirens, and I’d forgotten to stuff my ears with beeswax.

There was one package of Chocolate Brooklyn Babka left in the Cakes Masquerading as Breakfast Items pile, hidden between stacks of cranberry orange scones and blueberry muffins. As I read the label, I thought of a magical weekend I’d had in New York with friends, where I’d had chocolate babka that melted in my mouth and stuck to my ribs. And so I threw the Chocolate Brooklyn Babka into my basket, thinking wildly that I could recreate that weekend in my dinner for one.

Later, sitting at my kitchen table, I tore off the thick plastic sticker, and not bothering to cut a piece to put on a separate plate, I dug into the sticky, chocolate layers. I took a bite, my teeth sinking into its soft, pillowy denseness. The saccharine of the liberally sprinkled chocolate chips went directly into my bloodstream, and I had another forkful ready before I even swallowed the first bite.

I was still eating it, half crouched over the kitchen table, when my roommate came into the kitchen. He is very LA, and is more of a Whole Foods person than a Trader Joe’s person, if you know what I mean. “Did you buy a cake for yourself?” he asked, the incredulity dripping from his voice as thickly as the slightly gooey swirls of babka clinging to my fork.

“Yes,” I said defiantly around a mouthful. “Happy fucking cake day to myself.”

He shrugged, took a bottle of kombucha from the fridge, and went back into his room.

I finished the babka that week. Despite my initial bravado in the face of my roommate’s judgmental glances, I brought it to my room and shut the door each time I ate it, where I could enjoy my sin without rushing.

The next week, I was hankering for more; I thought about it at work, at the gym, even while eating other desserts. In between work meetings, I decided to give into the inevitable and stopped at a Trader Joe’s to buy another package. It was my only purchase, and I waited impatiently behind geriatric midday shoppers with cartfuls of greek yogurt, spears of Brussels sprouts, and organic almond butter. I rushed back to my car, where I kept real non-plastic utensils for emergency situations such as this.

The relief upon taking that first bite was palpable, and I may have even moaned a little. A woman stared at me as she walked by my car, and I knew what she was thinking. “Is that woman really eating a cake out of the package, in her car, in this Trader Joe’s parking lot, in the middle of the workday?”

I glared back her. “Yes,” I said telepathically, not breaking eye contact as I chewed. “I am.”

It doesn’t taste anything like Brooklyn or homemade babka, but when you have lonely Oprah days in a new city, Trader Joe’s Chocolate Brooklyn Babka is all you need.

- - -

Califia Farms Classic Cinnamon Horchata
Submitted by Claire Christoff

Whole Foods sells cow’s milk—organic, grass-fed, and hormone-free, of course—but buying a half-gallon of 2% instead of a box of almond (or rice, or even soy) milk seems hopelessly unhip among the aisles of unbleached tampons and Newman’s Own dog biscuits.

This idea, I recently discovered, can also be applied to the realm of holiday beverages. On my most recent grocery trip, I began to reach for a glass carafe of small-batch eggnog in the dairy section, but I stopped short as soon as I saw it.

The bottle.

The bottle of Califia Farms’ Classic Cinnamon Horchata.

The beverage that Ezra Koenig praised so earnestly in the 2010 song “Horchata.”

Although I hadn’t really listened to Vampire Weekend since high school, I figured I could at least give this “creamy, dreamy sweetness” a chance. At $4.99 for 48 ounces, it was cheaper than the ’nog, and I hoped it might carry a little more cachet with the cashier, who ended up being a white guy with dreads.

Horchata, according to Wikipedia, originated in Spain as orxata and is typically made from almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts. This explained my bottle’s ingredient list, which included three types of nondairy milk (rice, almond, and tigernut) in addition to monk fruit juice concentrate. Monk fruit juice concentrate seems like the kind of thing that Dr. Oz would either love or hate, but I was quick to remind myself that the authority of Dr. Oz is probably not recognized by the alternative-milk community.

As soon as I got home, I poured myself a glass and was immediately surprised. Instead of the pleasing cream color for which all those stock photos had prepared me, I was faced with a watery beige, not unlike the waxy chocolate milk of my grade-school days. Despite this unfortunate detail, I swirled the horchata around in my glass, sommelier-style, and took a deep whiff. It smelled like Play-Doh, if Play-Doh were sweetened with monk fruit juice concentrate. Upon taking a sip, I decided that it tasted like the liquid form of a Nutrisystem cinnamon streusel muffin. To be clear, I have never actually eaten a Nutrisystem cinnamon streusel muffin, but sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

(Sadly, my horchata experience was not improved with the addition of alcohol. This may be because the alcohol in question was a clearance bottle of Bacardi Oakheart, which, in my experience, has always paired perfectly with a mug of generic-brand eggnog.)

Maybe next year, I’ll make my own horchata. With Ezra Koenig himself.

But probably not.

- - -

Doritos Loaded Breaded Cheese Snacks
Submitted by James Pitt

The first thing to keep in mind when handling a Loaded Dorito is that it is dangerous. It is dangerous in exactly the opposite way from a loaded gun.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Only in that you are hot, sticky, and likely to kill the elderly.

I expected melted cheese entombed within a carapace of Dorito. I expected that when I bit into it, the shell would crack. Molten bovine extract would boil into my mouth like ichneumon wasps evacuating a crunched tarantula.

Instead, I bite into it and… into soft cheese. With bread crumbs around it.

Imagine, if you can, a Dorito with its character removed. The crunch is marginal. There is surprisingly little flavor. This is the ghost of a Dorito, hardly even crumbs. Hemingway would take a bite and toss it sadly into the sea, dismayed but not surprised at how far the noble Dorito’s might had fallen.

Normally I would not criticize breaded cheese. Fried cheese is one of the high works of our civilization, like the spy satellite. It is rarely seen but always out there, providing reassurance on high and terror below.

The exact origin of fried cheese is unknown, but it was probably invented by sad-eyed Russo-Jewish men who found their only relief from bleakness in blintzes and physics. Sort of like the spy satellite. Hmm.

The point is that Loaded Doritos promise more. They promise to go above and beyond what fried cheese ever could. Specifically: they promise to add crunch, and to make it taste like Doritos.

But they are not greater—they are lesser. This unterjause does not even have the dignity to be greasy! It does not improve, it does not innovate, it does not stand out. No, these are not like the Double Down or the Cronut, bold assaults on the human sense of taste (in both respects). These are dull.

Why is the Loaded Dorito dangerous? Because it is no threat. Because it promises excitement, and delivers nothing. It is the Ackman’s Herbalife lecture of snacks. But this does not mean it is not dangerous. For if you fool yourself into believing it was good, then—then, you are truly lost! If the Loaded Dorito became popular, our civilization would become as weak and insubstantial as its crumb coating.

Loaded Doritos are dust in the wind. They are dust on cheese. Leave them to be forgotten, for they are as ephemeral as this review.

- - -

Field Roast Classic Meatloaf
Submitted by Steven Seighman

Maybe you love your mom’s meatloaf, but lately you have a real bug up your ass about how inhumanely cattle are treated in this country’s vile factory farms. That’s where Field Roast comes in! Their vegan products don’t involve feces lakes or weakening antibiotics so that we humans have a harder time fighting off diseases; they just involve a lot of awesome grains — no soy! — that taste not exactly like your favorite meats, but damn close. The meatloaf is insanely good. Its texture is a little chewier than what you grew up on, and it has carrots in it. But if you bake this bad boy with some ketchup or barbecue sauce on top, your taste buds and tummy won’t know the difference. It’s so close you’ll probably be able to trick your gun-toting Republican uncle at the next family get together. And the Field Roast Meatloaf makes for a mean sandwich, too. It’s as versatile and yummy as the real thing, but doesn’t come with the ghost of a cow that will forever haunt your GI tract. Who needs that?

- - -

Rhythm Superfoods Kool Ranch Kale Chips
Submitted by JoAnna Novak

It’s always compromised circumstances that drive me to Starbucks. My decision to purchase coffee “in the world,” as I say to my husband, is one fraught with all the ethical, moral, aesthetic concerns any conscious consumer today must have — right? Should I even spend money on liquid caffeine when I have two modes of producing perfectly drinkable coffee in my dwelling? Should I prioritize an independent coffee purveyor over the convenience of the Starbucks drive-thru, take a circuitous route to honor the little guy? And what if I’m too lazy to wash my thermos, I’m short on time, and sleep-deprived? Should I drink the milk at Starbucks when said milk isn’t organic? Should I even drink milk? Should I drink the Sumatra coconut milk at Starbucks, which coconut milk is stabilized with carrageen and who knows what other impurities? Is purity more important or sugar, the sugar that is added to the Sumatra coconut milk at Starbucks? Is sugar worse than dairy?

Then there’s the fact of taste — or lack thereof. I met Starbucks as a high school sophomore whose diet consisted of Diet Mountain Dew and whipped cream. So, even though I know they suck, there’s that part of me — she’s in bubblegum pants and a halter top and her backpack is definitely doing damage to her spine — that wants to get stupid and order a frappucino.

These days, though, as a whatever adult who thinks about the valence of grams of sugar in her coconut milk, Starbucks has made life easier for me. Thank you, green-aproned baristas across the country, for stocking your pre-counter baskets with thusly-branded healthy snacks. Boutique chocolate from Vosges, packets of spicy seeds sourced from some bougie sounding place in Connecticut, gluten-free pretzel sticks. Then there’s my favorite: packed inside turquoise and fiery orange bags, along with ample air and a silicon desiccant tablet, kale chips made by Rhythm Superfoods.

I know, I know: kale chips are nothing new. A few years ago, I tried some — maybe they were supposed to taste like nachos? — and nearly gagged on the footishness of the nutritional yeast seasoning. In my own kitchen, with my own salt, I was much happier with big, ripply leaves of the lacinto sometimes called “dinosaur kale” tossed with olive oil, a good sprinkle of fleur de sel.

So what drove me to try a bag of Rhythm Superfoods Kool Ranch Kale Chips? Enter Starbucks. I had to be there — it’s the only supplier of the chips I’ve found. And, in fact, I remember the exact day I tried the product: I was stranded in a small town in Massachusetts, whiling away hours — like, six — between one commitment and another with no place to drop anchor.

I had no lunch, no snacks, no coffee — just a computer and a wallet. I suppose I could’ve sat in my car in the back row of a grocery store parking lot or maybe found a busted-spring recliner at the municipal library.

But I went to Starbucks.

And so I found myself weighing the virtues of Kool Ranch Kale Chips over the possible footish taste. Should I eat the entire bag, I could obtain:

  • 12 grams of protein
  • 8 grams of fiber
  • 110% of my daily value of Vitamin A
  • 600% of my daily value of Vitamin K (had I ever ingested that much Vitamin K in my life? the thought made me slaver a little)

And all without a lick of nutritional yeast. The poor, sad sandwiches behind the glass case. The poor chocolate grahams (milk and dark) and espresso caramel balls in those weird plastic tubes. How could they ever compete with an organic, vegan, raw, gluten-free, non-GMO super meal for the nutritional steal of 280 calories?

One hundred bags later, I’m here to report Starbucks is now my number one dining destination — and Rhythm Superfoods has straight-up mastered the kale chip. I can vouch for both flavors — Zesty Nacho and Kool Ranch — though I prefer the latter. I still don’t love fake cheese; I’m neurotic, not a vegan.

Neurotic enough to be a bit paranoid about eating these chips in public. Here’s the kicker. (There had to be one, right? With 600% of your daily value of Vitamin K, something had to give.) That kicker is the integrity of the chips. Unlike the lacinto lovelies I spatula-d off my baking sheet at home, the flavor-crusted chips inside a bag of Rhythm Superfoods Kool Ranch are mostly crumbs, the sort of thing you sometimes see people pouring into their mouth with those lunchbox-sized Doritos. I could never do that. Seriously, it reminded me of an animal dipping its snout in a feed bag. So now I can’t eat my kale chips in public. I mean, really: I’d have to press a spit-moistened finger into the pile of crumbs and suck away the food — who wants to do that at a cramped café table? — or use a soup spoon or resign myself to throwing away what is surely 450% of the nutritional content.

The other day, I stood in line at a Starbucks inside the Barnes and Noble at LA’s Galleria. Compromised circumstances: the air was warm, I’d just finished a juice greened with spinach, I was still hungry. I scanned for those turquoise or orange bags — oh my god, JoAnna, I thought. Get a grip.

Obviously, I was waiting to order a venti cup of ice water.

There were two college girls behind me in line. “Look at all that fucking stuff,” one said.

“Those,” said another, touching the glass in front of a stack of sandy sugar cookies, “they’re like ridiculous.”

“I want a latte, but I shouldn’t,” one said to the other.

“Dairy’s, like, bad. Not for you,” said the other girl.

Those poor girls, I thought. Satellite Starbucks don’t always stock the same snacks.

I ordered my water and sipped hard.

- - -

Cheese Ensaymada
Submitted by Alison Satterlee

The package says that it’s a “SWEET BRIOCHE WITH CHEESE,” and perhaps were it actually French, it would qualify as a pastry one could get behind and enjoy eating with a froth-topped coffee drink while wearing a scarf. But no. This is the Chinatown Hostess knockoff of brioche. It looks like a sat-upon sponge cake topped shredded Mexican cheese with worrying white splotches dotting the top.

By the time I opened my bleached pastry surprise, the “cheese” had begun to sweat a little in its plastic bag en route from L.A. to Salt Lake City, where we are not worthy enough to have a Filipino bakery. My Filipino friend insisted they were as good as crack, and I believed her because she bought three grocery bags of the stuff and shoved them in her checked bag, purse, laptop bag, and various human orifices just to get them all home. The cheese ones are her favorite, so I bought one greasy little bag and then promptly shoved it in my freezer when I arrived home.

In retrospect, I was probably overly concerned about spoilage. Eight out of the ten ingredients were chemicals. I don’t think it actually contained dairy, and even if it did, the detcaifoashthylate would have likely nuked any bacteria present (totally guessing here). I bought it off an unrefrigerated shelf, the pastry itself unnaturally puffy and orange, and it screamed like a siren to my primitive brainstem: “I will satisfy your need for salty, sweet, and artery clogging flavors. Each bite of me is 200 calories. You will fucking love me.”

Sadly I was not high or drunk when I ate it, but I was hormonally ravenous. I microwaved one squished ensaymada for about 10 seconds to re-fluff its constitution (as recommended). My friend talked them up like biting into one would grant multiple mouth orgasms, as if some euphoria fairy would crap happiness in my brain. I was ready to regret that I hadn’t been eating these every day for the past 26 years of my existence.

Don’t be fooled: these are hamburger buns covered in a moist mat of cheese-food product strings and sugar. And they are fucking delicious.

- - -

Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle® Tea
Submitted by Kevin Daley

I remember the first time this forbidden potion touched my lips. My boss, Paula, was an older woman experiencing menstrual cramps and asked me to run an errand for her. She gave me a $20 bill and told me to go to Whole Foods, where I would find a box of “tea for women.” At first, I could not believe that gender binaries had seeped into tea production, but I kept my mouth shut. Halfway down aisle 4, I came across an assortment of teas – chamomile, green, white, ginger spice, and more. I scanned each row looking for women’s tea and was ready to give up when I finally saw a box that read “Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea® – Supports A Healthy Cycle.” Then, it dawned on me. Having grown up with only brothers and a Midwestern mother who would never speak of such a topic, I was unaware that such a natural remedy even existed.

At checkout, I was greeted by Eddie, a thirty-something burnout with a man bun and tribal tattoos. He scanned the box of tea and then looked at me suspiciously as if I were a minor attempting to buy alcohol with a fake ID. “Credit or Debit?” I stuttered “C-C-Cash” and walked away before he could even hand me a receipt. Back at the office I prepared a cup of the tea for Paula, then secretly made one for myself. I was curious.

Ever since that first taste, I’ve developed a conflicted relationship with Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea.® I drink it daily and wrestle with intense feelings of pleasure, shame, and utter confusion. Is it wrong? Is there any reason a man should not enjoy the sweet ecstasy lying dormant within those tea leaves? What other unknown pleasures await my future? No matter the question, my answer remains the same…“I just like the taste.”

- - -

Sue Ryder Cancer Care Jelly Foam Gingerbread Men
Submitted by Jacob Andrews

Our lives have become so safe we seek out pain.

Look at the cult that has arisen on YouTube of people “reviewing” terrible movies and video games. There are plenty of atrocious clips to gawk at, and of course, inspired by this, viewers seek out the actual movies to submerge themselves in the awfulness.

An equivalent for food exists as well, usually centered around really hot chilies, raw spices, or foreign oddities with ingredients or flavor combinations bizarre to the western palate.

It is this you must remember when, while browsing in a London charity shop, I saw the bags of gingerbread-man shaped and colored gummies and my immediate thought was. “Oh God. Those look horrible. I have to inflict them on my family.”

Shared experiences – even negative – are bonding experiences after all; and I guess that shared experience with my family, however brief, must have been something I desired at the time. The reason I was in the charity shop, and the reason it was a charity shop in London, was that I was early for a room viewing and was killing time. I was moving out.

And if the gummies were so bad half of them got thrown away, fuck it, the money was going to charity. I doubt I would have been so spendthrift otherwise.

Upon returning home and revealing my purchase to my family, we discovered that the Jelly Foam Gingerbread Men were not even ginger(bread) flavored, but were “Cookies and cream flavor.”

This was a slight let-down but also exciting – a strong, sweet ginger flavor might have been able to mask any disagreeable taste and perhaps even overcome the unusual gummy texture it had been paired with and creep over the line to pleasant.

That would have been disappointing.

The time came. They certainly smelled like cookies and flavor – if you did whatever the olfactory equivalent of squinting is. Anticipating my disgust with something close to perversion, I enthusiastically chomped the head off, as all sane people feel compelled to do when presented with anthropomorphic food.

The taste is best described as that of a mild medical adhesive. The texture of the “cream” part of the sweet was slightly chalkier than I imagine most consumers would care for. I was disappointed. I could easily finish the rest of the decapitated gummy. I could probably, over time, work my way through the rest of the bag on my own if I had to. These were neither pleasant nor cathartically vile. It almost feels an insult to the swine and kine who made up the gelatin that their extremities have been wasted on these.

Taken separately the layers are little better and, more disappointingly, a little worse. The brown, not-gingerbread layer tastes of lies and a mild and artificial almost-caramel-but-not-quite sweetness. The chalky “cream” layer, alkaline yet floral, reveals itself to be where the pharmaceutical element comes from; and taken alone at times the stiff, powdery texture makes me microshudder, in a minor nails-down-the-blackboard way.

My family’s reaction was reviled yet muted. No one wanted another, and my mother wouldn’t finish her first, but her reaction was only enough to raise a small chuckle. Everyone agreed that they are not nice, but not foul enough to inspire any strong feelings. It was established that I actually mind them the least. And as that was the case and I bought them it was down to me to finish them, despite the fact that I didn’t actually enjoy them. But I’d spent money on them so they were gonna get eaten whether I like it or not. It’d be a waste of money and further insult to the contributing livestock otherwise.

At first, my zeal in this task was admirable. I even grew to slightly enjoy eating them. Not for the taste mind, but from a kind of satisfaction that I was being a good, thrifty boy and my Sisyphean willpower was overcoming this unpleasant task and avoiding wasting both money and food.

Then the move got in the way.

Now, near three months later and staring at the remaining gummy breadmen, I realize I must take up this task once again.

The smell is the same as ever. I had forgotten it in the intervening months but its chemical buttermilk mien waltzes right out of that little plastic sack demanding our unfinished business be seen to. The brown front layer remains as malleable as ever, but has bled into the white backing layer, which itself has hardened significantly, as if the chalk is returning to its natural state.

They’re chewier. They taste basically the same, yet worse than I remember. I imagine it’s just that the tolerance I built up has worn off. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed – on the one hand I can finish the bag and my task; I will not have failed. On the other, there’s now no excuse not to finish the damn things.

All told, the gummies were disappointing as a family bonding experience. Not nearly disgusting enough to be brought up and reminisced about how I wasted money on them. I almost regret giving the £2 to cancer care.

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Brooklyn Kolache Co.’s King Roll
Submitted by Sylvia Irizarry

I think of the beginning of a new year as a time to deprive yourself of all things that fall in the “good but bad for you” category. Naturally, upon entering the bakery, my eyes transfixed on a gaudy roll I was sure tasted as dangerous as it looked. Rows of gold, green, and purple sprinkles nestled in a sweet-cheese frosting beckoned me in a similar fashion that New Orleans did, so many years ago.

Now I’ve seen bits of Girls Gone Wild: Best of Mardi Gras (just like any self-respecting researcher) and I’ve vacationed in Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, but neither prepared me for the unbridled bliss I was yet to experience. Donned in Mardi Gras throws (most of which I purchased beforehand lest I be labeled anything less than Goddess of the Gras) I followed the Krewe of Bosom Buddies along their parade route and exuded the aura of the most prepossessing peacock, or at least that’s what I envisioned. I wanted the world to see the transformation I had undergone since I stepped off the plane, not but three hours earlier. I felt the city coursing through my veins, certain to be the latest victim to succumb to its devices.

Sinful; indulgent; much like the Big Easy itself. Akin to a bad relationship where the present bliss outweighs the inevitable pain, but I like pain and this has a little more cinnamon. Anyway, the king roll was pretty good.

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Taste Of Nature Coconut Granola Bar
Submitted by Karley Johnson

When I asked my mom for something healthy for my lunches I didn’t expect her to follow through. Her load from Costco usually included sugary fruit snacks, frozen waffles, and various other things of similar health levels.

I was perfectly happy enjoying bulk quantities of junk until I noticed a box of Taste Of Nature Granola Bars nestled in the back of our pantry. The box held three kinds of bars: Brazil nut, cranberry, and coconut. Considering my options was easy; I didn’t know what a Brazil nut was and I hated cranberries, so naturally I went for a coconut one. The wrapper was a lovely turquoise color, and had six labels on it: organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, and ‘U’. I’m still not sure what that last one was.

I was hesitant, this thing was probably the healthiest thing I would ever consume, but I opened it anyways. The scent of coconut filled the air, and there seemed to be something layered under it, like lemon disinfectant. When I bit into it the first thing I thought was that it had the consistency of Rice Krispie squares, but with many seeds. Whatever was holding it together was sticky and clung to my hands. It tasted more like coconut and less like trail mix — minus the M&M’s — than I expected. It even had whole almonds! This thing was good, and healthy for me!

About halfway through the bar my excitement started wearing off. The sweetness overpowered my mouth, tasting less like a bounty of naturally good flavors and more like I was drinking vanilla extract. I had the terrible urge to drink liters upon liters of water, but I carried on.

When the last bite was swallowed, I was left feeling like I had eaten a coconut-covered shoe. I had learned a valuable lesson: there is such a thing as too much coconut, regardless of how healthy it is.

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Green Maraschino Cherries
Submitted by Amy Barnes

My husband once made an off-hand positive reference to a maraschino cherry topping his milkshake. Ergo, every Christmas, he gets a keg-sized jar of maraschino cherries from my warehouse-club-loving mom. Recently, I was watching Food Network’s Chopped and saw a food item that struck fear in my heart for future holidays: GREEN maraschino cherries.

I hoped these cherries were the Ted Allen version of maraschino cherries, destined for a fruit-filled cocktail. But it was not to be. The chefs manipulated those green cherries into sauces for chicken and pork and a “vinaigrette” for authentically green lettuce. I swore I saw a chef taste one and puke behind his station.

My house is not the Chopped kitchen and our cherry usage is usually relegated to desserts or the occasional sticky-fingered jar grab at midnight. I could only imagine the green dye and sugar involved in creating these seemingly radioactive cherries. Before my mom could procure an industrial-size jar of the juicy boogers, I got a small gourmet-size jar to see how the other half of the maraschino cherries lived. Next to the standard red cherries from Christmas ‘08, it was like a two-pack of NyQuil — both nasty flavors but without any medicinal qualities, or the mind-numbing alcohol content.

As I used my wedding pickle fork in the mini jar of green orbs, the obligatory sticky syrup swirled like a tide pool or Ninja Turtle cesspool (I wasn’t sure which). I put the stem-less green fruit in my mouth wondering if I would turn into the Incredible Hulk from the obviously modified scientific oddity in my mouth.

Instead, it was as if I had inhaled the taste of a thousand green cherry Icee drinks. My teeth, tongue, and mouth felt and looked green. I was momentarily tempted to drink a little of the green liquid like during late night coughing fit trip to the medicine cabinet. I needed to hide this contraband toxic waste from warehouse club buyers and my mother. My sugar rush allowed me to utter the only three appropriate words for green maraschino cherries in my green-tinged reality host voice: You Are Chopped.

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McClure’s Garlic Dill Pickles
Submitted by Jenna Steckel

These are the Bentleys of the pickle world: refined styling, outlandishly expensive, and ultimately disappointing (if Bentleys are, in fact, ultimately disappointing; the only ride I’ve taken in one, I was thirteen and seated on a friend’s lap, so to me, yeah, a bit of a letdown). I admired them from afar for months, eyeing them in their tasteful neo-rustic packaging and Spicy and Garlic Dill varieties. I had a nagging suspicion that perhaps that I could Get What I Paid For and buy for the low, low price of $10 a jar of pickles so good they’d be deserving of the obvious sex jokes I’m too refined to make here.

One day finally I decided, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, I’m generally conservative enough with my finances” and bought the damn things. I tried to seek out the most packed pickle jar (when buying the Cream de La Mer of pickles, one wants as many ounces of vinegary wrinkle-be-gone as one can get). I chose Garlic Dill over Spicy, as getting a rarer flavor to judge against the rest seemed the pickle equivalent of a college admissions office comparing a kid from a public magnet school with one who “happens” to have the same last name as the campus library.

I joked a bit with the cashier about my even purchasing these things (though they were rightfully the real comedians, setting me up like this by selling a $10 jar of pickles). There was an absurdist quality to buying in pickles the equivalent of two weeks’ wages in many countries, because how could I make a purchase like this with a straight face? My only condolences were that I was doing this for Science (hardly) and that, knowing myself, this jar would be my dinner and people do spend $10 on dinner without batting an eye. They’re just getting something besides briny cucumbers, usually.

I took them home, the mason jar a vial for what one has to assume was a brining agent comprised of the Russian royal family’s tears; vinegar turned from the wine the Church first declared Jesus’s transubstantiated blood; a clove of garlic already successful in warding off a real vampire; the salt Gandhi himself picked up during the Salt March; and ordinary dill, because nothing famous has ever happened with dill.

I ritually unscrewed the lid. Inside, floating languidly like the dauphines they were, the champagne of pickles sent out a garlicky scent emissary. I plucked out a tender Eloi to feed on.

But as class warriors depict “fat cats” as literally so, these pampered pickles had grown soft, plump and acquiescing to my chomp without the scrappiness you’d expect their Detroit/Brooklyn provenance to have imparted on them. One does not turn to pickles for a good chew, however. One seeks out a pickle to crunch.

So texture was that of stale Play-Doh, but taste? Surely they would have the brisk, crisp taste of a ten dollar bill, tasting brightly of freedom and capitalism and salted by the perspiration of the many hands by which it had been exchanged, making this country great? That would save the experience, no? But the pickles turned out to taste of an almost smoky musk, pickle-esque but veering considerably from the typical brine. I’ll admit, I was a bit anxious upon seeing no default, classic pickle option among the Spicy and the Garlic Dill, and I had wondered why they thought they were too good for the flavor “pickle,” but here was proof that McClure’s was truly Doing Its Own Thing, making pickles with the give of a good bread and the taste of a smokehouse worker’s kerchief.

Alas, I had not found the One True Pickle. To be completely candid, however, that came as a relief. Going in, I was afraid I would find in this $10 jar the Golden Ratio of pickles and be haunted ever after by the knowledge I had let true love slip out of my too-plebeian grip. At least now I could go back to those bargain $7 pickle jars, confident in what I wasn’t missing.

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Doritos Royal ‘Koubashi’ Burnt Butter Doritos
Submitted by Liby Hays

I at first was unsure why these run-of-the-mill Japanese noms seemed so fascinatingly uncanny. Butter flavor in a corn product is nothing revolutionary. But I was shocked at the idea that they were supposed to taste burnt. It’s rare for a snack product to reference its style of preparation, besides the ubiquitous “kettle-cooked” (which refers to the cooking vessel). But it’s even rarer for a snack food to make any reference to burning, the state of being over-cooked, because this would suggest a set cooking timeframe. Snacks, in the classical understanding, exist outside of conventional notions of time. They do not perish in accordance with normal laws of organic decay because they belong to the parallel sphere of mythic snack-time. The slogan of Frito-Lay Japan, “Pop Your Time,” is a testament to this. This phrase seems to suggest that snack-time is like a pustule, welling up with internal pressure until it must open onto our world in a grand, exultant burst. Indeed, when I placed the Dorito on my tongue it was a near-orgasmic sensation. My enzymatic saliva worked to disclose an entire history of flavor- from the discovery of sweetness, of honeyed pleasure beyond pleasure to a saltiness of oceanic scale to creamy resplendence to a Promethean touch of umami, whisked by dancing flames. The Doritos are part of the “Royal” chips line which includes other savory facsimiles like “Tandoori Chicken,” “Garlic Shrimp,” and “Beef Consomme.” Their shape is also distinctive, with one rounded corner and two straight ones, simultaneously suggesting a royal hierarchy or referencing the shape of the crown. They are highly recommended. Snack-time truly engulfed me and I was nameless and ageless, a flush-faced daughter of Vesta with warm, bubbling butter pooling between my fingers and toes. But as I took one last decadent sniff of the bag I saw my face reflected in the inner foil and realized I was still Liby, Liby Who Is Five Minutes Late for Class and Was Late Last Week Already Too. Liby Who Might Have Been Late the Week Before that Even. Liby H. (H for Hays.)

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The eFrutti Lunch Bag: Gummy Comfort Food
Submitted by Jon Berahya

The eFrutti Lunch Bag contains a variety of miniature comfort food gummies.

The good news about the eFrutti Lunch Bag burgers, fries, hot dog, and pizza is that — unlike their real comfort food counterparts — the gummies have fat-free status.

The bad news about the Lunch Bag, of course, is its high dose of sugar, as well as the body’s natural shift in response from “Well, at least this comfort food tastes good” to “What the hell is this?”

The Lunch Bag also contains a non-drinkable gummy soda. The gummy soda — like the gummy burgers, fries, hot dog, and pizza — must be eaten to ensure maximum taste bud stimulation. If a child, non-progressive adolescent, or wide-eyed curious adult were to attempt to drink the gummy soda, they would not succeed.

In most cases, the Lunch Bag consumer recognizes the gummy soda’s ingestion requirements.

In rare cases, the Lunch Bag consumer does not recognize the gummy soda’s ingestion requirements, and subsequently taps on their guardian’s shoulder — or, tugs on their guardian’s jacket or loose-fitting shirt — to inquire about proper gummy soda ingestion techniques. Wide-eyed curious adults, of course, tap on the shoulder of — or, tug on the jacket or loose-fitting shirt belonging to — the person nearest them.

It is hypothesized that in extreme cases of Lunch Bag gummy soda ingestion stalemates, the consumer becomes outraged once informed of the gummy soda’s “demanding” ingestion requirements, which include the exertion of extra physical effort in order to chew the solid gummy with the mouth.

It is also hypothesized that, on occasion, a gummy soda consumer will ask for a refill.

Overall, the eFrutti Lunch Bag serves its purpose, which is undoubtedly to pique the interest of gummy-loving children and adolescents who have a high success rate in the field of impulse candy hustling.

The eFrutti Lunch Bag is not recommended for wide-eyed curious adult ingestion, although a once in a lifetime Lunch Bag experience is permissible.

Please be sure to make a special note in your nutrition journal that the eFrutti Lunch Bag is most certainly not intended, under any circumstances, to be an adequate substitute for real food.

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Peanut Brittle Cheesecake
Submitted by Eva Lisa Elasigue

She swallowed and sighed, then couldn’t stop laughing and forgot how to use a chair. This was the result of the peanut brittle cheesecake.

I cannot finish the last bite before recording it. But describing the dessert by its ingredients seems reductively crude. I flop back in my chair. It is impossible.

It included: mint, one leaf; two thin slices of bananas foster, with a complete caramelized crust that I broke with my fork like ice on a pond; banana sugar syrup oozing between the cracks; a dollop of whipped cream, just a teaspoon; scattered teeny semi-sweet chocolate chips; and peanuts.

I hesitate to finish describing it because as a whole it is inimitable — if someone were to attempt a reproduction from my account, and somehow miss the magical key to this creation, I would be very sad, and not want it.

But that too, is impossible. See, they make their own peanut brittle, and it’s like, the soft kind? And then they involve it with the cheesecake — yes they, the magical dessert elves from inside the tree. It is super involved. And then, there’s a light crusting of granulated… baking chocolate.

It started off cool, and by the time I picked up the last bite with my fingers — part of the mint leaf sitting on it like a hat — I almost couldn’t.

This is the story of the peanut brittle cheesecake.