Estrella’s Double Beef & Onion Potato Chips
Submitted by Marcus Cederström

I walked by the brown bag the last time at the grocery store. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. The stars, lassos, and longhorn cattle skulls staring back at me were just too tempting. It was a tangible piece of America in the desolate social democratic landscape that is Sweden. It felt like home whispering to me, a slow and steady chant of U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! fighting through the deluge of world-class, state-subsidized education and healthcare.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back on my couch with a bag of Estrella’s Double Beef & Onion potato chips. Upon opening, the bags puffed out a smell reminiscent of Oriental-Flavored Top Ramen. Which was unfortunate, because when I was ten, I had Hepatitis A and vomited every time I took a shower and every time I ate Oriental-Flavored Top Ramen. It’s a weird disease. Hepatitis A can teach us a lot. Always wash your hands before preparing food and never eat oriental flavored things. They probably taste bad and might be racist. And so for 20 years I boycotted anything remotely “oriental”-flavored. Until now.

I was excited. Nervous. Hungry. The bag promised me a rich, beefy flavor topped with onion and garlic. It sounded like a delicious steak in chip form. An affordable, potato-based beef jerky, if you will. I took an entire chip into my mouth expecting the taste of steaks and freedom, which are basically synonymous. Instead, salt. Lots and lots of salt. Garlic salt. Onion salt. Salt salt.

Where’s the beef? No, seriously. My tongue was raw from the salt. My breath smelled like I had licked a wet cow, not eaten a dead one. Maybe the beef was at the bottom of the bag. Handful after handful. Searching. Doubting. Hoping. As the salt coursed through my body, my tongue started rebelling with those little bumps that burn so good. I wanted those beef chips. I needed them.

This wasn’t just about the elusive beef flavor now. This was my life. Always searching for something. Maybe I should move again. Always doubting my life choices. Maybe I should ditch the backpack for a fancy satchel. Always hoping that this next town, this next degree, this next chip, this was the one that would make the difference. Maybe I should finally leave school and get a job.

But 275 grams later (I know, the metric system, ugh), I still hadn’t found the beef. Or the meaning of life. All I had to show for my work was an empty bag, a sore tongue, and a bloated belly full of onion and garlic salt.

Turns out the chips were vegetarian. Not a hint of actual beef or beef flavoring in the ingredients list. I should have known better. Beef-flavored chips in Sweden? This country should stick to what it knows best: social democracy. Leave the freedom and beef to the Americans.

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Nestle Mint Aero Chocolate Bar
Submitted by Caroll Sun Yang

Perhaps that suspicion of fraud enhances the flavor.
– C.S. Forester

Unnecessarily Necessary Underground
Candy Bar Stats Plus Commentary:

  • The first Aero Bars were originally christened as a type of “new chocolate” called Airways. This was a nod to the once hip activity of air travel circa 1930 (though it could have doubled as a nod to blockages resulting in choking).
  • Energy Values: 924kJ/ 221 kcal (I did not realize I needed a degree from MIT in order to understand the somehow calculated energy value of an aerated chocolate bar).
  • Aero boasts 782,531 likers on its Facebook page (that is about 782,530 more likers than I have on my page, sugar trumps average human).
  • The bright green filling is derived from copper complexes of Chlorophyllins and Curcumin (So now I need to be some kind of Walter White in order to understand what is happening with this treat color-wise).
  • In the ’70s, an advertisement for Aero aired in which children were flying a kite and thought the kite was an Aero Bar (and not a one said, “It’s not a goddamn candy bar you wankers, it’s a bloody kite”… kids).
  • The manufacturing process for Aero Bars is described by the company using words and phrases like: Discrete stages, deposition, un-aerated, cavity, meniscus, scuffed appearance, de-moulding, tipped over, hammered. (All words that can easily double for water cooler “meeting minutes” recounting the company holiday party).

Past Marketing Slogans,
Better Not Keep Your Day Job:

  • Making the world a bubblier place. (Winner of “The Most presumptuous Statement Ever Attributed to a Relatively Unknown Candy Bar” award).
  • Hold on tight or I’ll fly away! (The anti-38 Special “Hold on Loosely” of the chocolate world).
  • It’s the bubbles of nothing that make it really something. (This one is kind of awesome actually. Quantum mechanical vacuums and Aristotelian sentiments, now where is that darn weed card?)
  • Have you felt the bubbles melt? (Nick Welch came up with this slogan slash startlingly bland inquiry while serving as an advert man, before he formed the band Florence and the Machine).
  • Irresistabubble was a revamp of the original tag word Adorabubble originally created by Salman Rushdie during his stint as a copywriter. (Feeling blue? Do a Google image search for “Salman Rushdie” and imagine him eating pork rinds while saying the word Adorabubble in slow motion. You should feel ever so slightly less blue).

Notes From My Own Private
Aero Mint Chocolate Underground:

My husband and I are low-carbin’… again. It is week two and my desire for white sugar is reaching new heights, a frightening apex that will entail sobbing about how fucking cute the dogs eyes are, oh so unfair it is that they (and we) will die someday and low blood sugar induced fits about various Ebola outbreak conspiracies. So I notify my husband that I would like to conduct a food review for McSweeney’s and that this might entail the ingestion of some amount of sugar, a clever guise. He is supportive of this decision, as he understands it is a sacrifice I must make for the sake of scholarly action (like watching American Ninja Warriors or trying heroin once) and my own identity as a writer. Writing first, banging body and good health second.

I am strolling the aisles of the market, my rabid hypoglycemic (sexy) eyes darting about in search of something newish and sugar laden to try. I pass many items due to the dullness of the names, the not-so-orgasmic ingredients and uninspired packaging… New Cinnamon Sweet Potato Organic Crisps and New Raw Almond Butter Filled Mini Whatever… pass and pass. Then at last, I notice Aero! The wrapper appropriates a cute, pastel Japanese flair. A cluster fuck of happily radioactive looking mint green bubbles surround a pock-marked, cancerous looking poo-colored font spelling out the word AERO. The design is jarring and off, completely dismissive of the rules of compelling color and composition—I am in love. The bar is petite suggesting that it packs some kind of refined punch compared to the monstrosities flanking it, like that bumbling, blingy monster truck driving Three Musketeers Bar. I unwrap the package, taking great care not to break the bar. It looks fragile. Miserably thin. Hot but not. Kate Mossy. I take a tiny bite expecting to feel a fun, crackly popping sensation on my tongue, a mudslide of rich chocolate casing, and a refreshing spearmint cream tongue bath like those darling little after dinner Andes chocolates exhibit. But…

What. The. Bloody. Hell.

Did Aquafresh, an abandoned cotton field, a dirty sponge and an emaciated Hershey bar just hook up in my mouth? This is no kind of orgy I want to host ever again. There is no crackle in the “aer.” No mingling of interesting personalities. No meatiness. No rush of adrenaline. No release of endorphins or Oxytocin or any of the shit that makes us not want to die. The “aer” tastes cheap, a kind of mousse gyp disguised as novelty. Aero, screw your existential bullshit. Your aftertaste demands a gargle with something substantial, like a degenerate after-hours Oreo-Brownie-Caramel-Double-Chocolate-Damn-More-Caramel-Milkshake-Flurry… yeah, go ahead and give me that sick bastard cousin of the cherry, Maraschino? I will take her and her whole family too!

There are no flowery, gently chastising foodie words to accurately describe my severe displeasure is this experiment and a bitchy sugar starved voice in my head decrees “Fuck You Nestle Experimental Candy Division and Your Sad Little Flaccid Bar.” The disgruntled voice is usually specific.

So now I bid adieu. It’s been interesting, Aero. Please do not call. Text me no more. Do not stop by with your friends. Refrain from Facebook stalking me. Don’t say you will change. Don’t ask if it is because you are balding. Don’t ask if it is someone else. Don’t say you will be sweeter. Don’t surface from the bottom of the trash heap years later finally owning your mistakes and apologizing for that drunken night at that sleazy karaoke bar on your 25th birthday when you disappeared into the bathroom with that… oh wait, back to you Aero—I am just not that into you. Please go quietly. I am expecting important company…

Come over, you big husky Musketeers. Oh yes, I swallow.

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Eagle Coin Brand Fried Dace with Black Beans
Submitted Jay Zhow

The can is odd—curved, ovoid yet deceptively sharp-lipped. It suggests artillery munitions, vintage doorstops, a ball in a savage alien game where blood is not only necessary, but rewarded. If its shape belonged to a family, it would be the Canned Hams where swollen cousins Spam and Hormel meats reside. To hold a can is to feel confident in its ability to inflict injury and survive eternally despite the label’s claim to a three-year expiration. The red and gold illustrated fish on the label looks unsurprised to be occupying such a vessel of vacuum-packed permasleep. Han Solo would be envious.

The Nutrition Facts offers these delicious tidbits: Fat, 23g (35% RDA); Sodium, 750mg (31% RDA); Calories, 260; Calories from Fat, 200. That’s per serving and there are three in a can. You can have your daily ration of fat and sodium in one can. This is Spamliness next to godliness. This cocktail of absurd numbers serves as an appropriate precursor to the experience inside.

In the Pantheon of Food of Distinctive Smells, the durian, natto, stinky tofu, and canned catfood all have their notable place, but this Dace deserves its own spot. It smacks of something earth-ripened sandwiched deep between sediments of shale and meaty layers of landfill with just the slightest hint of sea. That first whiff is a confusing heady complex, parts ancient, sarcophagal yet fecund, almost rancid. It hits you in the back of the nose, scratches, tickles saltily. It looks like it smells, which is often not the case (having never encountered a watermelon, would we assume that’s the shape it would take, judging just by its scent). If not for the fragments of spine and fins of unctuous tail, there would be little to suggest that this had been an animal, let alone organic life of any kind. It seems to be more material, a byproduct, the sloughed remains of some process of decay. It is also absurdly delicious. Eat slowly with rice. Feel every fat molecule in your body swell and squeal in delight. Savor the feeling as your arteries shudder. The heart closes dirty-mouthed smiling. You are heavy and happy and salty and dead.

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PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter
Submitted by Mickey Dubrow

Just add tears.

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LAY’S Kettle Cooked Wasabi
Ginger Flavored Potato Chips
Submitted Falynn Grennell

As a child, I was taught to hate respectable food. Unless it was deep fried or dipped in a candy shell, food was not tasty. And condiments—heaven forbid—condiments were for “other people.”

As I blossomed into a well-rounded, peer-pressured driven teen, I began to try new foods so that my friends would like me. I ate sushi once, but quickly learned that the combination of naïveté and long pieces of seaweed can easily become a choking hazard. The day I tried hot sauce, for what was no doubt a very brief period of time that only seemed like an eternity, I thought that I might actually die. Thankfully, I survived into adulthood and have gently eased myself into a life of culinary decadence. I eat many things now, like legumes and leafy green vegetables and vegan chocolates (I’m not even vegan!).

The crowning achievement of my maturing mastication habits is my enjoyment of spicy foods. They are satisfying—science has proven this! Spicy foods boost your metabolism, cause your brain to release happiness hormones and boost your metabolism, and reduce your blood pressure (contrary to what you may remember from Dumb and Dumber). They are also freaking delicious.

My favorite spicy snack that fills me with regret is kettle cooked jalapeño chips. These little babies can set your mouth aflame and make you sweat like a person that sweats a lot if eaten in the right quantities. Since my near-choking at the sushi restaurant as a teenager, I’ve had another go at Japanese cuisine with positive results (gotta get back on that horse!). In many subsequent trips to my local sushi purveyor, I’ve come to love wasabi, the most butt puckering of all of the Asian spices. Wasabi contains all of the pants-pooping power of horseradish ground into a convenient liquefied glob of green goo. Wasabi punches your taste buds and then gently helps them back to their feet in a gloriously respectful ceremony.

So, when I saw a package of LAY’S Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger Flavored Potato Chips nestled on the shelf of my local convenient store I was intrigued. This simple bag of crisps represented the seamless union of childhood and adulthood. It could be the answer to all of my snacking prayers.

I plucked this quasi-Asian delight from the shelf; I considered shoplifting to streamline the process, but even tasty snacks are not worth a ding on my permanent record, nor the beating that my oversized conscience would inflict. With a level of enthusiasm typically reserved for children going down slides and lottery scratch-off winners, I made my purchase and hurried to my car.

Tearing open the packet revealed a somewhat disappointing and strangely familiar aroma—these chips didn’t smell spicy, and I inexplicably felt the sudden urge to phone my college roommate. I continued with the task at hand, unfazed, reassuring myself that spicy foods don’t always smell spicy. I gently selected the sacrificial lamb, raised it to my trembling lips, and took a dream-filled bite. In the brief millisecond that it took for the flavor powder to hit my taste buds, I pictured so many things: Corgi puppies frolicking in a field, rainbows with delightful (non-terrifying) swarms of butterflies flitting around them, a waterfall that flowed with LAY’S Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger Flavored Potato Chips.

And then the flavor hit. What the cuss? There was no spice in my mouth! This couldn’t be it. This couldn’t be all that there was to LAY’S Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger Flavored Potato Chips! I bravely selected another chip from the bag, inserted it spitefully into my chip hole and chewed. With a bursting sensation of contempt it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks—ramen noodle bricks! This was not wasabi—this was the seasoning from the ramen noodle packets that I once so unimaginatively sustained life on. Wasabi? More like wasa-bitchslap-to-my-emotions. Just like an introspective heifer at a dairy farm, I suddenly felt dirty and taken advantage of.

This travesty—this ramen noodle flavor packet masquerading as wasabi—must be stopped. Never again, LAY’S Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger Flavored Potato Chips. Never again.

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Chapul: The Original Cricket Bar
Submitted by Alison Satterlee

From what Buzzfeed and hipsters tell me, eating bugs is the future. They’re pretty much the key to keep feeding our screwed up world, essentially prolonging our ability to totally annihilate it. I understand that people have eaten insects for eons and people all over the world are eating them right now but I’m American, so ew. I like to think I’m forward thinking. I separate my glass for recycling. I try to eat organic. I learned to love kale chips. But bugs are fucking gross.

I tried Chapul at a “green living” festival. A very nice, clean man who didn’t look like he raised crickets for mass slaughter asked my girlfriend and I if we’d like to try a sample. His table had morsels of the Chapul bars stabbed with toothpicks, and bags of what we learned were cricket flour, which is where the “cricket” in “cricket bar” comes in. It looked like brown flour with dark flecks. Upon seeing it I had already decided the dark flecks were bits of eyes and felt my heart sink into a pool of bile.

As I toyed with the idea of actually eating Chapul, I thought of the following:

Reasons to not put this in my mouth:

  • Memories of dissecting a cricket in 6th grade where I had to take its fucking eye out, which made it leak formaldehyde from its head.
  • Keeping crickets as food for my late pet frog, Pierre, and learning how gross and smelly they truly are.
  • I’m vegetarian and this confuses me.
  • Antennae.

Reasons to put this in my mouth:

  • I’ve had a couple beers and I’m feeling pretty fucking brave.
  • Payback for all the times the crickets for Pierre wouldn’t shut up at night.
  • Peer pressure from my girlfriend.
  • Blah blah, sustainability, blah blah, helping Earth, blah blah.
  • So I can say I did.

Drunk me won (drunk me always wins).

Every bite was preceded by the trepidation of, “crap, what if they didn’t grind all the antennae?”

While you eat Chapul, you almost want to taste cricket and your brain will constantly search for a new texture or flavor to connect your tongue to what your brain already knows: you’re eating goddamn crickets. But you never find it. The bar was almost boring. It was good, but you think, this is made of crickets, and I don’t know, you want it to taste somehow more magical than an average energy bar. Not gross magical, but something that elevates it beyond its insect-less brethren. The bar I tried was Thai flavored: a mix of ginger, coconut, and lime. It tasted just like ginger, coconut, and lime, with the familiar texture of date paste, because it was primarily made of date paste.

Drunk me is an asshole.

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The Idaho Spud
Submitted by Reiko Turner

The Idaho Spud is old. First manufactured in 1918, the Idaho Candy Company proclaims that this obscure little chocolate bar is its “Top selling candy in the Northwest.” My girlfriend and I grew up with the Idaho Spud hidden on the bottom shelves in grocery store candy aisles in Utah. So, seeing that this is the immortal cockroach of candies, the Idaho Spud has somehow lasted long enough for me to recognize the packaging without actually trying it, and I’m certain 99% of Utah is in the same boat. Perhaps Utah, not fully understanding what it was getting itself into, agreed to support the Idaho Candy Co.’s quirky idea of selling potato-shaped candy bars to the farming public only to find out that the Mormons are more of a dessert salad crowd.

Anyway, let’s dive in. What lies beneath the dark brown, crinkly packaging is an appalling mash-up of chocolate and a marshmallow-esque substance sprinkled with coconut flakes—a turd rolled in snow. I wasn’t about to plunge teeth first into unknown territory, so I cut the thing in half and pulled it apart. Half of the chocolate coating sloughed off of the marshmallow center like an insect molting its exoskeleton. What remained beneath the crumbles of really shitty, really waxy dark chocolate was a two-inch blob with an odd gray tint; it was something similar to the muddy core of a rancid potato. The innards of an Idaho Spud, as printed on the website, claim to be light-cocoa flavored marshmallow. The cocoa flavor is so infinitesimal that it’s as if someone whispered the word chocolate and ran away. The texture of the center is horrifyingly bad, like the remnants of congealed turkey gravy at the back of your refrigerator long after Thanksgiving. I imagine it’s what sinking your incisors into a slab of whale blubber feels like.

Supposedly, the Idaho Spud was originally marketed as a healthful candy bar because the company uses agar agar in place of gelatin. Now, my vegetarian heart flutters when I hear that a jelly candy is gelatin-free, and, from time to time, agar agar can be a suitable substitute for gelatin when used correctly. The 1910s were not that time. And, clearly, the Idaho Spud was created pre-1990s trans fat enlightenment, as it contains a whopping 1.5 grams of trans fat. Please wait while I jam this into my face and clog every artery.

All in all, the Idaho Spud was one letdown after another. And, who even buys this shit apart from senescent farmers? Tourists. People who are suckered into visiting Idaho in the first place and opt for the possibility of this mysterious confection in lieu of an overpriced “Idaho, the Gem State” mug. I’m sure all the Idahoans are laughing at the rest of us poor saps right now. “Jokes on you, mother fuckers,” they say as cases of Idaho Spuds petrify on our shelves.

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Nasoya Vegan Nayonaise Sandwich Spread
Submitted by Jay Zhow

In the 4th-grade class of my red-bricked and blacktopped suburban elementary school, there was a girl named Irene. She had a round, quiet, peach-freckled face, straight muddy-straw hair, aggressively neat bangs. Irene was bookish, studious, mild-mannered, kind of kept to herself in a way perhaps common to 4th-grade girls not especially high on the popularity pole and without any of the publicly noticeable qualities that would afford her such status (beautiful, witty, chatty, friendly, athletic, gamely, wealthy, savage, creative, humorous, etc.).

She played the clarinet or flute or oboe. Don’t recall which—something tooty and reedy. Whether it was due to parental pressure, early extracurricular résumé-padding, or some innate flutter that needed to find its way out in pipe-song, I couldn’t say. I know in later years, as we ascended school grades, she was not found playing among the reeds past middle school. Take that as a sign of what you will.

On this particular day, as our 4th-grade teacher conducted class, Irene occupied her usual seat in the front row that just abutted the teacher’s large desk. Her row-mates sat evenly on either side of her, she towards the middle of the row. I sat in my typical spot, somewhere off to the right towards the back with sufficient angle to survey the room with a quick pivot of the head, as was my choice and tendency. We were dutifully taking notes when mid-lesson Irene turned abruptly in her seat to face back towards the rest of the room as if intending to address us then proceeded to vomit onto the speckled sea-green public-school carpet directly before her chair. The pale muculent pile on the floor was surprisingly large, I recall thinking, especially given her tiny size: noodles—something formerly noodles. Irene sat there unsure, confused, but somehow quietly defiant even through the brimming tears. The rest of the class gasped, gaped, and moaned as only a classroom of 4th-graders can collectively do at the almost-miraculous manifestation of puke. I can remember little else of the incident. For some time after, we would know her privately among ourselves as The Girl Who Puked.

I’m not sure how much of this event The Girl Who Puked carried with her, whether it blotted her experience as an elementary school student, or if she tried to eject it as soon as possible from her mind like the puke itself, but this Nayonaise, this egg- and dairy-free doppelganger, tastes like Irene’s awkward shame.

If you want vegan mayo, try Follow Your Heart’s Vegenaise instead. It has no hint of cruel nostalgia.

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Submitted by Marti Davidson Sichel

When I saw it on the menu, I only knew two things about it: It’s made out of soybeans, and the one person I’ve ever seen eating it said, and I quote, “I hate natto.” So what exactly could have persuaded me to try it? Was it simply the excitement of finding something both vegetarian and wholly unknown? Was it my youthful bravura that I could handle a flavor even a professional chef, whose palate I assumed would be remarkably diverse, couldn’t? So I ordered it, wrapped simply in nori and sticky rice.

It looked pleasant enough, like lentils spooned out of a nice bowl of soup. I took the first piece between forefinger and thumb, dipped a corner gently into the dainty little porcelain soy sauce dish, and popped it into my mouth.

To call it a taste sensation would be an understatement. The flavor and texture instantly transported me to an earlier, simpler time. Specifically, it transported me to that time in middle school, when I didn’t wash my gym socks nearly as often as I should have, and how, one day, when I plucked a particularly fetid pair off the floor, it was only to discover that the cat had vomited all over them.

Thanks for the memories, natto.

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Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Dragon 2 Shapes
Submitted by Vivian Wagner

OK, a few confessions: I didn’t know this was what I bought. I thought I was buying Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, REGULAR shapes. I’m not proud of the fact that I buy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, eat it, and love it, but it’s the truth. Another confession: I have no idea what Dragon 2 is. Or what the shapes are supposed to be, though I’m guessing dragons of some kind. And finally: I didn’t eat this. I threw it out. It was that bad.

See, I boiled the noodles like normal, without at first noticing the strange shapes. I boiled them for seven minutes, something I’ve known how to do since I was seven. In fact, I was thinking about how long I’ve known how to cook Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner while I cooked it.

After seven minutes, I poured the noodles out into the colander like normal, and that’s when I noticed the shapes. Weird shapes. Shapes that made me think of twisty worms or growths. If they had looked like dragons, that would have at least been something. And they were white and hard, not glistening with the sense of promise I’d come to expect from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. I poured them back into the pan and studied them. They were clearly not cooked. But I’d cooked them seven minutes! I looked at the box—the first time I’ve had to look at the box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner since I was seven—and that’s when I saw it: “Cook 11 to 12 min., or until done.”

It was too late. They were inedible. So I ran to the store and got real Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. It made me happy. End of story.

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Epic Bar: Turkey with Almonds & Cranberries
Submitted by Kelly E. Spivey

I’m a very healthy person. I drink raw juice blends every day, take blue green algae shots like a champ, and carry around an immune-boosting herbal tincture for those days when I’m feeling a little listless. That’s when I’m not devouring burgers National Geographic-style and shoving fistfuls of candy bars down my throat like some kind of post-meal chaser.

I also have a penchant for “energy bars,” or in other words, health food disguised as junk food. It is the perfect marriage of my fantasy of being a healthy person and my true desire to be a fat slob. Enter the EPIC bar. This was a departure from my usual chocolate and peanut butter laden flavors in an effort to seem diplomatic. Epically so.

Let’s begin with the Game of Thrones-esque packaging. The words EPIC are spelled out in bold underneath some sort of faux-looking tribal caveman symbol you might find tattooed on any guy in a sleeveless cut off shirt around 1999. This is next to a Thomas Kinkade-worthy illustration of whatever animal you have chosen—I went with what seemed to be the safest: turkey. Other offerings include bison, beef, and lamb. While the bar promises to be not only gluten, soy, and milk free, it also claims to be:

“. . .inspired by the simple yet highly powerful diets of our ancestors. The same diets that have driven human innovation, inspired creativity, and fueled over 100,000 years of brilliant evolution.”

I wasn’t aware that my addictions to gluten, soy, and dairy were holding me back from the Picasso-like brilliance I could have been displaying all these years. If only I had known. If you’re starting to sense a tone of anger, it could possibly be due to the fact that the word EPIC is on this package no less than nine times. No food that comes in bar form and is not made of chocolate can possibly be that epic. At least not nine times over.

I chose the Turkey flavor because I hoped the combination of turkey, almonds, and cranberry would ease me into the EPIC line of flavors to come. It would be like Thanksgiving, except I wouldn’t have to unbutton my pants immediately after (or during) eating. I hoped.

The first bar I opened was moldy. As fuck. I first thought that maybe it was supposed to be covered with a coating of white, not unlike what appears on the outside of a well-aged soft cheese. Perhaps this was a test of my mettle. Quickly, I decided this was probably not the case and went back into the sea of moms in workout gear at my local Whole Foods to exchange it for another. The second bar looked normal. If that’s what you can call a very slightly misshapen piece of meat-like substance that looks like a high quality dog treat. After two trips to Whole Foods, I was determined not to look back now.

The smell should have been my first warning. It had a subtle, oniony-garlicky smell, which immediately made me suspicious. Where was my Thanksgiving-meal-in-a-bar? I took a bite. The texture was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And I was a vegan for three years. I had seen and tasted things most people would (and should) shy away from. There was definitely something to chew but I got the sense the texture was created in the way a three-year-old draws their family—with pride and a total lack of understanding what people really look like. If there had been a turkey involved in this monstrosity, it had been chased, caught and had the living hell beat out of it long before it was ground down to be included in this poor substitute for Thanksgiving-on-the-go. Occasionally there were what I can only describe as “meaty fibers” that appeared, which indicated meat had in fact, at one point, been added but this was just confusing and more upsetting. The only flavor I could taste was the onion and garlic. I saw the cranberries. I chewed on the cranberries. I did not taste the cranberries. Almonds seemed non-existent. I got about halfway through before finally realizing that the only thing “epic” about this bar was how bad it was.

I should have just cut my losses, owned up to my shame, and bought a Snickers at the gas station on the way home.

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Camel Balls Bubble Gum (Extra Sour)
Submitted by Mara Altman

My friend’s Central Park potluck picnic was upon me. I didn’t want to bring the ordinary massaged kale or tub of hummus; I wanted to delight and fright people. So I went to a novelty shop and found the perfect item: a box of Camel Balls Bubble Gum. The packaging depicts a desert-scape with a dromedary—a one-hump camel—mischievously looking over its shoulder in the direction of its rather conspicuous scrotum. Just beneath the gonads reads the phrase, LIQUID FILLED. To the left is a drawing of the product: a brown oval with a red gooey center. It looked like a Toucan miscarriage and/or something that Marina Abramovic might use as confetti.

Buying the balls was clearly a life-of-the-party move. This was going to be legendary. The potluck goers, lauding me for bringing something edgy yet functional, would all say, “Holy crap, Mara, how’d you find something so edgy yet functional?” There would be high-fives, laughter, and a hook to enable radical and taboo discourse like vasectomy reversals, canine neutering, and whether or not polyethylene was causing boobs to grow in adolescent boys.

I arrived one-hour into the festivities and pulled the box of Camel Balls from my purse, pointed to it and shouted “Camel Balls!”

The box was not torn excitedly from my hands. I waited. Waited. Nothing. No one even mentioned jock itch. I was wondering when everyone decided to get so darn mature.

Right then, I felt a pinch in my lower abdomen. Was that the sensation of my ovaries growing crow’s feet? Whoops, silly me, I think that was just a hunger pang.

Another two hours passed and the Camel Balls remained untouched. People were busy opening up the 23rd tub of red-pepper-flavored hummus. So I brought the box to the center of the blanket and unwrapped it myself. Inside, each gumball was individually packaged. I discussed the finer points to anyone within earshot: “These balls are safe to chew.” “These balls never get blue.” “These get you pregnant with happy.”

Yes, I’ve already fully investigated it, rewinds can’t happen in real life.

One hour later, I left with all of the Camel Balls rolling around loosely at the bottom of my purse.

On the subway ride home, I had a lot of balls and nothing to lose. So I tore into one. The gumball was the size of a robin’s egg and had the glossy sheen of something 100% inedible. So I popped it in my mouth. When my teeth sunk in to it, the flavor leeched out: sweet and sour bursts that made my brows crinkle and my eyes squint. The intense artificial sugary flavor was nostalgic. It tasted a bit like being invited to a game of spin the bottle, but only to watch. The flavor dissipated rapidly. Ta-da, all of a sudden it felt like I’d attempted to snack on Elmer’s adhesive putty. I spit out the rubbery wad shortly thereafter. Overall, the gum was gross. So I put another one in my mouth. What else to do? This was clearly my karma: to wind up alone, sucking on camel balls.

- - -

번데기 (Beondegi, canned)
Submitted by Amy Wright

Silkworm pupae are not a new food in Asia. Considering the Silk Road winds back to a legend in the 27th century BC that the fourteen-year-old Empress Leizu unwound a spool of thread from a cocoon fallen into her teacup, both trade and snack may have emerged simultaneously and scented with jasmine. But I was raised on the milk of Holsteins and the beef of Black Angus, so this red-and-yellow can covered in Hangul script was new to me.

Beondegi, boiled or steamed and seasoned, are widely available from South Korean street vendors, but fresh delicacies in Nashville are as hard to come by as a record deal. The clerks in the Asian and International Markets shook their heads when we asked for them, and in one case, led us to the bait and tackle section of the store.

But we persevered.

Unafraid of cultural bifurcations wherein “me” becomes “you” and something I scrunch my nose at, I offered my best shy southern smile to the man behind the pungent counter where slabs of fresh eel were laid out like the steaks I was raised on. Over their dead bodies, Don and I asked if they sold any insects, the corners of my mouth upturned as if to say, “Friend, in every measurable way we are different, but let not that divide our mutual love of arthropods. Where do you keep the goods?”

Nothing. You’d think we were asking him for Moon Pies, which I saw in hot pink version by the door. We were on our own, white-skinned minorities in a foreign land trying to fit in.

A can, tucked between the lemongrasses and pepper pastes, bore a picture of what looked like glistening—if grayish—headless beetles. I was thrilled. Having already eaten crickets, mealworms, wax moth larvae, and cicadas, I looked forward to trying another species of amino acid-rich protein.

My foray into the world of entomophagy (the human consumption of insects) was prompted by Marcel Dicke’s TedTalk, which proposes mini-livestock as an alternative to the traditional variety that’s choking our natural resources. Encouraged by the possibility of conserving some of the waterways siphoned for corporate agriculture, I tracked down an entomologist at our local university to interview. Thanks to Don and me being single and uncommonly attracted to the cricket mushroom risotto we prepared the following evening, a relationship was born on the wings of forward-thinking culinary ventures. Our own sustainability, though, would be tested when he cracked open this odiferous can.

I will not claim silkworm pupae are unpalatable any more than I would judge pork inedible based on Scrapple, but I will say what tasted like bite-sized turkey livers steeped in formaldehyde did not lend over-easy romance to our stir fry.

“Maybe fresh with onions and butter,” I said chewing thoughtfully.

“No.” Don said, “There is no disguising this flavor.” His green eyes lost their luster. Fortunately, he recovered his wits and plucked some mint leaves from his herb garden to cleanse our palates. He also had the foresight to buy chocolate coconut milk ice cream, which he spooned into pale turquoise dishes and carried to the patio where a breeze could rinse the acrid smell from our noses.

“And I bought two cans!” he remembered. However, he didn’t risk ending our fledgling courtship; he fed the stuff to chickens. The birds scarfed up the insects, but not before nosing them in the dirt as if to let them soak up the soup of monosodium glutamate they came in. Our species had more in common than we thought. We both apparently over-process, or as my grandmother would say, “cook to death” anything.

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XOJO In-Game Protein Drink
Submitted by Alison Satterlee

I don’t know if XOJO In-Game Protein Drink actually exists outside of the prototype that my copywriter girlfriend gave me to try. “The creators wanted us to use their preferred slogan, ‘smooth protein gliding down your throat,’" she said. “We told them that was a bad idea.”

I demanded she bring me a sample. With a slogan like that I just couldn’t refuse. To my delight, a couple of months later she brought home a bottle XOJO “In-Game Protein: White Grape Flavor” Drink from a work meeting.

Before I fully describe the, indeed, “smooth” texture of XOJO, let me describe the packaging. XOJO looks like your average sports drink, but it has more writing on the label than a bottle of Oxycodone. Fearing eye strain, I managed to read in ant-sized font warning not to “chug” XOJO, but rather drink about a quarter of the bottle every 15-20 minutes during your workout (that the bottle assumes will consist of “strenuous exercise”). Even though the dishwater colored liquid inside was essentially clear, further writing on the minuscule lime-colored label indicated that XOJO is derived from milk and soy, hence the slippery protein contained within. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my dairy products opaque like God intended.

I chose to take sips of XOJO as a chaser to vodka. I am clearly not XOJO’s intended consumer.

XOJO is incredibly smooth. It does not have the chalky, gritty, or otherwise previously powdered texture of other protein drinks. However, most other protein drinks manage to taste pretty convincingly like chocolate, not concentrated ball sweat, so there you go. Like a fine wine, XOJO has an evolving flavor profile. It starts off strong, sweet, and earnestly grape-flavored. Then it takes an immediate nosedive into aforementioned ball-sweat territory. There are surprisingly few ingredients in XOJO and one of them is salt. Apparently a lot of salt, which is strategically hidden behind a wave of sucralose that manages to hit your tongue first only to be followed by mighty salty backwash. XOJO has the strange effect of feeling like thick water but totally sucks all the moisture from your mouth, perhaps a test of your mettle to abide by the label and only drink a quarter of it at a time. Maybe XOJO just isn’t meant to be ingested at all. It did smell faintly rotten, like it had been blooming in the sun a few too many hours.

I can’t say the experience was a great one, though I do feel as if now I can accurately describe what drinking a bottle of post-nasal-drip would be like. And I don’t even necessarily feel lucky to taste XOJO before its somewhat inevitable demise but I definitely don’t regret the experience. I rate it somewhere between bacon-flavored jellybeans and salt-covered licorice.

- - -

Thunderbird Energetica Cacao Hemp Walnut Bar
Submitted by Stephanie Frazee

If the name of this energy bar (aka “The Ancient Champion Bar”) didn’t turn me off, the packaging should have. The list of attributes cluttering the label include:

  • Certified Gluten-Free (Who certifies these things? What kind of job is that?)
  • Verified Non-GMO (Do these people talk about their work on first dates? Do they get second dates?)
  • Soy-free (In truth, a turn-on for me because I am allergic—fun fact!)
  • Raw (I feel like this trend should have been over by 2012 at the latest.)
  • No added sugar (Of course. I would expect nothing less from the weary-eyed bird flying vigil across the label.)
  • All natural (No shit?!)
  • Agave-free (Is this a good thing?)
  • Compostable wrapper (Oops, it’s in the landfill by now.)
  • Vegan (I’m starting to think the good folks at Thunderbird may take themselves a bit too seriously.)
  • Shaman-blessed (Seriously.)
  • With mint (Flavor? What madness is this?)

The mint tasted good, but I had to work to detect it behind all the general earthiness. The rest of the bar was a sticky, medicinal vehicle for the hint of peppermint. I was genuinely surprised it was so bad, which probably tells you a lot about me as a person. I was expecting something akin to a Larabar, which is a level of dates-mixed-with-whatever kind of mouth-magic few can hope to achieve. Thunderbird did not achieve. It took me an hour to eat it, or I should say, to get through it. I dedicate myself to the cause. Or maybe I am just psychotic.

I should have prefaced this review by telling you that I was fourteen weeks pregnant when I purchased and ingested this rectangular alloy of FDA-approved food-grade ingredients. The first trimester did some disturbing things to my taste buds, such as making me crave glasses of milk. Just plain milk—not chocolate. I shudder to think. But I was largely over that by week fourteen.

I wish I could blame a strange pregnancy craving on my decision to spend $2.50 on this 1.7-ounce bar. But I can’t. It would be unfair to my unborn child to saddle him or her with this burden at such an early age. No, I must take responsibility for it. I chose to purchase it despite the myriad warnings on the label. I chose to eat it despite my gag reflex. I chose to purchase two because they were two for $5.00. I chose to ignore the fact that I could have bought an entire box of granola bars that would not stick to my teeth like desiccated tar for that same amount.

To Thunderbird’s credit, the Cherry Walnut Crunch bar (aka “The Anti-Inflammatory Bar”) was much more tolerable. Either that, or my tastebuds had already been destroyed to the extent that I almost enjoyed it. Watching me eat it, my husband asked whether people who ate things like that all the time developed such low taste expectations that their minds would be completely blown by the amount of flavor in something like a Cheeto. I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was that I might actually destroy someone to trade that bar for a single, glowing-orange Cheeto.

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On Tap Liquid Beer Enhancers
Submitted by Sam Slaughter

I, of the slightly snobby beer ways, had put off spending money on the On Tap beer additives (excuse me, “Liquid Beer Enhancers”) for as long as I could. I was scared of them. It was something about the word additive that did it, I think. How could a Mio-esque squirting device make common draft beer taste like craft beer, as the company claims? How too, could it regulate which crappy beer one was drinking and make it automatically taste like the two flavors the company offers, American Ale and Pale Ale? Curiosity getting the best of me, I gave in and bought both.

The principle is simple enough. Take a syrup, add it to something that tastes terrible, and voila: better-tasting whatever it is. I like this principle. I like it enough that I have a consistent supply of things like Country Time mix in my kitchen cabinets. While I waited somewhat eagerly for my On Taps to come, I wondered, could that principle translate to beer? Would it make the jump?

I had high hopes for On Tap. I really did. I was a little giddy when the enhancers finally arrived in the mail. I was ready. Craft beer could wait if this wondrous invention would really do what it said.

In order to truly test the mettle of On Tap, I decided an experiment was in order. I felt dirty doing it, but I walked out of the 7-Eleven that day with tall boys of Schlitz, Icehouse, Bud Heavy and Hurricane malt liquor. I thought about involving PBR, but I didn’t want to sully its grand name—too many nights had been spent curled around an icy can of the Blue Ribbon.

Upon popping the tops of the On Tap containers, I was met with two very distinct scents. The American Ale smelled like strong, burnt coffee. At first I was okay with this. Maybe, I reasoned, the nose would mellow once it hit the beer. The Pale Ale, on the other hand, I immediately deemed hopeless; it smelled like soap, straight-up Catholic-school bathroom soap, the kind a nun would use as a threat.

The directions said to put only a few drops into a full glass of beer for the maximum effect. My roommate and I lined up all of our pint glasses and distributed the beers, one can per four glasses. I decided I would go light in one and heavy in the other, just in case.

First up was the Bud Heavy with two drops of the American Ale additive. Figured I might as well go with what the majority of the population has been swilling for decades. The American Ale turned it a little darker color—it looked like it could pass for a craft beer—but aside from that, everything else was off. The nose on it was a mix of that burnt coffee and the regret that accompanies the morning after making your way through a six-pack of Bud, something reminiscent of moldy carpet and vomit. As I raised my glass, I reminded myself that cheese also smells bad and tastes good. But this concoction from hell was not cheese and had all the pleasantness of being beaten with a baseball bat. I would’ve rather shotgunned the entire can of Bud than have to drink any more of the stuff.

I would not give up, however. Well, not completely. I tried the same two-drop American Ale method in the Hurricane and got a similar result. I considered ripping the taste buds out of my mouth and dropping them in a deep fryer. I also questioned the existence of God. If this was supposed to make crappy beer taste like craft beer, I felt terrible for the producers of On Tap. Was this what they thought craft beer tasted like? Seriously?

I moved on to the soap Pale Ale flavor. The smell of soap and sheer misery did not dissipate in the beer, but instead intensified. I was not-so-fondly reminded of when classmates vomited and it was covered with sawdust and newspaper. It also tasted like soap. There was nothing redeemable. I gave up on experimenting shortly thereafter.

Could I have done it wrong? Maybe. Could I have not put enough in? Perhaps. Could I have put too much in? Doubtful. If you really want to drink craft beer, and you think this is the option for you, just don’t. Roll up a newspaper and bop yourself on the nose, then go back to the store for a case of Natty. You may not be drinking craft beer, but you’ll be better off in the end.

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McDonald’s Poutine
Submitted by Jonathan Schwartz

Hi. I’m from Canada.

I know this because I laugh at American food habits: the massive portions, the reliance on industrial chain restaurants, the use of cheese and bacon as condiments.

Yet I think nothing of drowning French fries in brown gravy and cheese curds, and inhaling the results before they cool into a singly sludgy mass.

Especially when I’m in a drunken stupor.

It’s a cultural tradition up here, like ice hockey, Céline Dion, and the seal hunt.

(I apologize for the Céline Dion reference).

Each bite brings me closer to chest-crumpling pain and death, but it’s part of my heritage so I celebrate. Valhalla, I’m coming.

What happens when my Hudson Bay-Blanket-wrapped national pride conflicts with the latest chain restaurant offering (and a passing need to stave off a hangover)? Worlds Collide.

Recently, American chain restaurant McDonalds introduced poutine to its menu.

By way of background, the website states that the first poutines were invented in Quebec circa 1950-1970, outside of Montreal. Legend has it a local restaurateur, when passing a customer a takeout bag filled with the requested french fries and cheese, stated “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (”That’s going to make a damn mess”). Sauce (originally a sweeter, more barbecue-ish version than the current standard gravy) came later.

Like Seth Rogen, Justin Bieber or Rob Ford, Americans have made this Canadian icon their own. Swap in shredded cheddar for the curds and you have New Jersey Disco Fries. On the West Coast, you can order the same thing off-menu at In-n-Out Burger as “Animal Fries” (fittingly, we Canucks have stolen this one back; a mustard-fried “Animal-Style” hamburger may be ordered as a “Jarsch” at our vastly superior Burger’s Priest). But I digress.

So here we are, re-introduced to a Canadian staple by an American fast food conglomerate. My heart swells with national pride and saturated fat. My heart falls at the thought of yet another piece of Canadian cultural identity being syphoned off (and with saturated fat).

I order. I wait. I receive. I sit.

I open the cardboard box, greeted with a puff of steam and an approximation of the real thing.

The fries are familiar golden straws; neatly crisp and aggressively salty. The gravy is either surprisingly good and beefy in flavor, or I have grown completely acclimated to fake dreck.

The cheese curds resist a full melt, but don’t maintain their desired squeakiness between the teeth.

The French fries are the biggest disappointment. Made with hearty, thick-cut fresh chips, poutine fries maintain their crunch at least halfway through the box. These fries go limp too quickly, and wind up twirled around my fork like Bizarro spaghetti.

Were I to happen upon this poutine anywhere else, I’d be pleased; a little guy using ingredients at hand to make a tasty, ubiquitously Canadian snack. In Ronald McDonald’s gloved hands, the whole production feels like a slick imitation of local flavor.

I can buy McDonald’s Saimin in Hawaii, or curry in India (and England, I’m told). In France, I can order a Royale with Cheese, mayo with my frites and a beer to wash it all down.

But please, hands off my Canadian junk food.

- - -

Flying Fish Flavored Beer
Pressed Orange and Crushed Lemon
Submitted by Nick Mulgrew

A gaggle of twenty-somethings jive on a beach. There are kites, cerulean skies, DJ booths made of coral. Women with elaborate earrings sip daintily from green-glass bottles. Men play volleyball over a sand sculpture. The crush of ice.

Suddenly, a gravelly voiceover asks: “Who says beer can’t be flavored?” Dubstep. Sarongs. The camera pans: the beach is on a rooftop in the middle of a giant, unspecified Afropolitan city. Twist! Beaches are social constructs; summer is a state of mind.

The TV spots for Flying Fish are confusing, mostly because it’s currently winter in Cape Town, and the prospect of going outside is as attractive as drowning. Something bothers me, though: is the gravelly voice’s question rhetorical, or are there people who insist that, no, absolutely not, beer must not be flavored? Aren’t hops technically a flavor? What about malt? These are questions that have to be answered.

I walk through the sideways-blowing rain to my local bottle store and buy a can each of both varieties of Flying Fish. There’s one called “Pressed Orange” and one called “Crushed Lemon.” They’re worryingly cheap. I leave the bottle store, half-expecting to somehow conjure back the summer with the power of my purchases, to see the clouds part and to hear strains of reggae lilting somewhere not too far away.

Instead it begins to hail.

I take shelter under the wooden balcony of a Mexican-Italian pub. I take the cans of Flying Fish out of the packet and read the ingredients. Both kinds are flavored with “at least 2%” fruit juice, as well as “flavorants” and rosemary extract. The hail eventually slows, but the rain replacing it is torrential, ferrying clumps of ice down the gutters and into the storm drains.

Trapped, I crack open both cans and sit on the sidewalk. I immediately half-drain the can of Pressed Orange in more or less the same manner as one of the wholesomely sexy women in the commercial. It tastes like a lager shandy, if a lager shandy was made with Orangina. I then sip the Crushed Lemon. The lemon flavor is the sort that one usually smells lingering in expensive dishwashing liquids.

Disappointingly, I do not taste rosemary. At this point I would like to taste rosemary. I would like to taste anything other than these watery, citrus-y simulacra of the warmth of the sun.

A few people in the coffee shop directly across the street are looking at me through the window. They wear scarves and drink coffee.

I weave my fingers into a basket. I place my head into the basket. Three more months of winter. I burp.

- - -

Kite Hill’s White Alder nut-based, dairy-free cheese
Submitted by Gina Cocchiaro

Allow this gentle warning, reader, that while I consider myself an otherwise tolerant individual, you shall soon experience my unmistakable prejudice against vegans. I do not actively hold them in contempt, but it may be revealing that I have exactly one vegan friend. She wasn’t always vegan, but now that she is, I am convinced one is all I can handle. She works at Whole Foods, and her birthday fell over Employee Appreciation Week. She got 40% off a wheel of Kite Hill’s White Alder, a nut-based dairy-free cheese. I’m game for any kind of cheese anytime, but soft cheese has it out for me. The air could be three parts per million oozing triple cream nasty and I’d find it blindfolded. There it was, cozying up to some deep red jam on a white plate while I, unaware of its masquerade, cut what I believed to be some off-color Brie. As I dropped the slice into my mouth, she said, “it’s nut milk cheese,”
 I, quickly masticating and clearing my mouth to speak, replied, “It’s NOT dick cheese?!” Because A) that is what I heard, and B) I suppose I needed the reassurance.

“We believe the best part of eating is inviting everyone to the table for a convivial meal…[our] products had to entice the full range of food lovers: omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike.” — Kite Hill

Go ’head, Kite Hill. Warriors of food justice, transcending dietary restrictions in a quest for a truly harmonic, egalitarian meal. I like the golden-rule quality of this mission. Showing painfully exclusive eaters the courtesy of inclusion. Offering them a treat for being royal pains in the patoot while omnivores are dealt a compromise. Everybody… wins?

Sad news is we cannot unite all diets around a ruse (especially if the best draw is an opioid-free stand-in for dairy’s holy grail) much less quell vegan FOMO through creation of “cheeze” that, despite Kite Hill’s best efforts, boasts the barely-there taste and mushy texture of semi-firm tofu. Though its taste is inoffensive, its lack of distinction raises my hackles. I am all at once disappointed, hoodwinked, and seriously troubled. Is the fuzzy rind impressive? Certainly. I would consider it a frontrunner in the category of culinary costume design, because honestly until that bitch was cut into it could have passed for some REAL soft-ripened goodness.

While nut milk cheese is an intriguing concept, I can only assume those shmeg-mongers at Kite Hill have lost their damn minds. I imagine late-night recipe development sessions: them snacking furiously on quinoa crackers while snorting line after line of cocaine. They do a lot of backslapping and circle-jerking and inhaling whole blocks of real cheese before gagging themselves with their fists. This team possesses a flair for getting-it-not-quite-right, a mastery of fanciful ideation, a knack for making the unimaginable both extant and terrible.

Of course this is all speculation. Who are these people, really? Shock yourself—as I did—with a visit to the Kite Hill website to find that these four co-founding gentlemen are well-established scientists, chefs, educators, and magician/businessmen. You can shock yourself in another way too—as I did in the early stages of my research—if you google image search “nut cheese.” I think on some level I knew what I was getting into with that one… but if I’ve peaked your sick curiosities then be my guest and search away.

Anyway, the takeaway from the website: these are not strung-out vegan radicals hell-bent on legitimizing the name of gourmet veganism. Their qualifications are irrefutable; these are men of reputable scientific and culinary backgrounds. As far as all-access cheese substitutes go, this is probably close to the best we can do. They’re grabbing an oxymoron by the horns. They’re birthing a mutant with no epidural. They’re making a mockery of cheese. Props for unbridled creativity, Kite Hill, but if your goal is to please the collective palate, ya missed the mark.

- - -

Dole Strawberry Dippers
Submitted by Dayna Sowd

I subscribe to the Sunday newspaper so that I can clip coupons. Somehow it seems worse now that it’s written down, but I have the internet and aside from catching up on Date Lab and maybe the travel section, the rest of the paper is rarely read before landing in the recycling or compost bin. Newspapers are a dying industry, and they regularly try to tempt me into seven days a week for just 59 cents more! But those weekday newspapers don’t come with coupons, and I am not tempted.

I am tempted by a coupon for $0.75 off Dole Dippers. Frozen fruit covered in chocolate at a bargain price? I am on board. So I tuck the coupon into my coupon wallet (Oh yes, of course, I have a coupon wallet carefully organized by product type—do you think I’m some kind of slob? I choose to categorize this as “snack.”)

In the store, I trawl up and down the frozen-food aisle looking for the Dole Dippers. There is a picture on the coupon, so I know that I am looking for strawberries, bananas, or bananas with nuts covered in chocolate, but alas, the frozen novelties section refuses to give up its secrets. There are popsicles made of Greek yogurt and ice cream made of kefir, but no Dole Dippers. Does my grocery not carry these? Will I really not be able to save almost a dollar by spending a few more?

As I’m about to give up, I look again at my coupon to review the picture and make sure I haven’t missed it. Along the bottom in all CAPS, it says LOOK FOR IT IN THE FROZEN FRUIT AISLE. Frozen fruit? Frozen FRUIT? I dash back to the bags of frozen raspberries and mangoes, and sure enough, there they are: Dole Dippers. I buy the strawberry kind.

The packages contain four strawberry halves covered in dark chocolate. 60 calories each. I wonder if that makes this a health food since it was also with the frozen fruit. I bite into one, and the dark chocolate shell cracks delightfully, leaving me with a mouth full of ice. Why so cold, strawberry ice cube? I brave on and finish my healthy snack quickly. As I throw the packaging away, I see a note recommending thawing for ten minutes prior to eating. Who has that kind of patience though?

- - -

Kellogg’s Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Chocolatey Almond Cereal
Submitted by Mickey Dubrow

My parents refused to buy sugared cereal. I had to settle for Cheerios, Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes. If I wanted to experience the forbidden sugar rush of an Apple Jack, a Lucky Charm, or a taste of the good Cap’n Crunch’s bounty, I had to sneak over to my best friend’s house. My brother, David, created DIY Frosted Flakes by heaping spoonfuls of white sugar on top of his Corn Flakes. Clever, but way too much effort. Imagine my delight when I found Kellogg’s Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Chocolatey Almond Cereal at my grocery store. One look at the box, with its golden letters on a dark background, told me that here was a sugared cereal for adults. There wasn’t a cartoon character in sight. I waited until my wife went to work before I brought the cereal in the house. It’s not like she tells me what to do, but she often asks for explanations and there just wasn’t any good reason for a person my age to eat this much sugar for breakfast. The picture of the spoonful of cereal on the box led me to believe that there would be chunks of fudge, but that wasn’t the case. Instead there were “chocolately pieces” that were processed something that didn’t taste like anything. I take that back. They left a slight chocolate aftertaste and turned the milk a watery brown. I felt the almond slivers more than tasted them. The only thing I definitely tasted was the sweetened corn cereal. It had a pleasant honey and molasses flavor. I was halfway through my bowl when I realized that I was eating the adult version of Frosted Flakes. When I got up from the table to put my bowl in the sink, I got a head rush which later turned into a headache. One bowl was enough. I buried the cereal box at the bottom of the kitchen garbage can.

- - -

Synergy: G.T.’s Organic & Raw
Raspberry Chia Kombucha
Submitted by Stephanie Wheeler

Always desperate to unearth some semblance of my chi, I was markedly ohm-spirited when I happened upon Synergy: G.T.’s Organic & Raw Raspberry Chia Kombucha. Honestly, anything that professes to be raw, on the actual bottle itself, and is not immediately identifiable as an obviously raw item, you know, like a carrot with the green stuff still attached, sends a frisson of naughtiness up my spine. Fortunately, the sunflower image on the label that appears to be holding, in its tender little petals, a banner stating ENLIGHTENED, quickly banished such filthiness from my already reawakened mind. Really, just clutching the bottle in my hand did that. Navigating my way through Stop & Shop while fantasizing it was Whole Foods, I could feel my life becoming repurposed and redefined, just as the bottle promised. I actually stopped pretending I was in Whole Foods and sauntered through the bargain aisle with a new dignity. With my $4.99 beverage in hand, I just knew this would be a cheaper and less-sweaty avenue to my chi than all those downward dogs. Though not one to jump on the gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, trace-alcohol containing bandwagon—I proudly nibble at anything fluorescent or buffalo-ranch/eight-cheese-flavored—this beverage proudly boasts all of the above, almost cockily propelling it to the superfood category, thus gently nurturing the human who consumes it into superhumanhood. The little Chia seeds, with more Omega-3’s than salmon, conjure up a fishy flavor. It’s kind of like slurping down a fish-oil supplement.

Suggestion: Keep the bottle; pour out the pungent swill of what I can only describe as overripe liquid bread combined with endless bits of caviar textured flavorless bits; rinse bottle; and re-fill with Coke Zero.

- - -

Dunkin’ Donuts Bacon Ranch Chicken Sandwich
Submitted by Joe McGonegal

Dunking this delicious, crisp-breaded chicken filet into a fresh hot cup of Dunkin’ coffee is exactly what God intended morning to be.

The crisp bacon, drizzled in ranch dressing, recoils at first when the scalding hot liquid embraces it, but the ranch forms a meniscus to cool its surface for the plunge. Two bites, three, again, again, and the chicken, fresh French roll, and bacon are soaked in Columbian heat, buzzed en route to the mouth.

You’re standing on 8th Avenue because the three seats inside were taken. The sandwich wrapper and convenient paper bag are, thanks to the wind, several blocks away, and the chicken chills in the breeze, and… is that? Yes, into each Bacon Ranch Chicken Sandwich’s life a little rain must fall. You dart one evil eye at the sky, then return to the warmth of the cup, now laced with ranch and chicken grease and breadcrumbs.

Oh, me! Oh, Bacon Ranch Chicken Sandwich! Of cities fill’d with the foolish, who have not savored such fare. As the poster tagged with street art you pretend to read during this repast says, come for “Lunch, dinner, or any time in between.”

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Kasugai Vegetable Gummies
Submitted by Matthew Dorian Corbin

I was waiting in line at Sunrise Mart to buy a can of black coffee. The cashier looked like Molly Ringwald. I noticed some bright packaging on the impulse-buy rack to my left: smiling vegetables, pastel yellow, blue, and green waves of color. I thought it was a soup packet. Above all the Japanese, it read in English: Vegetable Gummy. Was it a vitamin supplement? I took a closer look at the packet.

My father worked nights at a bus company in Queens in the “money room.” To this day, I’m not sure what that entailed. He believed in a form of nutritional relativism. To him, food’s only purpose was to satisfy feelings of hunger, not replenish nutrients for basic bodily functions. So why not choose to feed yourself and your children (because they’ll whine if you don’t), Jewish deli, Sicilian pizza, White Castle, Oscar Meyer Cheese Dogs, Roy Rogers, Hostess Sno Balls, and Hostess Fruit Pies instead of “plant matter”?

Old habits are hard to kick, but maybe this was an opportunity to kick one.


Shaking the bag revealed two gummies stuck together. Perhaps the future of my nutrition was now. I felt as if I were living in Seattle, wearing Google Glass, a black turtleneck, and listening to heavy metal covers of Final Fantasy music while fantasizing about taking revenge on some person who wronged me. The gummies were bullet shaped and dusted in potato/rice powder.

IRON: 0%

I wondered about this food’s purpose. I wondered if it was marketed to middle-aged cynics who were trying to kick old habits: “Look, you made a lot of poor choices in gummies in the ’80s and ’90s. Now you’re PAYING THE PRICE (footage of fire behind the words). That’s why Kasugai Vegetable Gummies are made with the same ingredients as your old gummies, only better because they have stuff like eggplant and perilla leaves in them. The Future of Nutrition is NOW!”

I sniffed inside the bag: orange.

I bit down into a gummy: orange.

I stood outside St. Mark’s Bookstore and ate the whole packet.

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Lowrey’s Hot & Crispy Microwave Pork Rinds
Submitted by Meg Thompson

Have you ever googled “Can a pregnant woman eat microwaveable pork rinds?” Yeah, me neither. And that’s because the answer is obvious: Of course she can. I mean, how else would she get her daily intake of less than 2% of extractives of paprika?

In much the same way I imagine married couples plan their first group sex experience, my husband and I had been planning eating Lowrey’s Hot & Crispy Microwave Pork Rinds for months.

This whole thing started when I first eyed the snacks in the checkout lane at my locally owned Oklahoman value market. Having recently moved to Oklahoma from snooty Ohio, where checkout lanes feature impulse buys that now, in retrospect, feel lifeless and decidedly un-regional, I thought purchasing a bag of these chicharrones would help me identify with the locals. When in Rome!

While we both had our concerns, I was sweating them out a bit more than my husband was:

“What if I don’t like them, Todd?”

“What if I like them too much and become addicted, Todd?”

“What if I don’t prepare them correctly and leave the bag in the microwave too long—IT’S NOT LIKE POPCORN, TODD!”

My nervousness quickly caused him to lose interest in the project, and it became clear I would have to take it on all by myself. I considered telling my colleagues about it (“I’m fixin’ to microwave some pork rinds. Do you have any suggestions?”), but decided that would probably be a rookie mistake. Surely, even a Yankee like me could figure out how to microwave a 1.75-ounce sack of thinly sliced hog skin and maltodextrin?

However, just to be certain, I took to the Internet to search for insider tips. A common recommendation was to watch the pork rinds carefully while microwaving to make sure they don’t get overcooked, which leaves them chewy and just about inedible. Having once worked as a prep cook in a restaurant, I’m well aware that the secret to successful microwaved food is to keep your eye on it, so that made perfect sense. I could totally do this!

Further investigation revealed that pork rinds are actually not that unhealthy, especially the microwave variety, since they aren’t deep-fried. In terms of fat, cholesterol, and carbs, they contain next to nothing. This explains why they look, feel and, as I soon discovered, taste, like Styrofoam. Salt-covered Styrofoam.

So, yeah, when eating them, my main advice is to make sure there’s a working faucet nearby. Better yet, a garden hose with an adjustable nozzle that you can just blast full force down your throat.

Other than the salt, the only other thing that will linger will be your own crippling shame. I ate the entire bag just to see if this feeling would dissipate.

It did not.

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Tim Horton’s Pretzel Bagels
Submitted by Jonathan Schwartz

I am Jewish. I am also from Canada.

As a result, I think that I can speak authoritatively on the subject of bagels and a certain Canadian coffee and donut shop chain with which we associate with our national identity. I kid you not. Walk into any Canadian Starbucks. Chances are you’ll hear someone try to order a “double double”—two sugars and two creams. It’s an order so ubiquitous it has actually entered our dictionaries.

But I digress. The pretzel bagel is a marvel of deliciousness; a delightful food chimera that combines two beloved carb bombs into one nuclear explosion of wheat-y goodness.

I start with the crust, with its familiar lye-inspired dark-brown sheen, smooth to the tongue and covered in tiny white rocks that would prove irresistible to Mayor Ford, even if they are only salt. Its light crunch yields to a pillow-y interior—more texture than actual flavor—of dough compressing to a pretzel-y chew under tooth.

Superb on its own, the pretzel bagel is dramatically enhanced when toasted and slathered in creamery butter, herb-and-garlic cream cheese, or when used as the vehicle for a life-shortening breakfast sandwich.

Purists may scoff at the notion of a pretzel in bagel form, but these people know not what they speak. Pan-Asian noodles aside, all cooking is fusion, be it yeast with sugar, dough with heat, or sandwich with filling.

The pretzel bagel is a triumph of assimilation.

So, Tim Hortons, in honor of my new son and my wife’s hankerings while pregnant, I rechristen your latest offering: the Pregel.

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Twix and Snickers Eggs
Submitted by Amy Barnes

In the religious/candy section of Dollar General (a full three months before Easter), I found the holy grail of long shelf life Easter candy. Nestled in a cheap display basket, Twix Eggs and Snickers Eggs flanked leftover clearance Christmas candy canes as some near-heretical cashier joke. Like Mary Magdalene looking for Last Supper party favors, I scooped up two of each.

It was to be only a cruel joke. Each Egg set me back $.85 and only offered half the size of a non-themed Twix or Snickers. These were obviously cult candy bars luring me in with a fake claim to offer something special, something worthy of a kid’s Easter basket. Their Moonies-style exteriors were definitely brightly colored and appealing. Yet, I may have bought them only because I felt sorry for Kate Gosselin’s twins or Khloe Kardashian’s love life, as they stared down upon the candies from the magazine rack above, looking all doe-eyed and scandalized. Perhaps Jesus would have prayed for Tori Spellings cheating husband instead of buying chocolate.

Not being a holy Messiah myself, I was more than tempted by the oval-shaped chocolate/caramel/cookie and chocolate/nougat/nuts. The half-size may have been better for me, for these were not communion wafers by any means. Each two-bite Egg set me back 160 calories. While I could eat the contraband Eggs in my car with the heater running, it would be hard to jog around the building and burn off those calories.

And yet as I wolfed down the Twix and Snickers eggs, I found myself not only looking for something more substantial; I also felt that the Egg format was missing something that the rectangular bars offered. Some holy wonder and healing of my psychological need to read tabloids with a child’s innocence while stuffing knock-off candy into a paper bag so no carline mommies would see me. It was like sending my money into some late night televangelist and only getting back a note thanking me for my contribution to their Hawaii Mission Fund. All I really received was a Dollar General receipt for $1.92 with a THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING at the bottom, and two extra hip pounds. I was also left with a sudden urge to buy some grape juice at the convenience store across the street and drink it out of bottle until I had purple stains around my lips. Instead I said a quick confessional to the trashcan as I dropped off the empty wrappers. The instant communion with my hips make the Twix Egg and Snickers Egg something that should be limited to Easter, like a sorry backslider visiting the corner church for penance.

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Blue Hill Butternut Squash All Natural Yogurt
Submitted by Kevin Forrest Tasker

Throughout the bright, unspeakably posh Whole Foods marketplace, delicious new treats sit staggered among old bland hats like kale chips or the ubiquitous carrot/beet smoothie. In the dairy case, The Blue Hill Butternut Squash All Natural Yogurt aims its yellowy face down at you, displaying at its center a cross section of a plump orange squash carved at the pinnacle of ripeness. The squash is lurid: female-hipped, naughty, its seeds splayed out with what can only be described as a raw carnality. Oh, the seeds seem to say, oh my, you found me, didn’t you? Heh-heh. Let me tell you though, the seeds are but a rouse. Simple foreplay!

Peeling back the lid of the Butternut Squash Yogurt introduced your loyal consumer to the real paramour at work here. In my case, the tricky dairy purveyor was one Ms. Daffodil, whom I was introduced to as a “Dutch Belt Cow: 8 years old.” Oh, I shiver now at the recollection of our torrid, torrid affair.

Why hello Ms. Daffodil, I said, Will you share with me your creamy grass-fed essence? Without waiting for her reply, I made ready my spoon and plunged.

The surface of Ms. Daffodil’s high-protein offering was a bit runny, like dainty Ms. D perhaps had a cold while creating it. But the yogurt entered my mouth with a pang and a tingle. It glooped its glossy way across my palate and stored itself sweetly beneath my tongue, screaming, Never let me go. Let me stay in your gums forever!

The consistency was as rich and shloopish as pumpkin pie filling. The color seemed to darken the deeper I plunged, revealing itself as a kind of nuclear yellow. Another trick of yours, Ms. Daffodil? Changing colors as we go? Variegating your sweet treat for my amusement? Oh, you witchy cloven mistress!

I continued eating, even inclining the cup so as to slurp at the creamy, nuclear fluid. But then, as I emerged from my initial carnal fugue, I realized suddenly what the yogurt resembled more than anything else was not pumpkin filling but some truly artisanal baby food. Oh, Ms. Daffodil, how did you know I had my heart set today on regressing?

I continued to gorge, renewed. Bite by bite, the yogurt shrunk my palate as it drove my consciousness back to the land of bassinets and sink-baths. Ms. Daffodil began to take shape in my mind as a matronly heifer, overworked but cherished, smiling with her big heavenly nostrils. Bite by bite, the Butternut Squash infantilized, turning me not into a connoisseur of foodstuffs but someone taking their first breath and having that first breath crammed full of soothing yogurt.

The world dissolved. I was alone with the yogurt cup pinned to my nose as if searching for embryonic closeness. My girlfriend discovered me here, and I confess I felt no shame plucking the cup free. I had lived a full life in reverse in these creamy, frail moments. I want more even now, Mother Daffodil. More of your rich, gushy flavor that doesn’t taste of squash so much as ginger, and not so much of ginger as a creamy splatter of the past. Thank you for your essence, but I must have more. The palate craves. The palate shall never accept a surrogate.

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Crunky Ball Nude
Submitted by Nick Vroman

In the darker areas of my imagination, Crunky Ball Nude plays itself over and over. Myriad variations on some sort of exotic, Eastern-sex thing. Like the three-second blow job or thrusting buttocks loop going over and over and over and over and over, the crunk takes hold.

The Crunky Ball disrobed, naked, revealed, stripped bare by bachelors even, all in its obscene glory. The porn reel continues. A crunky ball is inserted by shining chrome mechanical fingers, the thick wet labia hungrily devouring it. Cut to a woman’s face, eyes clamped shut, her red lips grimacing in both pleasure and pain, in mock ecstasy. “Oooh, more!” she demands. The ancient mysterious (inscrutable) Chinese pleasure orb. So simple, yet so… magical! Undreamed of sexual pleasure are to be had with the clunky ball. A mandarin robed man with a Fu Manchu moustache observes discreetly from behind a silk curtain.

Or maybe… Crunky Ball is the pseudonym of a devilish or maybe churlish little fellow, like Willy, the unassuming 1920s Brooklynite stumbling into the ladies’ bath or Ron Jeremy, that hairy pot-bellied shmoe who manages to peg all the right porn star babes. Hey he’s just like me. Wait, I’m better lookin’! Why don’t I get the babes? Like he does! Crunky Ball, whew, you look nasty, dude. All naked and shit! I hate you! What you got that I don’t? And why can’t I stop watching your fuckin’ movies? You fucker!

Or maybe… Crunky Ball is the new high. Better than even bath salts. You take wallboard, crunch it up, mix it with Boraxo, spray it with Raid (use the whole can) and boil it in bleach until goo rises to the top. Then you take that goo, form it into balls about an inch around. Cut with baby powder to make it keep its shape. Take the ball and shove it up your ass. Be sure to take off all your clothes or you’ll soil them with bodily secretions once the effect takes hold. The high is insane! The addiction immediate. It’s a drug that knows what it’s about. Oh Crunky Ball, you beguiling master. I will do anything for you! I would even kill for you. Even myself.

But no… I go to the darkest place of all. With the certainty of death—lungs crushed by pressure, water seeping in through all orifices, numbness and then collapse of all bodily functions. And that’s what the Crunky Ball Nude makes me think of. Like little underwater mines, these confections are an inside out chocolate ball. Studded with crunchy rice puffs over a soupçon of a chocolate layer over some indefinable cereal center (something like dried white bread). Stripped of any pretense of flavor beyond sweet, likable textures beyond styrofoam, or even candy-ness, they’re afterthoughts become objects. The scrapings off the candy room floor turned into another product to sell. A bitter and cynical vision of the future—now hiding in a layer of sugar. And as I succumb to the deep dark I ask, “Can I have another Crunky Ball? And can you make it nude?”

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Aji Ichiban Dried Crabs
Submitted by Adrienne Matei

Aji Ichiban dried crabs are a beer snack, but I don’t have any beer; I just a have persistent appetite that some nights leads me to smear peanut butter on a granny smith apple. But tonight, on the stoop of my bungalow in Bali, finds me ripping open a plastic package of Aji Ichiban Dried Crabs I impulsively bought at the Hong Kong airport. The crabs look uncomfortably close in their bag, the way crabs sometimes do stacked all over each other in the grocery store tank, or when the Discovery Channel shows them migrating in droves over the ocean floor, a crab exodus crawling three layers of crab deep. The kind of thing that makes you uneasy when you’re treading water and are suddenly unnerved that you never know what’s beneath you in the ocean. Cut scene to a billion writhing crabs and your vulnerable, pedaling legs. But these crabs are tiny and an apricot-y pink, and covered in little puffballs that look like Rice Krispies, but the ingredient list informs me are made of wheat. They’re sort of cute and pitiful, and something about that makes me want to eat them. The package contains many disembodied appendages, but some of the crabs are perfect little specimens. I pop one in my mouth and the crunch is inevitable. What’s unpredictable is its immediate transcendence into caramel-y chew, then, just as suddenly, a not unpleasantly gritty, sandy texture. The caramel effect is compounded by the crabs’ tremendous sweetness—they’re honeyed, and more like candy than the salty snack I expected. I imagine them in paper wrappers arranged in a heart-shaped box. I imagine them laying billows of little crab eggs. I imagine my teeth crumpling the insubstantial shells nature intended to protect their soft, chewy innards. A mosquito coil smolders beside me and toads bark in the tropical night. I wish I had a beer. In the morning, the crabs are swarming with a billion tiny ants.

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Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard, Extra Hot
Submitted by Alex Bauer

OK, this is not a review of a new food, per se, but rather a new trend in food: labeling something that is not hot “hot.” Or worse yet, “extra hot.” When I was a young boy, Chinese mustard was hot. There was no need to label it hot, it was just understood to be hot. It was tear-jerkingly, sinus clearingly hot. In other words it was great. Then McDonald’s came along and invented the McNugget and decided to call one of their original dipping sauces “Chinese Hot Mustard.” It wasn’t very hot, but it was at least a little bit hot. Hot enough that it was avoided by suburban Midwest mothers, but not hot enough for those who were familiar with real Chinese mustard. It was mild, to use the parlance of the salsa world. Anyway, people loved McNuggets despite the dubious quality of the chicken and the dipping sauce industry took notice, much to the detriment of fiery hot dipping sauces everywhere (you know what I’m saying, right, barbecue sauce?). There is no better example of this than Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard – Extra Hot. For the record, this mustard is not extra hot. It’s not even hot. You know what happens to Chinese mustard when you take the hot out? It becomes bad. Without the hot, it’s just a vinegary, somewhat mustardy, beige mess. You would be better off dipping your spring roll in Grey Poupon than Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard – Extra Hot. How unhot is this “extra hot” mustard? It’s less hot than Taco Bell’s hot sauce. It’s less hot than Kettle Chips Spicy-Thai chips (which are at least still delicious, I should note). And perhaps most tellingly, it is less hot that McDonald’s Chinese Hot Mustard McNugget dipping sauce. This sauce is tepid at best. It is truly sad. What’s sadder is that this seems to be the only brand of Chinese mustard my local Safeway carries. There is a lesson here for the Chinese mustard industry. Yes, McDonald’s turned the average American on to Chinese mustard with their decidedly less-hot version of Chinese mustard, but that does not mean you should lower your hotness standard. If anything, you should be going in the opposite direction. Mild is not what people want from Chinese mustard. People want hot. (In what world is mild better than hot?) Just because the earth is warming does not mean you should cool down. Be yourself, Chinese mustard. Be fucking hot.

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Biscoff Spread
Submitted by Bob Geary

We fly Delta a lot. We used to fly Northwest a lot, because all our miles were there, and when Delta absorbed Northwest, they absorbed us, too. Like Northwest before it, Delta’s pretty much never gotten top marks for anything—customer service, seat roominess, on-time arrivals, what have you—but they’re not the worst either, and they seem to be trying to improve, which is admirable.

Two things they have going for them are the flashes of humor and style in their pre-flight instruction video (not the new “jokey” one that’s apparently being test-marketed on some of the hipper routes, but the classic one with the heart-stoppingly beautiful “flight attendant” with the million-watt smile), and their Biscoff cookies. The cookies were reported on by Jack Pendarvis in Batch #5 of New Food, and everything said about them there is true—they’re delicious, but more importantly, they’re crunchy/crisp in a special and maybe unique way. When you bite into a more pedestrian “crunchy” snack—say a corn or a potato chip—you get a brief audio-tactile nano-pleasure or two, and then it’s gone. But when you bite into a Biscoff, it seems to shatter into several more Biscoffs, each of which offers the same crunch experience as its parent—it’s recursively crunchy, but somehow it never devolves into unpleasant grittiness. “How far down can this go?” you wonder.

“Biscoff Spread” is how far down it can go. Biscoff Spread is literally actual Biscoff cookies, ground to a consistency somewhere between coarse cornmeal and couscous, then blended with oil and probably more sugar, to form a thick paste—about the viscosity of freshly-ground almond butter. But almond butter can be gritty; and even “crunchy” peanut butter is only intermittently and unsatisfyingly crunchy. Biscoff Spread feels crunchy at a molecular level—each bite offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny discrete crispy-pleasure moments.

I sneered at Sandra Lee that one time on her Food Network show when she mashed up an entire store-bought apple pie and used it as a component in an ice cream cake. I rolled my eyes at Rice Krispies Treats Cereal when I first saw it on the grocery shelf. But last night I put Biscoff Spread on a Biscoff cookie, and I never wanted it to end.

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Grace Cock Flavored Soup

Submitted by Devi Snively

When you go to the store and see a package of “Cock Flavored Soup Mix,” you buy it. You assume it will be a gag gift but you’re not yet sure for whom. While you weigh your options, you leave it on the coffee table and point it out to visiting friends. Everybody has a good laugh. When the joke grows old, the packet finds its way to the shelf of misfit novelty foods—wedged behind the bag of BBQ Larvet Worm Snax and your once prized collector’s box of KFC Kentucky Fried Cereal—where you promptly forget about it.

You might never see it again if not for that night you smoke a bowl and run out of munchies. You scour the pantry desperate to find a stray bag of microwave popcorn when you see the Cock Flavored Soup for the first time in years. It stares back at you, defiant. It gets inside your head. What exactly is cock flavored soup? Does it hold the secrets to the universe? Who makes it? And is it really made from cock?

A week later the big storm hits and the power outage catches you ill prepared. You have no canned foods nor bread nor peanut butter. All the stores are closed. The time has come. You will eat Cock Flavored Soup.

You fire up the gas stove and pour water into a big pot. You add the mix. It’s a jaundiced, chunky, powdery substance. You bring it to a boil then let it simmer for five minutes. You pour it into a giant mug and raise it to your mouth. You feel a sense of foreboding. You swallow anyway, too hungry to care. It’s hot and salty and perturbingly pungent. It burns the back of your throat like syphilitic piss. You feel dirty. Violated. You run to the bathroom and take a shower. You will mention this to no one.

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Coconut Borscht
Submitted by Katelyn Sack

Because I am part Russian, I am always part sad. Because my father abandoned my family when I was six, my Eastern-European culinary knowledge comes predominantly from Tolstoy and that hot Anya Marina song that is either about binge drinking or anal sex. (“We can pop bottles all night, baby you can have whatever you like… Late night sex so wet, so tight… Baby, you can go wherever you like.”) Being industrious, I have learned about all these things myself.

Most borscht recipes call for beef or chicken stock as a base, boiled with beets, onions, and potatoes. Those recipes, I decide after having a lovely dinner with a Belarusian beauty, her Israeli husband, and my boyfriend who is old enough to be my deadbeat dad, are for losers.

Although I may not be innately valuable enough to be loved by my family, or productive enough to have completed my dissertation, I do have one outstanding native advantage in this boiling stew of life. And that is a willingness to do whatever it takes to be better than everybody else, even though that will never make me good enough. So if you strive to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, I will laugh in your face and make it ten. And I will do it without using animal products, because that’s just the kind of ruthlessly ethical bitch I am. I do not mean this in a meta way that suggests I am laughing at myself. Because I am laughing at myself, but I am also dead serious about kicking your ass in vegetable consumption. Nevertheless, being a nice if tragically flawed person, I will tell you how to make better borscht—sweeter borscht—more ethical, nutrient-rich borscht than anyone has ever made before.

Sauté a few purple onions with garlic cloves in olive oil, steam a bunch of carrots and turnips, and blend them together in the blender because, look, I’m not lazy, but why chop carefully if you don’t have to? It doesn’t make sense. Scrub, dice, and steam a few turnips. Blend and set aside. Then do the same with a few dozen beets. Blend and set aside. By now you may have realized you need a really freaking humongous bowl in which to be setting stuff aside. That is a true fact. You need that to make serious borscht, and more importantly to do so in an efficient way – so that you can continue kicking other people’s vegetable-consumption asses even during busy weeks and months in which you have no time to make borscht. Now man up and get a huge pot in addition to this huge bowl. Put another dozen or so beets in the pot, scrubbed and diced, along with washed and chunked celery and an ungodly amount of parsley. (Russians don’t believe in god, so we can use as much parsley as we damn well please.)

While that simmers, boil a few cups of water and pour over a cup of shredded coconut. Blend for a few minutes before straining through a wire mesh. This makes cheap coconut milk without the nasty chemicals in the lining of the expensive canned stuff. Set aside in the humongous bowl. Then blend the final pot of beets and parsley, and mix it with all the other stuff.

Now you have a humongous bowl of sweet, delicious soup with eight obscenely healthy vegetables, if you count coconut and parsley. You don’t have to worry about running out of food for weeks. You can feel secure that you are, in at least one way, not just as good as everybody else, but better in your own, colorful way. Other people will drink V8 and think they are as good as you, and maybe it is true after all. Maybe everything you have tried so much harder than everyone else to achieve is, at some basic level, no better than something they can buy at the grocery store and pop open like a Coke, as if the universe is mocking you because innate worth is not something you can work for and earn any more than happiness is something you can cook on the stove. But it sure is pretty, the spirals of bright orange carrot and deep purple beet, the spatter on the floor from the boiling, the warmth of the effort, of trying this hard even though you are not sure anything you can do will make a difference in the end.