Considering a career in the alimentary-research field? Think twice, for you will spend many a greyish-green hour whomping room-temperature cream of mushroom onto sidewalks, to compare its similarity to vomit with that of tapioca; grinding off-brand cheese puffs in a pestle until you develop RSI; and horrifying first dates and prospective in-laws by comparing the top note of a lobster cracker to bacterial vaginosis.
But if you can get through a worthy tome like The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis without requiring an Alka-Seltzer or a meditation break, you just might have a future in this business.
TGACB is a tirelessly researched, gorgeously illustrated, and astonishingly straight-faced encyclopedic history of the cold-cereal industry. Readers will learn that SpongeBob and Hannah Montana have their own cereals, for instance, and that General Mills VP John Holahan invented the tiny versions of marshmallows we find in breakfast cereals — known within the industry as “marbits” — by cutting up a Brach’s circus peanut. (He subsequently eluded justice.) It’s also an invaluable window into the metric tonnes of horseshit the naïve American consumer would put up with in decades gone by.
The B.A.R.F. has compiled a (Cheeri-)overview of the lowlights, both the cereals themselves and a few of the more egregious forgotten mascots. We highly recommend experiencing the book for yourselves, however.
“Girl Cootie Crunch” didn’t survive the first draft, evidently.
Without the equally off-putting mascot, “Bixby Beaver,” Crunchy Loggs might have avoided the association with turds in the punchbowl. Alas.
Fiesta Fruity Pebbles with Confetti Sprinkles
As a result of a parental sugar-cereal embargo that continues to this day, Dr. Bunting spent most of the ’80s craving the most diabetically sugar-laden breakfast foods on the market, but this would have been a Pixy Stik too far even for her.
Description. Ever since that ill-advised promotion 25 years ago during which the Mars Corp. asked America to vote on which color M would replace the staid but reliable beige, the M&M has become progressively more antic in its desire to be all candies to all people. Specialty colors, pretzel fillings, uncomfortable advertising campaigns that ask us not only to anthropomorphize these tiny edibles, but also to infer that they are sexually active — there is the whiff of desperation.
The candy-corn/white-chocolate M&M pairs that whiff with a much stronger literal one, of candied orange peel rolled in Nerds. Each M is between a classic and a peanut M in size; the colors follow the stripes of a classic kernel of candy corn.
Packaging/Branding. Standard for the M&M family. Our AV technician failed to capture an in-focus shot of the package, but the front features the red M dressed in a candy-corn “costume” and looking too drunk to care what foolishness his overlords have forced him to promote this time. He may also be staggering under the weight of the 35% RDA of sat fats the single-serving package contains.
Description. A Nickelodeon-branded version of your standard gummi hamburger (if we can say that a “standard” gummi hamburger exists), derived, of course, from Sponge Bob Square Pants. The TV show is fun; the dense, rubbery, flattened blob masquerading as a stack of fast-food burger parts is not.
Packaging/Branding. Nickelodeon and the Frankford Candy and Chocolate Company have taken great care with the fonts and graphics on the exterior box, as well as the individual servings, each of which comes in its own plastic sleeve with a teeny serving tray — presumably to prevent the Patties from melting into a gelatinous massif. If only as much concern had been expended on the…
Description. Better known for the Mallo Cup, the Boyer Corp. didn’t have a completely terrible idea with the Butterscotch Smoothie, which aims to do for the peanut-butter/scotch pairing what Reese’s did for PB and chocolate.
Whether the pairing succeeds culinarily is almost beside the point, so distasteful is the visual presentation. All the butterscotch hues in the world — beige; caramel; camel — and the Boyer brain-trust selected a mid-aughts-Michael-Kors orange to coat the Smoothie. On top of that, the coating has chunks of peanut (we…hope) mixed into it. Add a crimped paper wrapper, and the whole affair looks like a vomit muffin.
Packaging/Branding. We would strongly suggest retooling the product to match up more closely with what appears on the package, as those Smoothies look reasonably attractive (not to mention, well, smooth). As it is, the label misrepresents everything about the product: the color; the texture; the proportions (and quality) of peanut butter to cup/coating.
Description. People love chee”se” doodles; people love barbecue chips; surely people will love a puffed-corn snack that combines the two snaxperiences. …Or so the conversation in the Wise Corporation’s product-development department must have gone.
Elsewhere in the culture, another conversation occurred in which the venerable Dr. Egon Spengler warned, “Don’t cross the streams. It would be bad.” This latter exchange: ignored.
It is with some relief, then, that we report the failure of the expected perversion of food science to materialize. The “Honey BBQ & Cheese Flavored baked corn snack” is faintly unpleasant visually; the obligatory neon orange of the average cheesy puff is muted, as well as augmented with dark flea-like flecks of unknown origin. Optimists may identify them as bits of the paprika extract or tomato powder promised by the ingredients; realists, on the other hand, having never seen thiamin hydrochloride or disodium guanylate in their native forms, could conclude that they resemble bedbug powder. Neither party will sleep any better knowing that a food additive called “butter oil” exists.
Packaging/Branding. The hip-hop bee mascot is simply unacceptable. First of all, in the shameful Mr. Peanut tradition of talking-object/animal mascots since time immemorial, it has no trousers on. Second of all, it is a hip-hop bee.
As a subject for classification, the circus peanut presents a formidable challenge, not least because of Foundation associate Dr. S.V.W. Lucianovic’s assertion that the circus peanut is usually shaped like a circus penis. But a peanut by any other name or shape would smell as weird, alas; its customary flavor is impossible to classify, its neither-fish-nor-fowl texture an off-putting artifact of the space age.
The particular product that arrived at our labs, the Spangler Colored Circus Peanut assortment sold by SweetGourmet.com, did not aid us in our quest for understanding; the bag sported a sticker for the website, but no nutritional information. Nor could we imagine what marketing dolt let the word “colored” past without a “multi-” prefix or a last-minute edit to “confetti.” The product page did enlighten us somewhat, however; the ingredients list is short and relatively straightforward (i.e. consists mostly of sugar and gelatin, versus the shuttle-program polymers we often discover in novelty foods), although the proportion of serving size (42g) to sugar (39g) is alarming. Although not terribly surprising.
The Bunting Alimentary Research Foundation has tested both Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries, and it is safe to say that both varieties contain many a revolting element, starting with the Bikini Atoll orange color of the Fries themselves. The product is, as best we can ascertain, composed of a blend of reconstituted corn and potatoes; subjected to an MSG delousing; and introduced only briefly to naturally occurring substances such as paprika and mustard before undergoing another flea dip in preservatives. The label either promises or warns that Fries contain milk. On the other hand, a single 99-cent bag of Hot Fries accounts for 39% of the RDA of sodium, and 24% of the saturated fat. To whom does the relevant cow belong — Marlon Brando?
So, while it is probably healthier to open a major blood vessel and insert a Fry directly into it than to digest a handful, the chemicals do their jobs. The Fry does not go stale easily, and resembles a civilian curly fry in shade and coating.