Today’s field report comes from the intrepid Dr. T.C. Ariano, SoCal lab jefe.
Description. When it comes to feeding their children, the only thing that worries today’s mothers more than that their offspring might accidentally smell, see, or hear about a peanut is the specter of creeping obesity. And yet, when Dakota’s birthday comes along, and the cupcakes that were JUST FINE FOR US are now verboten, you can’t send him or her to class empty-handed — or, worse, with…fruit. Enter Birthday Cake Popcorn.
Description. Ding Dong is, if not the most cluelessly branded in the field of Asian snack mixes, definitely in the top three. Nor does it help itself with its unappetizing visual presentation, a sickly hybrid of small-batch dog kibble and institutional succotash.
Packaging/Branding. For starters, “Dong.” Also, “mixed nuts.” (Pornographic and inaccurate: Ding Dong contains only one nut, the peanut, and a meager supply at that.) Furthermore, “cracker nuts”; “enjoy your munching”; and the mysterious “cornick.” Our researchers have failed to discover whether “cornick” is a real word, but the JBC Food Corp. appears to have snigletted a word for the substance from which Corn Nuts are made. We had to wonder why they didn’t also coin a synonym for fava beans, given their unfortunate associations with charismatic pop-culture cannibalism.
The packaging also features a Keeblerian troll daydreaming under a mushroom cap. His ear is the same size as his hand. We give up.
Flavor Profile. Standard and inoffensive, but again, the packaging misspeaks; the only “spice” on offer is salt, and plenty of it (10% of the RDA, compliments of a third of a 3.5-oz bag).
Habitat. The break room at a swingers’ club; regional airports.
Field Notes. Submitted by Dr. Barkenbush of the Bay Area collection team.
Revulsion Scale: 8
report filed by Dr. D.T. Cole
Description. Someone at Southern California grocer Ralph’s knows that barriers don’t break themselves down. When rice cakes first made their jump from hippie health stores to supermarkets, they got jazzed up with a light dusting of cheese or cinnamon. Ralph’s top food scientists looked at the healthy rice-cake landscape and buried it under a flood of berry sweetness. The addition of what is basically a candy coating to the humble rice cake takes it out of competition with hippie snacks and puts it in the ring with candified treats such as pink-elephant popcorn.
Packaging/Branding. The first thing you’ll notice about the bag is the color and texture of the rice cakes. It’s very purple and very pink, the kind of colors that laugh at nature. The next thing you’ll notice is that they look like hamburger patties. Bon appétit!
Description. The limited-edition Confetti Cake Pop Tart seems superfluous. Of course, most Pop Tarts seem superfluous — what niche does “cherry turnover” fill that a cherry Pop Tart (or, preferably, an actual cherry turnover, created by humans in a non-factory environment without the aid of sodium stearoyl lactylate) does not? What chemical nano-tweak differentiates the strawberry-milkshake flavor from the frosted Tart with strawberry filling? And what, pray tell, is a “Spookylicious”? (It is “chocolate” “fudge.” Evasion is strongly counseled.)
Drs. Ariano and Bunting would never have confronted these questions during their recent sample-collection sojourn into the New Jersey interior, were it not for the accidental intervention of a native whom they overheard enthusing about the CCPT while restocking the ample shelves of a Target in Hanover. Intrigued, they procured a box for the lab.
Packaging/Branding. Despite straining heartily for a party atmosphere via the box art (confetti; piñata filling; even a “To / From” field should the consumer unwisely substitute these Tarts for a proper birthday gift), the Confetti Cake Pop Tart does not look very promising. …Well, perhaps this is an unfair characterization. The Tart itself presents neutrally; the rendition of a piece of birthday cake, helpfully provided to remind prospective purchasers of what the Tart is supposed to taste like, resembles an infected marshmallow.
Dr. Bunting finds the microwave instructions hilarious. Step 2: “Microwave on high setting for 3 seconds.” Three seconds? Holding the Tart over a candle or coughing on it vigorously is probably more efficient.
One also wonders what fumarole of the Kellogg’s legal department belched up this advisory: “Due to possible risk of fire, never leave your toasting appliance or microwave unattended.” First of all, “toasting appliance”? Second of all, “never”? And third of all, shouldn’t such a warning mention the product on whose package it appears? Even as a lawsuit preventive, the phrasing is rather broad. Why not take it a step further and remind us to look both ways when crossing the street, or to buckle up for safety?
Flavor Profile. A birthday-cake-flavored thing that is not birthday cake should not work. What makes birthday cake appealing is that it is cake; the lack of portability is beside the point. For reasons that the B.A.R.F. has not yet pinned down, however, such products frequently succeed. Birthday-cake ice cream is a particular weakness of Dr. Bunting’s, and more than one summertime breakfast hour has found her firmly facing a pint from Uncle Louie G’s.
The Pop-Tart version is markedly less pleasurable. In what we must assume is an attempt to stress the savory or starchy aspects of a cake, thus creating contrast with the frosting and the sugary confetti discs, the Tart itself features a salty bass note that lingers spitefully on the palate. In addition to suggesting that a popcorn-and-candy Pop Tart would fail miserably, the flavor is, for lack of a better term, creepy.
Habitat. Last-minute office parties in the Trust Territories; the Target in Hanover, NJ.
Field Notes. If someone could please ask the anthropomorphized hipster blobule that represents the Wildlicious Wild! Strawberry Pop Tart to calm down at once, thank you and good day.
Revulsion Scale: 7
Description. Dr. Blankenship won a research grant to study the revolting snacks of China, and while he was in Shanghai, he discovered the Frito-Lay corporation’s darkest secret. Thin, brittle, and oily, the cheese lobster chip looks just like a regular Lay’s, which is terrible news for the unobservant snacker.
Packaging/Branding. Though much of the text is in Chinese, the package promises English speakers a “classic great taste.” Despite extensive interviews, however, Dr. Blankenship could not find anyone who felt this flavor was “classic,” or even part of God’s plan.
The branding image is unnerving: next to a splay of potato chips, a lobster lies belly-up on a bed of lettuce. The creature has been sliced open, spilling lobster bits everywhere, and a floating gravy boat pours melted cheese on its carcass. Claws raised in the air, the mutilated lobster seems to beg for its life as it drowns in a dairy waterfall.
Flavor Profile. The flavors come in waves. There is an explosion of spray cheese, followed by a nauseating blend of lobster and “seafood musk.” The musky taste lingers for at least 10 seconds after swallowing, suggesting the snacker has ingested the entire seafood counter at an unsanitary grocery store.
Habitat. Chinese convenience stores; the backpacks of desperate travelers; boardroom presentations of PETA members who are “trying to make a point.”
Field Notes. All of the ingredients are in Chinese, so we may never know what makes these flavors possible.
Revulsion Scale: 10
Description. The Double-Decker Moon Pie comes out of the package looking like a hybrid: a runty stack of gluten-free pancakes caught in a weather event; and a cafeteria cheeseburger. The latter impression is thanks to the icing, a mustard color with unfortunate drips happening at the sides.
Cross-sectioning the Pie reveals a layer-cake-like interior iced with marshmallow, but thanks to the compression, there persists the overarching sense of an already-mediocre snack purposefully stepped on.
Description. Many years ago, during a field study in Chicago, Drs. Ariano, Bunting, and Savel stared in horrified wonderment at an entire display rack of gummi pizza. The ensuing discussion led to an elaborate experiment involving the mails and Canadian chocolate, and ended in an unfortunate banana-candy incident at U.S. Customs, but suffice it to say that gummi pizza has cast a long shadow over the B.A.R.F.
If we may pay the E. Frutti iteration one compliment — and we may, but…only the one — we can say that its rendering of two-day-old subpar pizza’s layer of congealed grease and decompensated toppings is uncanny. And revolting.