March 08, 2006

Coming Out of the Pantry

by peterb

We all have them. Maybe you wore a denim jacket all through Junior High school. Maybe you think, when no one is looking, that Cyndi Lauper is actually pretty cool. Maybe you memorized the order in which Star Trek episodes first aired. Whatever your particular secret shames are, rest assured that everyone around you has their own as well.

We spend a lot of time and effort on this weblog talking about food. In the process, we radiate megawatts of attitude about things that you should care about, such as authenticity, honesty, simplicity, and quality ingredients. We have even been called "food snobs" or "foodies", although I maintain I am actually more of a "chowhound."

Occasionally we try to defend ourselves by pointing out that we like hot dogs. But let's face it: the hot dog is too indie, too hip, too ironic a food to be truly shameful. Saying you like hot dogs is like wearing a Quisp t-shirt at a Fugazi concert: "Look at me, everyone! I'm so square, I'm hip!"

So today, I'm not going to screw around. Here, for your enjoyment and horror, are my real, honest-to-goodness, secret food shames. Most of them do not form a large part of my day to day diet; most of them I avoid for various reasons. But not eating and not liking are two different things.

10. Port wine cheese food. I don't actually buy this, but every time I walk past it in the store I feel this tug, this pull to get it. Sure, it's crap. Sure, it is extruded from a space alien spore farm. But it has the salt, and it has the sweet, and it has the crazy colors, like a lava lamp that has been somehow alchemically converted to food. If you have this stuff at a party, I will wait until I think no one is looking, and then I will eat it.

9. Ritz crackers. Well, you gotta have something to eat the port wine cheese food on. Oh, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. How you fulfill me.

8. Bacon-flavored textured soy protein bits. It's a very simple equation: one small leaf of iceberg lettuce + an entire bottle of Bac-Os brand fake bacon bits = crunching until your head explodes from happiness. Normally I'm first in the line against fake foods, but I heartily endorse this use of astronaut technology to imitate the taste of bacon.

7. Any sugared cereal with all three primary colors. But especially Fruity Pebbles. The fact that they're so tiny lets you maximize both the surface area which can be covered in sugar, and the rate at which the sugar hits your bloodstream, making you feel like a tiny god.

6. Soft pretzels that have been injected with cheese food, and then deep fried. I'll die young, but I'll die happy.

5. Donuts. Not boutique donuts, not beignets, not churros, not homemade donuts. American donuts. Donuts made in a store, by a megacorporation, by the millions. The more soulless and institutional they are, the better they taste.

4. Coca-Cola. Yes, it's disgusting acidic sugar water. I used to drink three or four a day, and now I only drink perhaps three or four a year (typically, with pizza. It's the morally correct thing to drink with pizza). But it is, by this point, part of my DNA. I can't even imagine how many of my neurons are devoted to detecting the subtle, almost nonexistent taste distinctions between various colas.

3. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I can more or less eat these until I go into a diabetic coma.

2. Dairy Queen Blizzards. As cheese food is to cheese, so Dairy Queen soft-serve powdered and reconstituted ice cream product is to real ice cream. I don't actually like their ice cream cones very much; when it comes to fake ice cream, the east coast Carvel chain has my heart under lock and key. Is there any child from New York that doesn't know that in Heaven, you can eat Carvel vanilla cones with rainbow sprinkles all day long? I think not. But no one outside of the eastern seaboard knows who Carvel is, so I'll use Dairy Queen as my example, with their Blizzard shake, which was the answer to the question "Hey! How can we possibly get more sugar into this thing?"

Cheesy Poofs

Cheesy Poofs

1. Cheesy Poofs. I haven't bought any of this entire class of product in, literally, years. But you can't escape what you are. Did you ever see an alcoholic quicken his step almost imperceptibly as he strode past a bar? That's me walking past the Infinitely Large Aisle Of Cheesy Poofs at the supermarket. Yes, I understand exactly how horrific these things are, from conception, through extrusion, and all the way through delivery into my filthy, filthy hands. But I can't help it. Even though I hate them, I love them. Somewhere deep inside me is an 8-year old boy who would absolutely jump at the chance to live in a world where everything was constructed entirely from Cheesy Poofs. And please, for the love of God, I beg you to click on that link.

All of this goes to prove a few things. First, what you like and what you eat are not necessarily the same things. Second, to some extent our taste (or at least my taste) for foods exists at least partially on a preconcious level. It doesn't really matter that I know that Fruity Pebbles are garbage — that doesn't make me not like them on that gut level. Lastly, it proves that the next time I recommend some hypersophisticated Italian cheese that costs $26/pound, you should snarkily comment "Oh, sure, right. Like I'm going to take advice on cheese from a guy who likes port wine cheese food."

Since I'm going to Toronto this weekend, and will buy cheese there, you'll probably have a chance to do that next week.

I am now completely out of the closet pantry. Those are my secret food shames. What are yours?

Posted by peterb at March 8, 2006 08:11 PM | Bookmark This

Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, with the gooey cheeeeeese packet. When I'm sick, I want this. I don't want chicken soup. I don't want ginger ale. I don't want Annie's Organic Shells and Cheese. I want the neon orange Kraft cheese food.

Posted by kvd at March 8, 2006 08:33 PM

Why would you waste your time with a Blizzard when you could get an injection-molded cake cone full of chocolate frozen custard dipped in a crunchy shell of food-engineered chocolate-flavored trans fat?

Posted by DavidR at March 8, 2006 08:36 PM

american cheese and mayonaise sandwiches on white bread.

i also used to like to make "grilled toast"... where you take a huge dollop of butter and throw it in a frying pan and then squish the bread on top of it. i guess that would be even better with american cheese in it.

also, ramen noodles with the MSG soup packets. with an egg.

Posted by psu at March 8, 2006 08:42 PM

Jell-O instant cheesecake, like they used to make in the Highlander Cafe.


Any form of bogus whipped cream product, like Cool Whip. I desire that weird metallic aftertaste in my innermost soul.

Wise Cheez Doodles - I can't stand any other form of Cheezy Poof, the flavor is just weird.

Posted by Mike Collins at March 8, 2006 08:46 PM

The cracker that requires a knife to spread the port wine cheese food is not the true cracker. Digging it out with the cracker itself (and fussing about keeping the level of the remaining cheese food frustum perfectly graded, like playing with a tractor in a sandbox) is an essential part of the process. Make mine Safeway brand Thin Wheats.

(Did you know that Mark Evanier has a weblog? Plus, he's reformatted most of his fantastic Hollywood stories from the back pages of Crossfire & Rainbow and stuck them in the archives. I was up until past 4 AM last night reading them.)

Posted by Jon F at March 8, 2006 08:50 PM

you ARE going to Lai Wah Heen while you're here right? Check out JK Wine Bar for a quick casual bite or Perigee if you want to drop a (completely worthwhile) bundle.

where do you buy your cheese here anyway?

Posted by Weiguo at March 8, 2006 10:53 PM

*I* am going to Lai Wah Heen.

Pete is too cheap.

MMMmmmmm, Shanghai soupy pork dumplings.

Posted by psu at March 8, 2006 10:55 PM

Usually I go to Alex's farm products in the st. lawrence market, or in the basement at manulife center if the market is closed. I tried some of the places around kensington market and found them wanting.

If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

I have been to Lai Wah Heen, and enjoyed it. I think we are scheduled to head out to some chinese suburb for dim sum.

I also plan to go to La Palette, if possible, and ask them for their quack and track.

Posted by peterb at March 8, 2006 10:56 PM

peterb -- We could never share a kitchen. Ok -- I s'pose any one of the stuff you mentioned is understandable on its own, but reading the list altogether was a lil gross --

My weakness: Most wines. Even the stuff that's not that great. And when I'm drunk, I'll eat most anything --

Posted by green LA girl at March 8, 2006 11:03 PM

Here is Australia, some of those things you can't get. What you can get however are:


AND Burger Rings:


Sarsparilla (very similar to root beer, but not as sweet)

and the ever popular Tim Tams
These are desired globally by Australians, and anyone who has visited Australia. My brother rook a carton back to San Fransisco with him, and they lasted maybe 2 months. The best thing to do with them is bite off each end, dip one end in hot coffee (not too hot), and suck on the other end. It all ends up as a molten chocolate mush in yuor mouth. We call it a Tim Tam orgasm.

Posted by Paul at March 8, 2006 11:20 PM

can't help with the cheese, I don't buy much. Have heard both good and bad things about Global Cheeses in Kensington.

hopefully you guys are going to Richmond Hill for dim sum and not anywhere else (including downtown). That's the only place worth going. Ambassador's dim sum is good (cards though, not carts) and is still fairly traditional (compared to Lai Wah Heen's fusion stuff). I don't have any hard-core, plastic-tablecloths, cart-pushing, dish-yelling recommendations in town anymore though.

Posted by Weiguo at March 9, 2006 12:25 AM

Slim Jims, for reasons totally incomprehensible to me. And they must be washed down with Diet Coke, another shameful former addiction.

I second the Tang, and raise it to a Tang screwdriver.

HoHos, Swiss Rolls, or whatever you want to call them...I haven't eaten them in many years, but some part of my Hostess brain still pulses with desire.

ahem. well that's a start, anyway... ;)

Posted by april at March 9, 2006 12:37 AM

I came upon this post while I was crumbling cheddar slices into my Nissin Cup Noodles.

There is this Italian resturant (Il Forino?) under a hotel in downtown Palo Alto, around the corner from Borders bookstore, which has these soft almond paste cookies with marscino cherries inside.

Eating nasty foods is best in the nude, with a whole bunch of nice sexual partners hanging around in socks and bathrobes.

Posted by Old friend at March 9, 2006 02:39 AM

My top four Food Shames are, in order of humilation they bring to those around me:

1) Pop-tarts, especially strawberry ones with frosting, eaten untoasted with coffee. The frosted cinnamon & brown sugar ones are pretty boss, too.

2) Kraft singles. I unwrap them and then fold them over several times until I have a laminated brick of cheesefood with the form factor of a fish-stick.

3) Hot tang, in winter when I'm feeling sick or sorry for myself.

4) Circus peanuts. I am sure they are not made, so much as crapped out of some caged hellbeast in the basement of General Foods HQ, but I can't get enough of their polyvinylcholride, fake-banana goodness

Posted by jeff at March 9, 2006 11:33 AM

I believe the cheese doodle world you're thinking of is:

My terrible food fetishes...

Wheat Thins. (Not as unhealthy as some items people have named, but
still processed, salted, sugared, and hydrogenated. Also, I can eat a
box for lunch. Note: do not fall for the Giant Wheat Thins. 20% less
wheat thin per box. It's a trap! Get an axe.)

Any kind of nut with sugary toffee crap melted on. Fortunately for my
sanity, "honey roasted peanuts" do not count.

Hershey's Chocolate Kisses are the theobromate equivalent of the port
wine cheese food, right? We praise the Dolfin bars and single-bean
chocolate varietals, but when the Kisses or M&Ms are there, we snarf

Port wine cheese food. Yes.

Posted by Andrew Plotkin at March 9, 2006 12:04 PM

But Big Wheat Thins hold more dip/spread (without forcing you to get some on your fingers), which is what crackers are all about anyway.

But all versions of Wheat Thins pale in comparison to the mighty Triscuit.

Posted by Chris Winters at March 9, 2006 12:20 PM

If you think that crackers are all about *holding dip*, Sir, then it
is no wonder that you prefer Triscuits.

Faugh. No wonder the Empire is falling.

Posted by Andrew Plotkin at March 9, 2006 03:12 PM

I have had mostly a clean pantry, other than the occasional chocolate bar. But then (despite a mostly fat free, reasonably low sugar, low meat diet) my doctor tells me I have high cholesterol and I find myself desiring a fast food hamburger for the first time in years and years and years.

Oh, but I will always love "The Donut Man" strawberry glazed donuts in glendale, CA. 2 pounds of fresh glazed strawberries on a donut. I don't need the donut, just give me the berries!

I guess there are the brownies with chilli in them too. I'm a sucker for them. And breakfast-pie. Pumpkin makes good breakfast pie.

Posted by Doug at March 9, 2006 03:39 PM


Posted by Troy Goodfellow at March 9, 2006 08:44 PM

Chips Ahoy. Why do I like these? I don't understand! But I do.

I also like vending-machine French Vanilla flavored coffee...thing. I buy it about once a month.

Posted by Laura at March 9, 2006 09:43 PM

We had one of those vending machine coffee dispensers at a job I worked at, once. You could open the machine up and see the various bags they used to dispense coffee and flavorings.

The best thing was that the flavorings -- like the French Vanilla ones -- were these big plastic bags of white powder. The bags were labeled thusly:


Mmmmmmmm. Rich, creamery soluble product.

Posted by peterb at March 9, 2006 10:09 PM

Whoops, it seems I've missed the point of this thread by someone taking it so seriously.

Posted by Chris Winters at March 9, 2006 10:17 PM

Just for the taste of it, Diet Coke. And the last time I had it? Probably last month.

Saltines with generic American Cheese from the supermarket deli. Ten years ago.

Taco Bell. Last year.

Herr's Kettle Cooked Barbeque Potato Chips. Last week.

Cozy Shack Rice Pudding. Monday.

Mmmm, taste the brand name.

What a brilliant idea. Who doesn't love to make this list?

Posted by zp at March 9, 2006 10:23 PM

Your tragic misspelling of "Kozy Shack" has TAINTED the Matrix.

Posted by peterb at March 9, 2006 10:48 PM

I tried to spell it properly, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. Thanks for letting the world know.

Posted by zp at March 10, 2006 10:47 AM

Nutella. Off a spoon. The whole jar.

It's a recent discovery for me and I'm making up for lost time.

Posted by Kim at March 10, 2006 12:27 PM

Kim, please. This is about food SHAMES. Eating an entire jar of nutella with a spoon is just, y'know. Smart.

Posted by peterb at March 11, 2006 07:13 AM

Wise Cheesy Poofs just leave my mouth feeling like grease and salt. The bestest cheese poof there are are Snyder of Berlin.
Gad, why can't I find these outside of pennsylvania?
Oh, and Surge, which has been reborn, christlike, into whatever cocoa cola is calling their new energy drink.

Posted by Shelby Davis at March 12, 2006 08:11 PM

"3. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I can more or less eat these until I go into a diabetic coma."


peanut butter is my food. i will eat it off a spoon, on crackers, on bread, whatever. peanut butter and cherry coke - they complete me.

Posted by Lindsey at March 13, 2006 12:37 PM

C'mon, what's not to like about Cheezy Poofs?

Posted by brenda at March 14, 2006 03:53 PM

Fruity Pebbles make the milk left in the bowl drinkable.
My food shame is eating frozen apple juice concentrate straight from the can. I only indulge in this when I am drunk, but it's like really sweet shaved ice.

Posted by Mayumi at March 21, 2006 11:49 PM

Please help support Tea Leaves by visiting our sponsors.

November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January