A bit of an editorial change of pace here on The Snack Blog today. In order to call myself an “Online Snack Journalist,” I should sometimes report on news and events relevant to the snack beat. Well, early this year, it was reported that longtime Chicago snack brand Vitner’s was being sold to the Los Angeles-based snack producer and distributor Snak King. While both parties have assured the public that no substantial changes will be made to their operations or products (just as all parties always do in a merger) I have decided that it may be a good time to shed some more serious light on the occasionally underrated line of snacks that Vitner’s has offered for almost 40 years. So, to honor this historic change in snack distribution, I will feature only Vitner’s products on The Snack Blog for the next week, starting today. Note that my intention will be to introduce you to these snacks rather than use them as a jumping-off point for my trademark musings. However, by NSFM Day 15, I’ll be back to my old format. Thanks for reading.
Featured snack: Vitner’s Baked Corn Pops
Rating: 6 hand-me-down Bulls championship t-shirts
Those of you that read The Snack Blog closely will have detected by now a distinct flavor of anti-elitism. It’s true that I view snacking as a democratic ideal that challenges the tyranny of prescribed meals. It is also true that I hold a certain disdain for the culture of self-congratulatory food obsession that has recently swept our nation.
That is why I really wish - deep in my heart - that I could say that Vitner’s Baked Corn Pops were just as good, or better, than Pirate’s Booty but it is simply not true. I wish I could tell you that the humble hometown hero was better than the flashy foodie favorite. I wish, with all of my being, that I could tell you honestly that in a fight, a bag of chips wearing sunglasses and playing a saxophone could kick the crap out of a skinny pirate with well-groomed facial hair but I can’t. I wish that the brand so rag-tag that a digital image of their product cannot even be found on their website could produce a better and cheaper snack than an outfit that still uses flash animation and sound effects loops on their insufferable tribute to early 2000’s web design but alas dear readers, I cannot.
To paraphrase the great Woody Allen: The taste buds want what they want. I would like this to show that for all my rhetoric about snacks and snacking, I will still report as faithfully and as objectively as possible to you, my readers, what snack tastes best. Unfortunately, all of the middle-class Chicago upbringings in the world cannot change the fact that Pirate’s Booty is lighter and tastier than Vitner’s greasier, slightly styrofoamy Corn Pops. Oh well.
Featured snack: String Cheese
Rating: 5 After-School Specials
There are plenty of snacks that involve cheese but very few that are cheese. That’s what makes String Cheese one of the best snacks ever - it makes it okay to just straight up eat a big old hunk of cheese.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with cheese and crackers - C&C’s place in The Snack Hall of Fame has been cemented for as far back as any snack historian can remember - but they often require considerable equipment, prep time, and assembly. String cheese does away with all the contrivance and cuts straight to the reason everyone showed up in the first place. It’s like being able to have Simon and Obama without Garfunkel and Biden. Like watching a Blu-ray without having to watch 20 minutes of promos about how awesome Blu-rays are or Downton Abbey without the inexplicable introduction by Laura Linney. Like having shitty movies without having the books they are based on that are written basically like screenplays to shitty movies. Like being able to cut a mediocre double album down into a kick-ass 12-track banger. I’m talking all killer, no filler. That’s what I’d like String Cheese to represent.
Featured snack - Premium Mixed Nuts (CVS brand)
Rating: 1,000,000 Credit Default Swaps
Honestly, I can’t believe how long it has taken me to say this out loud: one of the great triumphs of modern capitalism is the $5.99/10 oz. canister of Premium Mixed Nuts (no peanuts!). There is literally no snacking problem in the world that can’t be solved with this singular but multi-faceted delight. However, that’s only one of the reasons why PMN’s are the #1 motherfuckin’ Power Snack of all time.
If you’ve ever spent any time around the rich and powerful in a setting that falls anywhere in the spectrum between professional and social, you will know that there will no doubt be at least 20 lbs. of these puppies spread out amongst about 100 porcelain dishes in the vicinity. Why? Because PMN’s are the perfect vehicle for the most powerful snacking gesture known to man: “The Tumbler” (not to be confused with the popular single-vowelled blogging platform).
The Tumbler is the unique, one-handed gesture that precedes one of two actions: the rolling of dice or the casual tossing of items from a snack mix into one’s mouth from afar. It is meant not only to select and position the variously-shaped items of a snack mix into the proper position for direct trajectory, but also to convey a certain smug nonchalance in the performer. Nothing says, “I could ruin your life with a few strokes of the practically half-pound pen dangling out of the pocket of my blue Brooks Bros. oxford (with white collar and cuffs, of course - the apparent uniform of powerful assholes nationwide) you worthless slob. Now stop picking up your cashews one-at-a-time with your goddamned pinkie hanging out and a be a man.” like a Tumbler performed at the right event with the right attitude and timing (preferably with the other hand occupied with an actual tumbler of something single-malted and/or a simultaneous conspiratorial chuckle).
The truth is that PMN’s are, because of their considerable weight and multi-shapedness, the prime candidate for The Tumbler. However, it’s a good thing that they are also readily available to the rest of us for power snacking of any kind - like the Super Secret Snack Drawer variety irresistible to cubicle jockeys like yours truly. Here’s to one of my all-time top 5 (no kidding); Premium Mixed Nuts (NO PEANUTS!)!
Featured snack: “Salsa Rio” Doritos (Limited Edition!)
Rating: XLVI confused looks
Today is not only the 5th day of National Snack Food Month 2012 but the day of the 46th Super Bowl, a day that has become, for many, the most important single snacking event of the year. For my featured snack today I chose the mass-market snack that has arguably been the most closely associated with this televisual and cultural event.
For those who might dispute this claim, I will show a short highlight reel of great Super Bowl moments brought to you by the Doritos brand before I give my review of this snack.
1994 - Chevy Chase employs the popular “breaking the 4th wall’ technique of 90’s advertising to call even more attention to the spectacular failure of his short-lived late night show on Fox.
1995 - Recently defeated gubernatorial candidates Mario Cuomo and Ann Richards are featured in an attention-getting ad in which they discuss the prospect of Change (a “change” that turned out to be the dramatic change to the design of the Doritos bag.)
watch (unfortunately the add isn’t isolated on Youtube but the truly curious can wait until the 9 min mark)
1998 - Former Miss America Ali Landry becomes a household name overnight with a commercial for the now-discontinued Doritos 3D line.
2006 - Frito-Lay launches a contest in which fan-created Doritos ads compete to be aired during the big game. Some of the ads go on to become the most popular Super Bowl ads in recent memory inspiring uncreative marketers in every industry to attempt to cash in on the trend of “user generated content”.
Now that can’t I remember why I just spent the last hour hunting down and analyzing these videos (time better spent than actually watching the game, I guess) I suppose I should write some kind of review of the featured snack.
“Salsa Rio” (or “Red Sauce”) Doritos just taste like regular Doritos. They are a little more tomatoey, maybe. Just like yesterday, the nostalgia producing packaging had the most to do with why I chose the snack in the first place. Spoiler alert: marketing wins again.
Featured snack: Pearson’s Maple Bun
Rating: 100 those were the days
This product practically leaped out at me from the candy aisle of my local convenience store tonight. Amongst the shiny Peanut Butter Snickers and Reese’s Fast Breaks, it looked like it had been mistakenly transported from another decade. Of course, I was drawn not only to the quaint simplicity of the packaging but also the rare prospect of trying a maple flavored snack.
Sure enough, Pearson’s candy company has been around since 1909 but only added the “Maple Bun” to its roster in 1998 after acquiring the trademark from Clark Bar. Their flagship product was a little thing called a “Nut Goodie” which retailed for 5 cents at the height of its popularity in 1912 and, as far as I can tell, differs slightly or not at all from the Maple Bun - both feature “a creamy maple center covered with real milk chocolate and fresh unsalted Virginia peanuts.”
In terms of critical analysis, I should begin by saying that I did not have high expectations for this snack. I am not so naive that I would let nostalgia dictate my standards for taste (well, not usually). However, Pearson’s Maple Bun disappointed even my most moderate hopes.
To begin with, I found the “creamy maple center” to be about as appetizing as the words “creamy maple center” (should’ve seen that coming, I guess). The milk chocolate was waxy and the fresh unsalted Virginia peanuts failed to make any kind of impression (honestly, some salt might have helped).
Remarkably, this is what passed for delicious candy 100 years ago. How do we explain the fact that a snack so mediocre has survived a century in not only one but two forms? I assume that the nostalgia-factor recedes as the population that appreciates the memories associated with it do. Perhaps, like the other seemingly unsustainable but shockingly resilient phenomena of the American Experience (professional hockey, gross income inequality, lawns, etc.) some things are just so ingrained in our culture that no amount of taste and common sense can remove them.
Featured snack: 7/11 brand Hot Dog flavored potato chips
Rating: 1,060 Holy cows!
Review: When I first saw this product at the 7-11 near my place of employment, I actually looked around the store in disbelief like, “Is anyone else seeing this right now?” I literally couldn’t believe it.
Little did I know that many people nation-wide were not only seeing it, but writing about it. From Huffpo to Fill-in-the-blank-city-ist: these things were making an impression.
As well they should. I want you to know that I don’t throw around the phrase “Game Changer” a lot and even though I don’t believe snacking is a game, I have to think that if it was a game, it might be a game of baseball and, as we know, no undertaking of America’s favorite pastime is complete without America’s favorite sausage-based sandwich, not to mention that this imaginary “Game” has definitely been “Changed” by the introduction of this sausage-based sandwich-imitating snack. What?
Anyway, we’ve all heard about the amazing chemical feats of tongue-defying artificial flavoring pulled off by the famous “Flavor Factories” of New Jersey, thanks to Eric Schlosser’s indispensable account in “Fast Food Nation” and we’ve all heard about the stomach-turning grotesqueries of the modern mass-produced hot dog thanks to a lifetime of horror stories perpetrated by exactly the type of anti-American rumor mongers that populate this particular site of psuedo-journalism (and others like it). The question is: how could we have known that one day in 2012, one terrible institution devoted to the devolution of American cuisine would obsolesce the other?
Yeah, I said it. Hot dog flavored chips may very well destroy the hot dog industry. Here’s why:
The 3 flavors that make a hot dog undeniably delicious are, in order of importance, the same 3 flavors that meet your taste buds IN SEQUENCE (!) when you eat these miraculous 7-11 chips.
Those three flavors are, unequivocally (no matter how much Doug Sohn and his ilk want to add duck fat and whatever else to the list):
2) Nitratey/salty beefy fat juice taste
That’s it. That’s why me and everyone else craves a hot dog at least once a month. Now we can satiate that craving for a mere $.89 plus tax. I’ll leave it to others smarter than this snack blogger to decide whether this makes the world a better place or not but I can say with confidence that it makes the snacking world a lot more interesting and delicious.
Featured snack: Black Cherry Almond Clif Bar
Rating: 14 Carob-biners (see what I did there?)
Review: Here’s the thing: I like Clif Bars. I eat them on purpose because I think they taste good. I’m speaking mostly of my favorite variety, “Black Cherry Almond” which has a nice cross section of chocolateyness, chewiness, and nuttiness that is very satisfying and definitely does not feel like eating candy (even though the sugar content and caloric value isn’t too far off from your average candy bar).
The real reason that I like to eat Clif bars is because it provides for me an outlet to fantasize about a snack utopia where all food is compressed into convenient and portable units that preclude everyone from having to make the numerous complicated and difficult nutritional and aesthetic decisions surrounding food that inspire us to do the most deplorable things possible (like taking pictures of our dish when we go out to a restaurant- what is that?)
In my Snack Utopia, no one ever has to worry about what they are going to eat for lunch or how long it will take to travel to an eating place or if they will have to wait for a table when they get there or if the hostess will be dismissive and/or rude. They won’t constantly be talking about a new restaurant that opened in their neighborhood and what kind of vegetarian options it has or what they cooked at home the night before and which of the two grocery stores (Whole Foods or Trader Joes) they had to go to to get the ingredients for it. Instead they will simply go to the eating place and say, “One Food Unit, please.” and be able to spend the rest of their time and energy (an energy increased by their perfectly balanced diet, no doubt) on the things that matter to them and other people like work and spending time with friends and loved ones. Oh, and they will all dress like Future Alec Baldwin:
And they will never go rock climbing. Especially not on fake indoor rock walls.
Featured snack: Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers
Rating: 100 yums
Review: I thought I would kick off NSFM 2012 with a Classic. That’s with a capital C. The designation of Classic is reserved for those snacks that, no matter how many times you encounter them, never steer you wrong.
Speaking of steering, I feel it is my duty to make sure my readers know that the idea that real goldfish only have an attention span of 3 seconds is a myth that we use to feel okay about keeping them in small bowls. I also feel the need to point out that this was proven by a 15-year-old Australian boy, not a couple of smart asses with a show on cable.
Anyway, I’m not saying that there aren’t cheese flavored crackers that are more flavorful, or even animal-shaped snacks that are more fun. I am saying that Goldfish Crackers exist at a perfect nexus of innocent, wholesome fun and utter deliciousness and relatively guilt-free snackability FOR A REASON.
To prove it, I will again bring to your attention the Pinkie Sweep Maneuver. In an earlier entry, I coined this term to describe the gesture used to most efficiently dislodge the build-up that certain snack products inevitably leave between the molars and the inside of one’s cheek (you know the one). You also know from experience that:
a) Goldfish Crackers are arguably the most effective snack at producing this build-up.
b) The Pinkie Sweep is difficult to perform with any amount of grace or dignity and is rarely performed in polite company by self-respecting adults.
I would like to suggest that the reason that Goldfish Crackers have been tirelessly engineered and re-engineered by the people at Pepperidge Farm (who even after years of successful branding added the trademark eyes and smile to the fish shape in 1997) for the maximum amount of innocent, wholesome fun is not to make them more appealing to children (to whom the snack has always been notoriously appealing) but rather to effect the proper amount of childhood reversion in adults necessary to inspire the guilelessness required to perform the Pinkie Sweep without guilt or apology. I would like to suggest that this careful engineering was taken on because they (meaning these Pepperidge Farm geniuses, in their almost inconceivable snacking wisdom) realized that it is not just uncomfortable or unpleasant but nearly impossible to enjoy a handful of their product without the relief that a properly executed Pinkie Sweep provides.
If you think this claim dubious, then I challenge you, reader, to purchase a standard 1.5 oz bag of Goldfish Crackers (available wherever snacks are sold) and eat the whole thing without once performing a Pinkie Sweep. Then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello snacking friends.
It’s February, which means that, according the Snack Food Association of America, it is National Snack Food Month (henceforth NSFM). Ever since my friend Ellen first told me about this fake holiday invented by industry insiders in order to boost sales during a typically slow season, I’ve decided to, each February, make it a personal goal to eat a different mass-marketed snack every day of the month and share what it makes me think and feel. Why? Because I think snacking is important. Also, it allows me to pass off my abhorrent eating habits as a charming quirk.
Since I started blogging about my thoughts regarding snacks in 2007. The number of outlets, big and small, that have entered into the arena of what I like to call “Online Snack Journalism” has grown considerably to the point where it seems that another voice of snack criticism is no longer needed, especially one that is so clearly personal and biased. However, after some deep think/snacking, I have decided not to let the panoply of voices deter me from adding my own. This is, after all, The Internet which, as far as I can tell, has mostly to do with a lot of people saying the same things over and over again with sometimes someone saying something new. If I can be that person once or twice this month, all the better.
So dear readers, instead of giving up my project now, when NSFM is under more criticism than ever, I have decided to continue into the 3rd year of my personal experiment in snacking, this time with an emphasis on the personal. In this way I hope to provide a unique perspective and share something worthy of myself with you, my fellow snackers. I appreciate all of your support and feedback during this (leap) month. So I wish you a happy National Snack Food Month 2012 and, as always, I wish you
Snack Blog reader Mercedes writes:
“Do you make your own trail mix, and if so, what do you put in it?”
Weirdly enough, I have never bothered to make my own trail mix although it seems like a great idea. Trail mix is one of my favorite snacks but it rarely has all of the ingredients I crave. I do know that if I ever did mix my own, there are things that would definitely be high on the list of things to include. Such as:
Raisins or craisins
Freeze-dried pineapple chunks
There are also things that I would definitely NOT want to include:
M&M’s or any other kind of chocolate
Those chewy dried date sticks - so gross
Dried, sweetened banana
Also - this one might be controversial but I would not include sunflower seeds. I love them and while there might be something to be said for their ability to draw the different elements of a trail mix together, they are simply too small. They collect at the bottom of the bag, throwing off the delicate ratio and making it more seed-heavy at the end of the mix than the beginning. Another idea for something lighten the mix might be cereal. I happen to think that Cheerios are really tasty on their own and could lend an nice oatey texture to a mix. Alternative trail mix ingredient suggestions are heartily encouraged from all Snack Blog readers.
Thanks for writing Mercedes.