25 January 2013


This post might reflect negatively on my mother’s parenting skills, but no food has proved more formative in my development than Smarties. I was potty trained on Smarties. I sat through hair cuts with the promise of Smarties as a reward. I learned about the subtle nuances of colour because of Smarties (and as a result had the self-satisfaction of informing people that “mauve” was my favourite colour, and not just "purple").
On the left are the Smarties of my childhood. On the right are the Smarties of your child's childhood.
 But in 2009, Nestle, bowing to public pressure (I hate when corporations bow to public pressure)*, removed the artificial colouring agents. The result was devastating. First of all, they look terrible. They look like those cheap, shitty, knock-off Smarties that you would sometimes find in bulk sections of a shabby and run-down store and that your mom would buy for you because she didn’t know any better (I mean, obviously not my mum, but one of those less adept mothers who are always arguing that that the cheaper knock-off versions are the same as the real thing). But more importantly, they also taste terrible, and it turns out that the most delicious part of a Smartie was the artificial colour in the candy shell. By removing the artificial colouring from Smarties, Nestle has managed only to make Smarties taste more artificial--if only because the original Smarties established an expectation of taste which is now inevitably disappointed; they taste artificial not because they once tasted like a "natural" food but because they no longer taste like Smarties, and to continue to taste like Smarties is the only responsibility they have to the consumer. Nestle never made any attempt to sell kids or parents on the health benefits of Smarties, and as far as I know, they have never even succumbed to that pathetic marketing ploy of saying that Smarties are "part of" a balanced diet or that they are a "good source" of calcium. Smarties are, and always have been, a treat, that is to say, a deviation from your normal dietary routine.

Smarties were important to me not just because they were my favourite candy or because I was rewarded with them and through them learned to perform certain tasks or to behave in a certain way; they were important to me because they were this material item that, at the time, seemed more anchored in reality than I did. I grasped at Smarties as a means by which I might build on or understand my own identity through something tangible and stable. It wasn’t important to me whether or not other people recognized me as that kid who really liked Smarties, but it was absolutely crucial to me that I be able to recognize myself as that kid who loved Smarties more than any other kid in the entire world. They also served to imbue me with a sense of national identity because, at the time, the only identifiable difference to me between Canadians and Americans was that there were Smarties in Canada but not in the States.

The most recent Smartie advertisement I’ve seen was one in which teens showed off their talent--like playing guitar or rollerblading--and the catchphrase at the end was “show your true colours.” But the old ads with the tagline, "When I eat my Smarties, I eat the red ones last" were so much better. I loved these ads, in part because I could see myself as a deviation from what Nestle had established as the norm: I obsessively made sure that I never ate the red ones last. I was terrified that if I did eat the red ones last, I would just be like every other fool who ate the red ones last only because they had tricked themselves into thinking that this was something they truly desired or that truly defined them as a Smartie-eater. But on the other hand, this kind of ad also granted access into a community of those who did eat the red ones last. Instead of trying to celebrate a sense of belonging (and, as a result, setting up a structure of community that one could define themselves against), Smarties is now trying to insist on a sense of celebrating difference and individuality--“our colours”--which is kind of ironic given that every Smartie in the box looks is a nearly identical greyish-brown colour. Although I don't like the connection Nestle is trying to make between "true" and "natural," this advertising scheme certainly makes more sense that sticking with the old "eat the red ones last" campaign since there no long are any red ones to eat last.

I remember trying to figure out whether or not different colours of Smarties corresponded to different flavours. I knew, even at such a young age, that of course they didn't. But being able to argue that purple is the best "flavour" is a great synesthetic experience in and of itself. So many of my vivid childhood memories are tied to Smarties, and it's as if I have lost the opportunity to ever experience those memories in a sensual** way again. Up until 2009, eating Smarties always made me recall what it was I thought about and how I felt when I was little and eating Smarties. Perhaps it’s worth noting here that the definition of nostalgia isn’t just a longing for the past, but that there is pain built into that process: it’s like going home only to realise that your home is a different colour than when you left it.

*I understand that a corporation like Nestle is only concerned with selling its product. But it's the responsibility of a corporation (especially a corporation like Nestle that makes products that are not necessary) not to cater its products to the public, but to create a need or desire where one doesn't actually exist. And this is something that Nestle in the past (albeit with disastrous results) proven itself to be particularly masterful at.
**Not that I have the desire to experience toilet training specifically in a sensual way, but I am referring more to the sense of accomplishment and how that accomplishment was rewarded.

To eat Smarties was once my favourite activity

But ruining things is, for concerned parents, a natural proclivity
And now something that was one part delicious and one part aesthetic

Was said to be carcinogenic and made their children frenetic

And other arguments that were similarly pathetic.

So in a move that was justified as health sensitivity
And marketed by Smarties as snack progressivity 

(but in reality is just deplorable corporate reactivity),
They switched to the “natural” instead of the synthetic.
And although I would like to try and be apathetic,
It’s hard when Nestle isn’t even remotely apologetic.

24 January 2013

The Bison Burger

2013 has been, so far, a year of new discoveries. Well, of one discovery. And actually, I discovered this last year, but the ramifications have been rippling outward ever since. I have often seen “Bison Burgers” listed on menus, but until December 2012, I had always assumed that in this context, “bison” only referred to a breed of cattle or a kind of beef, like “angus.” Admittedly, although being a lover of burgers, I know very little about them or the different kinds of beef that go into them (or even that there is such a thing as “a different kind of beef”). I certainly never imagined that we have the option of eating actual bison burgers, because if obsessively playing Oregon Trail throughout elementary school or looking at that picture of all those buffalo* skulls (and I always imagine Teddy Roosevelt standing on top of this, but I think I am just confusing this photo with the one of T-Roos and the elephant) has taught me anything, it’s that we have killed far too many bison and now they don’t exist. I personally used to kill several thousand pounds worth of bison, and as it would not all fit in my wagon, it was presumably left on the plains to rot.

Learning that bison burgers are actually made from bison was a strange moment for me. I was at once forced to acknowledge two pieces of information that I always carry with me, but that I have never once actually put together: 1) that yes, the European settlers did slaughter pretty much all the bison and then compiled their remains into a mountain of bones, and 2) that my elementary school music teacher breeds (or perhaps bred?) bison, so of course they must still exist and exist substantial enough numbers that would suggest we can make burgers out of bison meat. But the idea of bison burgers seems kind of grotesque and unnecessary to me. 
When I first looked at this finished product, I thought, Wow. What a
dream come true! A mountain of burgers!
But a mountain of burgers would
be so disgusting in reality. They would be so soggy and soft and you couldn't
actually perch atop them, like this gentleman is doing, because that soggy
mass of bread and meat couldn't possibly support your weight. And while
slowly sinking into a pit of old burgers isn't the worst fate, I think it's one I
would nevertheless meet with an annoyed "Ew."
I really want to stress here that I do not care where out meat comes from. If I were to care about the ethics of factory farming, then I would probably have to stop eating that meat, and I honestly cannot be bothered about animal welfare enough to even slightly complicate my life by paying more for or by tracking down a place that sells ethically raised meat. And yet, on one hand, I kind of feel like maybe we should just leave the bison alone because I don’t trust anyone to not slaughter them all at once in an orgiastic frenzy of gore, since that seems to be how we typically interact with bison. But on the other hand, even if we have developed a moderated way of rearing and slaughtering bison, I still don’t want to eat it. I wouldn’t eat a bison burger no matter how it was raised or where it came from or how much it cost because bison give me the impression of being too wild and too unkempt to actually eat. Thinking of them reminds me of that time Rory (and his family) came to sheer one of our alpacas (Tommy Tippy Toes, for the record), but in the end the alpaca hair (fur?) was too tangled and frizzy and full of various materials from our field to be useful to anyone and eventually it was all just thrown away, and the idea of trying to extract meat from a bison carcass makes me worry that the inevitable dust and old twigs would get into the meat and would remain there throughout the cooking process and that I would be forever pulling out random things out of the burger. And also? Bison burgers are just one more food on a long list of foods that I absolutely do not need in my life. Why would I need to supplement my beef burger intake with bison burgers? I am always worrying that I am not eating nearly enough burgers as it is, and I approach every burger opportunity with relish (not with actual pickle-relish, because that is disgusting) and am not willing to sacrifice even one of these occasions in favour of trying a different kind of burger that I already know to be totally redundant and superfluous because I have already discovered the burgers that I like.

*I am only learning now that buffalo and bison are not the same animal. I always thought that bison was the plural form of buffalo.

Everyone says bison is better than beef:
More vitamins, leaner meat, and environmental relief.
But I don’t care enough about the ethics of factory farming
to eat a bison burger--what I consider to be a form of self-harming
Besides, you don’t have to act the act just to look the look:

Simply present an ethical image of yourself for all to see on facebook.

The Hiatus

As some of my more avid readers may have noticed, I recently enjoyed a 2+ month hiatus from blogging about food I don't like. This hiatus was inexplicable even to myself. Although there is an endless supply of topics from which I could draw on, it was as if I had lost my passion for trying to explain why it is I won't eat certain foods.

I tried, on multiple occasions, to write new posts on plums, Christmas dinner, and buns (all of which will hopefully be forthcoming at some point), but I didn't feel the same intensity that I had felt when writing the posts on eggplants, eggs, or salad, and so they never came to fruition. I have just finished a piece on bison burgers--which I will post immediately following this--but in all honesty, it was a struggle to write and the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

My recent struggles with writing make me question whether or not this blog was the right decision for me, and whether or not I will ever achieve my dream of compiling a nearly exhaustive manuscript that documents my eating habits. Both seem unlikely, but at any rate, I shall leave you with these fragments I have shored against my ruins.