When I was a kid, I ate all kinds of stuff that wasn’t exactly healthful. I feasted on Twinkies, binged Pringles and crammed sugar-drenched Cheerios into my mouth with abandon.
It’s a wonder I’m still alive.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. There are food items I not only swore off, but actually began to wonder why I ever ate in the first place. Or why they existed in the first place. In that spirit, I decided it was time to revisit my childhood through food, so I took a trip to Kroger in search of my lost youth. Here’s a rundown on how my palate receives these food items today.
Hostess Donettes: I couldn’t find any Twinkies, so I grabbed my second Hostess obsession, which were the little, chocolate-covered Donettes. I would sometimes eat two packs at a time of these six-count little morsels, which were just caked doughnuts coated in weird, waxy chocolate.
When I take the first bite of one decades later, I immediately remember the distinctive flavor, and a rush of happiness comes back to me. By No. 4, I am done, as my mouth feels like it had been painted with three coats of sugar. Disgusting.
Chunk light tuna straight from the can: No mayo for me, thank you, just a little salt. That’s right, I put salt on the canned-food item that probably has the most sodium of anything else in the grocery store. Canned tuna often will sit in a warehouse for months before it hits the supermarket shelf, so it is cooked and re-cooked (even once while already in the can) to ensure shelf life. That also helps give it that weird fishy smell and flavor.
So, I open a can of Kroger brand chunk light (which I sometimes buy for my dog as a treat, mind you), and the first bite tastes pretty good. But it doesn’t take long before that weird, fishy flavor creeps in. And what are those dark spots? The scary part is, as I finish off the stuff, I eventually find myself getting re-acclimated to the flavor. This is not a good thing.
Chef Boyardee Ravioli: I always preferred Mini Ravioli over regular, because there usually is more sauce in the can. So, I heat the stuff up on the stove in a pan, just like Mom used to do, and the aroma takes me back. I start to dig in, and immediately see that two mini raviolis have become stuck back to back — yep, they’re still cold inside. I hate that.
Anyway, after a few bites of this weirdly-tinny and -tangy stuff, it occurs to me that this is not a flavor that occurs in nature. Or a color, for that matter, this nuclear-orange sauce. The noodles are almost slimy. And yet, I love it, and I eat every bite. With gusto. It’s like going back in time.
Armor Vienna Sausages: First, an aside. I had a can of these things in my cupboard that was gag-gifted to me in 2009. For fun, I decided to open them, expecting the worst. Guess what? They still looked, smelled and tasted (I took only one small bite!) exactly as they should. Yes, folks, 2009. Think about that.
So I open a new can, and they taste just like the 2009 version, which tasted just like the 1973 version I used to eat with my grandpa when we went fishing. It’s a tough flavor to describe, but here’s my best shot: bologna light.
What is that lake of goo oozing from these things? Why do they stick together even after you dump them out of the can? And why are they weirdly creamy? The flavor is vaguely metallic with a strange brightness, mixed with lots of sodium. Sure, it takes me back to fishing with my grandpa, but I still wish ol’ Pappaw had splurged on lunch meat once in a while. Yuck.
Armor Potted Meat Food Product: I always refer to this stuff as poor man’s paté. It is basically meat puree, made from God only knows what animal parts. I ate this stuff almost daily as a kid, and now I’m not sure I can finish an entire can of the 50-cent spread. It tastes like a mustard-soaked version of Vienna Sausages, but with a creepy, unsettling texture. Pure salt. And yet… somehow, I seem to be getting used to the oddness with each bite. Wait, then the aftertaste hits. Ugh. This is, at best, apocalypse food. Lord help me if I ever eat this again, because it surely will mean civilization as we know it is in a dire place. Nothing to see here.