Over the weekend, for reasons mostly unknown (but at least partly because of Wendyl Nissen), I broke a 20-year habit of shunning uber-fake snack foods of the Twisties, Rashuns and Cheezles kind.
To explain what, at a glance, might seem like a rather epic boycott of junk food, I need to take you back to the ‘halcyon’ (i.e. mostly horrid) days of Takapuna Grammar School, circa 1990. I was 14 years old, skinny as a rake and with an unhealthy penchant for hair gel. Like all teenage boys I was a creature of base interests, not least of which was an inordinate fondness for aforementioned crap-tastic snacks, in all their luridly coloured and synthetically flavoured glory. It was around this time I befriended a guy – let’s call him Bubba – with a mouthful of metal and passion for junk food to rival even my own. He seemed to subsist almost exclusively on my most beloved Burger Rings. On top of this he laughed at my jokes, so for a time I was platonically smitten. The trouble was, on account of the veritable Chrysler grill clamped to Bubba’s teeth, a good percentage of everything he put in his mouth was waylaid, in the form of a wet, cakey grimace which leered back at you. Worse still, whenever he became over excited in conversation – which was frequently – dollops of this foul porridge would break free and hurtle towards you. After many lunch breaks and morning teas of politely enduring this sodden, stinking mortar fire I finally snapped. It was around the time he scored a direct hit into my mouth as I recall. Extremely harsh words were exchanged – and being teenage boys quickly forgotten. I learned to avoid Bubba around meal times and developed a stomach churning aversion/mild nervous complex related to all of my previously favourite faux-foods.
For 20 long years the disgusting eating habits of a 14-year- old boy kept me on the straight and narrow (well ‘ish’ anyway). All until I opened the Herald on Saturday morning and found an article by Wendyl Nissen (part of an excellent ongoing series), which presented a layman’s breakdown of what goes into Bluebirds’ Twisties. Rather surprisingly the news wasn’t too bad. The classic cheese(esque) curls may not be a health food per sé, but they contain nothing too terrible either-with the possible exception of m.s.g, which isn’t anywhere near as evil as some would have you believe.
A little later on that day, while treading the aisles of New World and still thinking about Wendyls’ revealtions, I walked past a display of Bluebirds’ other old classic, Rashuns. A quick scan of the ingredients list revealed them to be very similar to Twisties, in other words not all that bad. I hadn’t even thought of Rashuns for years. I used to think about them rather a lot. Basically, whenever I wasn’t eating them. Rashuns, with their bacony, cheesy and blatantly fake flavour! I started to wonder… could I?
Well as it transpires, yes I could and they were every bit as gloriously synthetic as I remember. It took the contents of an entire bag (don’t they come in small bags anymore?) to convince me of this. But as they settled in my stomach and the inevitable self-loathing set in I started to wonder, why do I like these? I have wonderful free-range streaky bacon in the fridge and a veritable library of outrageously good cheeses. So why do these horrible little chemical-puff proxies still appeal? Wasn’t I raised better than that (yes- sorry Mum)? Aren’t I too sophisticated, too well groomed for such things?
Of course not! I am painfully aware, that as someone who spends a lot of time writing, thinking and talking about food, there is a danger of taking oneself, and the whole fluffy business of food, a little too seriously. So it’s quite reassuring to learn that I still have a few common-as-mud, shameful tastes. And don’t we all?