In 21st century America, we lack a guiding cultural mythos; the Transformers, Power Rangers, Teddy Ruxpin - these are the foundational truths upon which our ad hoc society runs. In fact, shared nostalgia is the only glue holding things together. If the memory of Family Matters was wiped from our cultural consciousness tomorrow, the great cities of man would burn.
Lunchables - boxed lunches for kids distributed by the Oscar Meyer corporation - are a keystone tenet for the sad civilization we inhabit. They're everything about America that we love and loathe, conveniently packaged in a brightly colored box.
I've not had a Lunchable since elementary school, but I remember the feeling. Walking into the cafeteria with one was like walking into a pawn shop with a handful of blood diamonds - you were a king among men, lording your yellow scepter over the legions with bag lunches, leftovers, school food, and that one kid whose parents packed magazines instead of food.
I wanted to know how well modern Lunchables would stack up to my lofty, almost reverent memories of them. One day I was running late to work and didn't have time to make lunch. I stopped at Kroger, and they beckoned me from their gilded seat in the refrigerated case.
With a grin and a wink, I decided it was time; I should have known I was once more getting on the Ferris wheel of failure, the one named "Expectations".
Here's the packaging you know and love, branded yellow and red because Oscar Meyer knows these are nature's danger colors.
The back of this particular box advertises a contest that allows kids to make a video game, and it inexplicably features a cel shaded Evan Matthew Cohen, best known as one of the Krelboynes from Malcolm in the Middle.
It's a neat contest until you realize kids are unaware that their ideas, and any revenue generated therefrom, become the sole property of Oscar Meyer upon submission. This information is tucked away inside the box, and looks like this:
which every child sees as this:
and then this:
They should have called it the Lunchables: Life is Suffering contest.
I opened the Lunchable from the wrong side because I possess adult man strength, and also as a warning - when the police find the box with the "easy open zip strip" still intact next to the body of another dead hooker, they'll know who they're dealing with.
Here's the basic setup that hasn't change in two decades: crackers, cheese, meat, dessert, and juice.
Oscar Meyer didn't add a toy, they didn't create a mascot; they know you're a parent buying MRE's for children, or an adult eating them between reruns of Night Court. You need them.
I already knew the Capri Sun would be the most fulfilling part of the experience.
In the household I grew up in, my younger brother was the unilateral arbiter of Capri Sun flavors. His constant decree was "Bring me Wild Cherry! More and more Wild Cherry! Now kneel!" I'd suggest we liven things up with a Citrus, or a Pacific Cooler, and maybe not do the kneeling thing, but he'd always bring his iron fist down. To this day I'm excited when I get a Capri Sun that doesn't taste of acetophenone, which is what science thinks cherries taste like.
Capri Sun, you don't need to tell us how much sugar the other leading juice brands have.
You sound like the kid in the back of the room who tattled to the teacher about the other boys having spit ball shooters; focus on you being good, and let us worry about the other leading juice drinks.
Did anyone else know Capri Suns expired?
I thought if you put something in a shiny silver package it lasted forever, which is why I've been wrapping my hopes up like baked potatoes since high school. Don't tell me what to do, Capri Sun.
Once I'd jammed my straw into the pouch like an individual, I was left with a problem I've struggled with since childhood - the Capri Sun tail.
This vestigial sleeve of plastic will doggedly scrape your chin while you try to enjoy your all natural, no artificial flavors 10% juice beverage.
I accidentally purchased the less-fat Lunchable, an option I didn't even know existed. This revelation came on black wings, feasting upon hope, for I was not only eating a quasi-novelty food stuff, I was eating a low-fat quasi-novelty food stuff. This did not bode well.
The first thing I noticed was that the ham sported lumps of some sort.
On closer inspection, I realized they were tiny clumps of shredded ham. Was the advertised "40% water added" in fact added to cardboard shavings to make the discs? I dubbed these blobs "ham fluff" and studiously ignored both them and whatever blasphemy of a meat rendering process was responsible.
Despite the dubious quality, I was able to create the tableau from the box front with a high degree of success. It's a point in the Lunchable's favor that they actually look like their picture, unlike all food everywhere else.
Meanwhile, I pondered - have Lunchables always called themselves "Lunch Combinations"? How many possible combinations can there be? Let's find out!
When I finally ate my playthings, I was struck by the horror of it all.
Rather than ham, crackers, and cheese, they tasted like the idea of ham, the possibility of crackers, and the suggestion of cheese; I wouldn't be surprised to learn there's only one Lunchable - a proto-Lunchable, if you will - and the others are only imperfect copies of that template, assembled by the mom-robots at Oscar Meyer.
What I am trying to say is that you will be motherfucking hungry when you are done with your shadow meal, and you will be angry in direct proportion to how much you loved them as a child.
At first glance the pudding wasn't appetizing.
It looked like a muddy pot hole, or the cross section of a hobo's lung. Nevertheless, Jell-o was proud of their creation.
Calm down, Jell-o. Don't go all "Capri-Sun" on us. We get that you made pudding with no fat. We're all excited about it too, but I think the Nobel committee might overlook your achievement for another year.
I gave it a stir it and it looked measurably better, glistening in all the right ways. I even tried to smooth the pudding into a tiny, perfect mirror so I could scry on Snow White, but I had mixed success - I ended up watching one of the dwarves put on all of her clothes for awhile. It made me feel dirty...but excited.
I initially grabbed a white office spoon to eat the pudding with, not trusting in Oscar Meyer to provide me with one. When I found red spoon enclosed, it was like pudding cup's old boyfriend was meeting up with new boyfriend.
While red spoon luxuriated in pudding cup's embrace, self satisfied smirk on his ruddy face, white spoon gazed on, envious, wishing he had arms to cross.
Meanwhile, I looked at them both and hoped no one at work with visited the back corner of the library to see me drawing faces on spoons. That's the kind of thing that shows up on an annual review, then on a psych eval.
The Lunchable stared down at himself with an expression usually reserved for the gut shot.
The pudding was smeared around his irregular face hole, the scraps laid at his box bottom; he'd been greedy and he'd gone too far this time. He'd gone too far.
He could hear the sirens in the background, growing closer. The lunch police were on their way. He knew he couldn't do hard time in the 'fridge - he was too soft, too full of post-consumer waste. Before he could talk himself out of it, he grabbed the scissors and recycled himself between the eyes.
Are Lunchables worth eating? I don't doubt that the whole fat versions are exactly how you remember them, only less filling and delicious because you're not seven anymore. The Capri Sun is a quenching draught, and Jell-o's much touted fat free pudding closely approximates real pudding. Furthermore, the product line has noticeably expanded, and you can find Lunchables in pizza, chicken nugget, even sub sandwich varieties. Steer clear of the low-fat option, however, unless you want to eat like an Oregon Trail family on grueling rations.
But if you're an adult, there's no way to eat a Lunchable that doesn't leave you feeling hollow inside, like you're watching from the platform while all the good things in life leave on a train, forever.
I did the review like you told me, Oscar Meyer. Where's my coupon?