Monday, 6 February 2017

Sweet, Popped Little Morsels of Excellence

The holiday season, regardless of the creation-redemption lore we subscribe to, brings with it a tendency for all of us to step back a few paces, assess our lives, and consider issues and ideas of great moment and gravitas. It is during times like these, as we are all wrapped in great swaths of collective social goodness, that I tend to select critical problems to resolve, problems which may have been dwelling well beforehand within the murky depths of self.

There are plenty to deal with, clearly: the recession and bailout, the Madoff Ponzi, taking Afghanistan seriously again, giving Iraq back to the Iraqis, Blagojevichian hijinks in Illinois, crazy mad weather, ridiculously high expectations of the new anointed guy, recovering from the lows achieved with ease by the last one, Russia resurgent in the Western Hemisphere, Chinese military modernization, an intransigent Iran, and an impatient, increasingly reactionary Israel. So many things. So very many things.

So, this year I’ve chosen to work on the issue of which caramel/toffee popcorn snack is best.

My colleague, Dave, and I have been worrying over this conundrum for several weeks. Our solution-set is easily definable. The work is rewarding. Whatever the answer is, it is sure to be found within a group consisting of Fiddle-Faddle, Poppycock, Cracker Jack, Crunch ‘n Munch, and the late, great Screaming Yellow Zonkers.

How does one rate these delectables? Well, it’s simple. We must do what all critics do and set out some basic criteria. For example, if I’m reviewing a film, I might break it down and take a look at such individual components as acting, plot, cinematography, originality, editing, special effects, costume, direction, lighting, cultural symbolism, level of irony, respect for the audience, and catering selection. I would hope that as I disaggregate things and analyze them individually in a systematic and sufficient way, I’d have a better holistic assessment at the end. In theory, anyway.

Likewise for the case at hand with these challenging snacks. These were our criteria:

* Kernel Lightness — it should be airy and cloud-like
* Kernel Size — 3-4 per good mouthful
* Colour of the Toffee Glaze — amber is ideal
* Spelling of the word, “Colour”– it should be with a “u”
* Taste — buttery sweet blasts of fluffy crunchy richness should assault the mouth
* Consistency of the Glaze — not gooey, but crisp and clicky when you bite into it
* Proportion of Kernel-to-Nut — 8:1 is optimum
* Kernel-to-Nut binding characteristics — the nut needs to be firmly bound to the kernels, not separate
* Name — it must be right for the product, and respectful of the eater
* History — it should be culturally iconic

So, we went through the rigor of the process, assuming that all criteria had the same weight. Of course, they probably don’t, but this is an irrelevant bit of white blog noise, not an article for Nature, so we’ve taken some methodological shortcuts.

Initially, we wanted to mark the product down if it was manufactured by a huge conglomerate. That didn’t work out because pretty much every food product in the United States of America is made by ConAgra (except for some interesting sorghum-based breakfast cereals made fresh by a chap name Clive, somewhere in the Dakotas). So, since the conglomerate criterion proved to be entirely non-diagnostic, we wrote it off. We also removed Screaming Yellow Zonkers from consideration because it stopped production when its manufacturer, Lincoln Foods, was gobbled up by ConAgra in 2007. Too bad, because legend has it that an SYZ box actually made it into the Louvre.

Process minefields aside, here are the results we realize you anticipate greatly:

#1 was Cracker Jack (75 pts). Though it fell short on glaze consistency, toffee quality, and peanut binding, it finished very strong with maximum points for historical iconography (”Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Does anything more need to be said?). We also like the name very much. We like to be associated with Cracker Jack, even to be called one. “Kid, you’re a cracker jack, a real cracker jack” has a very wholesome retro vibe about it, which we feel good about. Sort of like, “I like ya, kid. Ya got moxie.”

#2 was Poppycock (73 pts). It missed the mark, but battled well. Poppycock was the clear favorite on metrics of taste and overall component quality. We especially liked the toffee texture and the buttery honey-like burst it gave us in every bite. It would have won easily if it had at least some historical relevance. It didn’t. In actual fact, Poppycock seems to be the product of focus groups and food-industry bureaucrats. A lot of flash bang with its shameless almonds and baroque use of pecans, but no soul at all. We also had a major problem with the name, Poppycock. We found it to be quite rudely dismissive. It’s in the same league as Fiddle-Faddle, in that regard. It feels as if we said something that ConAgra thought was stupid, and they responded corporately with, “Oh, poppycock.” or, “That’s just fiddle-faddle.” It begged the question for Dave and I as to why ConAgra doesn’t yet have a product called Pish Posh. And if they did, what would it be?

#3 was Crunch ‘n Munch (69 pts). Good effort. We both think it is a decent snack, but suffers from lack of historical importance. Apart from a (failed) attempt in 2004 by the Yankees to replace Cracker Jack with a Crunch ‘n Munch concession, it’s got nothing. We had problems with the name on this one, too. We found it to be far too directive. It is telling us what to do. “Hey you. Take this and Crunch it. Then Munch it.” We don’t like to be told what to do, unless it is Monica Bellucci doing the telling. We also thought the order of the command was illogical. We both agree that one munches before one crunches, not vice versa. It is simply the way of things.

#4 was Fiddle-Faddle (48 pts). This score actually comes across as more negative than it needs to be. We have already addressed the dismissive nature of the name above, with Poppycock. But Fiddle-Faddle suffers in the scoring from its inherent and tragic lack of nuts. We had a couple of criteria which were very nut-centric, and so couldn’t give poor Fiddle-Faddle any points for those. This caused it to suffer in the final reckoning; though we both found it pretty tasty.

There; that issue is resolved. Now I can go back to work on reducing global suffering. Happy New Year.

No comments:

Post a Comment