21 April 2009

Culture Spot: Junk Food Heaven

Extracted and abridged from Notes From a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Some weeks ago I announced to my wife that I was going to the supermarket with her next time she went because the stuff she kept bringing home was not fully in the spirit of American eating. Here we were living in a paradise of junk food - the country that gave the world cheese in a spray can - and she kept bringing home healthy stuff like fresh broccoli and packets of Ryvita.

It was because she was English, of course. She didn’t really understand the rich, unrivalled possibilities for greasiness and goo that the American diet offers. I longed for artificial bacon bits, cheese in a shade of yellow unknown to nature and creamy chocolate fillings, sometimes all in the same product. I wanted food that squirts when you bite into it or plops onto your shirt in gross quantities. So I accompanied her to the supermarket and while she was off squeezing melons and pricing mushrooms I made for the junk food section - which was essentially all the rest of the Store. Well, it was heaven.

The breakfast cereals alone could have occupy me for most of the afternoon. There must have been 200 types, and I am not exaggerating. The most immediately arresting was called Cookie Crisp, which tried to pretend it was a nutritious breakfast but was really just chocolate chip cookies that you put in a bowl and ate with milk. Brilliant.

I grabbed a box of the cereals and sprinted back to the trolley.

‘What’s that?’ my wife asked in the special tone of voice with which she often addresses me in retail establishments.

‘Breakfast,’ I panted as I dashed past, ‘and don’t even think about putting it back and getting muesli.’
I had no idea how the market for junk food had grown. Everywhere I turned I was confronted with foods guaranteed to make you waddle, including a whipped marshmallow sandwich spread called Fluff, which came in a tub large enough to bath a baby in.

It was the breakfast pizza that finally made my wife snap. She looked at the box and said, ‘No.’
‘I beg your pardon, my sweet?’

‘You are not bringing home something called breakfast pizza. I will let you have’ - she reached into the trolley for some samples - ‘Cookie Crisp and Toaster Pastries and...’ She lifted out a packet she hadn’t noticed before. ‘What’s this?’

I looked over her shoulder. ‘Microwave pancakes,’ I said.

‘Microwave pancakes,’ she repeated, but with less enthusiasm.

‘Isn’t science wonderful?’ I said.

‘You’re going to eat it all,’ she said. ‘Every bit of everything that you don’t put back on the shelves now. You do understand that?’

‘Of course,’ I said in my sincerest voice.

And do you know she actually made me eat it. I spent weeks working my way through a symphony of American junk food, and it was awful. Every bit of it.

dash verb [intransitive]
to run or go somewhere very quickly because you are in a hurry
dash into / out of / across etcI dashed out into the street still in my pajamas.
Maria came dashing down the stairs.
filling noun [countable]
the cream, fruit etc that forms the inside part of a cake or pie
a pie with cherry filling
goo noun [informal – uncountable]
any thick, sticky, unpleasant substance
grab verb [transitive]
to take hold of something in a rough or rude way
He grabbed the knife before I could get to it.
greasiness noun [uncountable]
consisting of or covered with oil; state or quality of being greasy
This new shower gel helps fight skin greasiness.
make for verb [transitive]
to move towards a place
He picked up his umbrella and made for the door.
pant verb
1. [intransitive]
to breathe very loudly with your mouth open, for example, when you have been running or exercising
Louisa banged the door shut and leaned against it, panting.
2. [transitive]
to say something while you are panting
’I can’t go any further,’  he panted.
plop verb [informal - transitive/intransitive]
to drop something carelessly but gently onto a surface
reach + preposition verb [transitive]
to move your hand, arm, leg etc towards something that you are trying to touch or pick up
Travis reached into his pocket to get his car keys.
He turned around and reached for the phone.
I reached across the table and took Alice’s hand.
snap verb [intransitive]
to suddenly lose control and become extremely angry or upset because a situation has become annoying or difficult
She was bound to snap under all that pressure.
spread noun [countable]
a soft food (like Nutella) that you put on bread or other similar foods
We prefer low-fat spreads to butter.
sprint verb [intransitive]
to run, swim etc at a very fast speed for a short period
squirt verb [transitive/intransitive]
to make liquid move with a lot of force
Nick squirted a few blobs of ketchup onto his burger.
Juice squirted onto his shirt as he bit into the pear.
stuff noun [uncountable]
a variety of objects or things
What’s all this stuff on my desk?
By the time we got to the sale, all the good stuff was gone?
trolley noun [countable]
a wire basket on wheels that you push, used in supermarkets to carry the things that you want to buy
tub noun [countable]
a small container with a lid for holding or storing food
ice cream tubs
unrivalled adjective
used for emphasizing that something is much better or more important than other smaller things
Their reputation is unrivalled for quality anywhere in the UK.
waddle verb [intransitive]
to walk with short steps that make your body move from side to side like a duck’s body does when it walks


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