I love junk food in an insane, passionate way. Perhaps this is because I was a fat kid and though I am not a particularly fat adult, my fat kid-ness has never left me. I am firmly of the belief that if you were once a fat kid, it is an indelible state that can never be escaped, much as one might try. The state of fatness during those years made me who I am today.
Or perhaps my love of junk food is just one of the things that makes me distinctly American. We Americans love our junk food. One in three eats it every single day and they do it because junk food is delicious and because junk food is largely an American way of life.
In the 1980s, when I was very young, I lived in a house with a hot pink door and I was very much smitten with one particular snack, the profoundly yellow Tastykake Krimpet. (It’s hard to think of a piece of junk food that is spelled in a more junk-foodist way. The commitment to that bit is refreshing.) I distinctly remember it being butterscotch-flavored and sold in packages of six little Twinkie-like vessels. After hours of struggling in school, I would be picked up by my nanny and we would go to the bodega on Madison Avenue. She would hand me a dollar and I would look for whatever junk food product looked the largest. Tastykake Krimpets were twice the size of everything else. They came in a plastic package and I remember always struggling with it. I was (still am) an extremely clumsy person who wrestled both with shoe-tying and those packets for a long time.
Once opened, the Tastykake Krimpet was a transcendent experience. The most important thing was not to end up with the frosting sticking to the filmy plastic — but that required a kind of deftness I do not possess. The first thing you noticed was its staleness. It’s extremely important to keep the frosting attached to the cake because this is the only way to cut through the chalk-like texture.
One of the most charming aspects of the Krimpet is that it’s a piece of food that is impossible to date. Your Krimpet could be a week old or a year old — you could also be eating something made during the Challenger disaster, Cuban missile crisis or Vietnam. Someday my heart will stop beating, but the Krimpet from my childhood will still taste utterly and completely the same.
As I grew older, my tastes became more sophisticated and I moved on to the moon pie. Dating back to 1917, this was supposedly the product of a meeting between a traveling salesman and a coal-miner. I remember the ones of my youth being less disgusting than the current moon pie. Either way, the idea is a good one — a chocolate-ish film is placed on a very thick piece of graham cracker and in-between that is an enormous and slightly-too-firm marshmallow. The effect is an enormous smore without the pleasing consistency. The three elements — chocolate, marshmallow and grahams — have been together for so long that they are crushed into what can only be described as an orgy of mushiness, a critical element to the experience. I remember them being significantly larger and I’m wondering if they may have shrunk in the world of calorie counts and cholesterol.
When I hit my teens, I smoked cigarettes, didn’t eat and became a drug addict. I neglected my favorite junk-food products, but I got sober when I was 19. Soon after that I got back on the junk-food bandwagon, so much so that when I was really depressed I would have ‘candy days’, when I would just get in bed and eat until I felt less awful. I’ve had better ideas than ‘candy days’, but they do show my incredible commitment to junk food. As I stayed sober and got less insane, I stopped. But, as anyone who is sober will tell you, sugar is normally an incredibly important part of their lives. In my twenties, I had a drawer in my kitchen that was filled with candy bars of all shapes and stripes.
Now I’m almost 41. I no longer have that drawer in my kitchen, but I do enjoy Junior Mints mixed with popcorn at the movies and I’ve never said no to a piece of candy, ever. I can mark certain moments of my life with certain candy products. I have now moved on to the very boring Chimes Ginger Chews, but that’s because I myself have become incredibly boring. I may eat a slightly more upscale version of smores, but my heart will always belong to my stale Tastykake Krimpet and their strange chalky frosting. Because even though I’m old, part of me will always be that fat kid in the bodega, trying to open my enormous sheet of Krimpet in the hope of being able to tune it all out.
This article is in The Spectator’s October 2019 US edition.