The real meal deal



I took a box of microwave popcorn out of the cupboard, and saw this label in the photo.

And thought, only real ingredients??  What other option do they have?

Is this some sort of pretzel logic, or are there actually buckets of purely theoretical popcorn being sold, drenched in pseudo-butter?

If all the ingredients are unreal and imaginary, and the box is sold by weight, not volume, you’re gonna have a problem.

Even “reality shows,” famous for mental lightweights, have some sort of density and concreteness, especially between the ears.  A big box of the the unreal, even if supersized and 33% more volume! (than the smaller box) is just going to irritate people, when it dawns on them that it’s empty.

I’ve got no objection to the imaginary or unreal, heck, whatever gets you through the day, or gets you an Oscar, or elected to office, unreality seems to be trending in the USA.

But how do you get FDA approval?  What are the additives and carb count, and what does it weigh?

Mostly I don’t read food labels, they’re kind of mystifying and scary.  Glycerides sounds mythical, I looked them up, expecting they were related to Greek deities like Gaia or Gymnastika (the goddesses of earth and morning exercises, respectively).  Or maybe it’s Roman, glycerides, a slippery version of the Ides of March?

But they’re apparently something real, and then reading about Glycerides gets you involved in a Wikipedia story about Fatty Acid Ester – – sounds tough, doesn’t she?  like Ma Barker.  Apparently though, according to the article, she’s very hydrophobic (like people with rabies?) and probably sticks to bathtub gin.



My second thought was, Only Real Ingredients…how very disappointing.”

Isn’t food something we look to, every now and then, for a little bit of imagination or even fantasy?

One of my grandmothers used to make Angel Food Cake, with whipped cream and strawberries.

We knew, I guess, it wasn’t really food by, or for, angels, but that didn’t seem entirely unbelievable, either.  It was pretty delicious, blissful, and gave you a floating sensation.

If it was strawberry season, and the fruit was just perfectly ripe and fragrant, it surely seemed to be pretty darn angelic.



Another ancestor was famous for her Ambrosia.  The recipe for this food of the gods was passed down, but the old folks say, they cannot duplicate the perfection they remember.  Some even mutter darkly of sabotage and the sin of omission — some ingredient or super-secret wrist action, when the whipped cream is folded in, that wasn’t written down.

A warm, fragrant slice of Pie in the Sky seems like it would be tasty and felicitous right about now.  Not sure what type of pie, I know my favorite, but maybe the angels are sensitive about eating apples, I seem to remember some sort of biblical issue over that.  Or I’d like to pull a Mason jar out of the cupboard – pickles, apple butter, whatever, it doesn’t matter –  maybe find it forgotten on a shelf in the pantry, and find a hand-written label “Legendary Good Stuff.  One Jar of the Fantastical.”


I guess that label, “Only Real Ingredients,” could be a hopeful sign, really.  It implies the possibility of “Unreal Ingredients.”

One hallucination per box, and no monosodium glutamate.  

This kind of wishful thinking is easy, when you grew up hearing about pubs in Hogsmeade serving delicious butterbeer and the tasty-looking Krabby Patties they dish up in Bikini Bottom.  When you’re a bit older, say, thirteen, you find most real cocktails are disappointing, compared to a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster.   Wish I had one right now.

Well, I see that on April 1st, April Fool’s Day, the State of New York has legalized recreational marijuana, we’ll see if that inspires some more interesting dishes.  I hope they don’t make a hash out of the brownie recipes.  Just keep it real, man.




The strawberries & the bread label with the bear & magic yeast are from the Wellcome Library.





34 thoughts on “The real meal deal

  1. George says:

    I imagine it would be easier to get FDA approval for unreal ingredients due to the lack of any tangible evidence of toxicity or other genuine health related issues. Although granted, health warnings may be necessary to remind people that unreal foodstuff should only be eaten as part of a balanced diet including all the other major food groups. There is, of course, genuine evidence of their effectiveness as slimming aids.

    Over here, we grew up on Angel’s Delight and Fairy cakes, and Ambrosia comes in a can. Whenever you made a childhood bid to only eat such things, you were always told, they are not “real” food.

    • It’s always seemed a bit unfair, that they don’t have a diet for the unbalanced, we can’t exist on a diet of half-baked ideas. I hadn’t thought that through, about unreal foods as being obviously free of toxic additives, or part of a weight-loss program. Thank you, George! If I manage to monetize this, you’re definitely in line to be Marketing Director & CEO.
      I’ve heard of Fairy Cakes, like little cupcakes, but had to look up Angel’s Delight, wasn’t sure what sort of indulgence they allow angels, looks something like Dr. Oetker’s Mousse that we used to get.
      The version of Ambrosia they whip up for holiday meals here is mostly whipped cream, shredded coconut, mandarin oranges, can’t remember what else, some sort of marshmallow I think, but no olives or fig leaves or anything that strikes me as Olympian.

      • George says:

        I think Angel’s Delight was created entirely by chemical experiments in a lab during the 1970’s when such innovation was considered far preferable to boring old-school food that grew on trees or grazed in fields.

        Ambrosia here is brand name. They produce tinned custard and tinned rice pudding.

        Spot on with the Fairy Cakes–like cupcakes but usually free of any form of opulent indulgence (unless you count Hundreds and Thousands).

        I look forward to our new commercial venture where we make our fortunes from feeding the world calorie-free food. Let’s hope our most ardent fans live long enough to spread the word.

        • Ah, keen eye, yes, that issue of keeping the fans alive is a potential fly in the aspic, but such challenges are meat & drink to entrepreneurs like us. If we can sign them up for automatic monthly payments from a credit card, it will probably take the next-of-kin a while to locate the passwords and shut that off. I’ll consult my accountant, when it’s visiting day at Leavenworth.
          Always a delight hearing from you, George!

  2. I still have the cut-glass bowl that held our Ambrosia at every holiday meal. I tried making it with ‘real-er’ ingredients once: fresh pineapple and oranges, freshly grated coconut, whipped cream, and no baby marshmallows. Even the bowl couldn’t make up the difference.

    Side note: there’s a shortage of Mason jars these days. If you pull one out of the pantry, be sure and wash it and keep it. Apparently baking real bread and canning real veggies and fruits caused another of those pandemic shortages.

    As for real vs. unreal foods, what started me on the path to real was beginning to read labels in the grocery stores. Some of my all-time favorites clearly should have stayed in the lab, rather than being shipped out for consumption. Any time I see ‘Product’ added to a name, I grow cautious; after all, Velveeta’s a ‘cheese product’ now, and doesn’t taste a thing like the original, which came in a cool balsa wood box. The lid to that box served as a quite natural disciplinary tool for my mother.

    • Yikes! How big a box are we talking about? I’ve only seen Velveeta sold in little wrappers.
      I’ve probably mentioned before, the grandmother who made Ambrosia, lived in the town where they make Cool Whip. Whenever someone suggested using that to make ambrosia, instead of whipped cream, she’d write them off as a slacker.
      That’s right, there’s pineapple in there, too, I’d forgotten that.

  3. Your post was an enjoyable read. Entire philosophy books have been written on the nature of reality. As I remember them from my college years, they were mostly boring. I find your sense of humour delightful, Robert.

  4. The label for Fruit Roll-Ups says they’re made with real (as opposed to fake?) fruit:
    You also get corn syrup (i.e. sugar) as the second ingredient. And speaking of glycerides, as you did, the ones here aren’t just any old glycerides, they’re acetylated monoglycerides. That’ll show you. And let’s not forget the coloring: red #40, yellow #5 and #6, and blue #1.

  5. Wow, “acetylated monoglycerides” really sounds scary. I like it when they use beets or some other natural thing for coloring. Although maybe not “carmine” (not The Big Ragoo from Laverne & Shirley) that’s made from cochineal extract, that one kind of bugs me.

  6. This cracked me up. Product labels are such a hoot; there’s like a whole advertising genre that turns ingredients into some sort of fantasy to convince us we’re not eating a concoction of sugar, salt, corn, and some sort of oil that came from pulped trees. All for less than 150 calories per serving! Don’t do the math, though, or we’ll realize that the bag of “potato” chips we snarked down at lunch has enough calories for a full day.

    Outside of food, Paper Towel Math is my favorite. Whoever started the “8=16” moniker for paper towel packages should have trademarked that somehow, since every manufacturer now labels their packages that way and they missed out on their royalties. I wonder if there’s an upper limit: will we find one day that “1=100” and we have to haul the single roll home on a flatbed trailer? It’s just a matter of time, I think….

    • Haha yes, thank you, Dale, now I’m seeing a Bounty or Brawny warehouse with a roof leak, and the Super Absorbent Paper Towels swell and explode the building, and start engulfing the town, like The Blob.
      The only things I’ve run into recently, to outdo the food and toiletry labels, were the exhibit labels in a modern art museum. Weird long triple-nouns and tortured adjectivalizations, perception-actualized-conceptualizations, etc. I swear I’m going back there to just photograph the labels, they’re a real trip.

  7. They have to state “real” to satisfy the needs of certain physicists that believe that the universe is a simulation, or at least has a 50-50 chance of being one. Some of these guys are so deeply ensconced in their ivory towers they’ve lost sight of pragmatic reality. Unlike QAnon cranks whose tin hats are simple tinfoil, these folks come up with versions that are custom machined, buffed, and equiped with such elaborate peripherals that even Buck Rodgers would wince.

    Food for thought, anyway.

    • Well, I’ve seen “The Matrix,” “Inception,” etc. but never really read any simulation theory stuff. But who knows, Dave, too deep thought for me, my mental daily bread is mostly junk food. If they’re right, I hope the creators don’t get bored, or tired of paying for all that processing time, and yank the cord. I remember in high school my sister had some friends who wasted way too much time on The Sims.

  8. That would be something, wouldn’t it, “all artificial ingredients” or even worse, “all virtual ingredients”. As consumers we always have to be on the watch, can’t trust any companies any more (if ever)…

    • I think one of the low points in this country, for artificial ingredients, was “Olestra,” which was a fat substitute. It’s still used by a couple of companies to make potato chips (and also, I’ve read, incredibly enough, as a paint additive and industrial lubricant!) Much easier, I think, to just not eat the chips.
      The same with sugar substitutes, don’t like any of them, better to just skip both the sugar and the ersatz sweeteners.

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