The WordPress Daily Prompt for August 4 asks the immortal question, “Bacon and chocolate, caramel and cheddar. Is there an unorthodox food pairing you really enjoy? Share with us the weirdest combo you’re willing to admit that you like—and how you discovered it.”
No brand names will be harmed in the telling of this anecdote.
Many beauty care products have nutrients among their many ingredients, most of which are rendered as unpronounceable chemical compound-names or names of compounds. Not all. There is oatmeal soap, of course, which does a great job moisturizing dry skin and scrubbing off dead skin and is made of oatmeal and various butters and smells like breakfast. I am not going to pour some maple syrup on a bar and “start my day off right” with it, however.
One evening in graduate school, my housemates and I set down a challenge: Find the two products in our house with the least in common but the most in common in their ingredient lists. (How we had time for this and school, I do not know.) The only stipulation was that something like a Snickers bar was ruled out, for reasons of obviousness. The Snickers bar and many similar candy bars are their own examples of this challenge.
I figured we would discover the hidden connections between Ramen noodles and actual food, thus justifying our typical grad school meal plan, or between frozen pizza and a livable diet, but we did not. We could not. The idea that he will someday justify his junk food consumption is the obsession of every grad school student (pg. 30, “More About Junk Food”).
One ingredient list in particular triggered my memory. Looking at a toaster pastry box, I knew I was reading something that I saw every day, but I could not place it. Something about the ingredients for the filling; it was like re-reading a poem I had memorized once but forgotten after taking the final exam.
I retired to the bathroom, where good thinking happens, and there it was: a bottle of shampoo. I had the winner. The filling of a generic toaster pastry—generic, not branded—either had or has (I have not checked until writing this today) a lot in common with generic shampoo. Water. Of course. Certain specific dyes? Absolutely. And the specificity of the dyes creeped me out, well, to this day, actually. Blue number whatever and green letter that. The exact ones. (The fantasy that I had been eating a single strawberry carefully spread with a new and clean knife for each toaster pastry and lovingly placed inside each toaster pastry by a kindly toaster pastry maker with medical benefits and a good retirement plan persisted till very late in life. My naivete is something I fight to forget so I can fight for various causes and then I make sure I re-become naive so I can eat.) Some phosphates. Of course.
My housemates agreed: Either we had been eating shampoo or washing our hair with breakfast goodness. The toaster pastries remained untouched in our kitchen until after we moved out. Once, as a joke, a familiar foil wrapper was placed in the shower, next to the soap.
I am looking at websites of various products while writing this and not finding as much in common on the lists as I did that day, which leads me to three thoughts: One, that the ingredients have been changed; two, that the names have been changed; three, that maybe generic products list their ingredients very bluntly.
I have not had a toaster pastry since the early ’90s because—rightly or wrongly, and mostly wrongly, I naively admit—I believed I was eating a dry cookie with holes in it and shampoo filling.