I know there are much more pressing issues to spend my energy thinking about, but over the years I have put a good deal of thought into a couple of different food products that never cease to puzzle me…and they just happen to both be orange. Velveeta and Tang.
What the hell is velveeta anyway? Is it an actual food product, a petroleum bi-product from industrial production or some other form of matter yet to be classified? It’s list of ingredients includes cheese, but I don’t think this product behaves much like real cheese…at least it doesn’t trigger my lactose intollerance and send me running to the bathroom doubled over with cramps, although by all measures it absolultely should. Velveeta was a staple in our house growing up. My mother built our entire collection of Legos by clipping the coupons from velveeta packages and sending them in for free Legos. Thanks to velveeta, stray legos were all over our house and, despite the daily pain and suffering from stepping on the sharp little buggers, my mother continued to feed us velveeta and get us free legos. But the mental image I have of my parents eating a sandwich adorned with a thick slice of velveeta causes a gag reflex so powerful in me that I can scarcely write this blog without losing my breakfast. Still, nothing quite melts like velveeta and there are certain recipes from Mom that are just not the same when prepared with real cheese. Velveeta and rotel queso dip is an easy and popular addition to any party spread. And a grilled velveeta sandwich with sliced tomatoes takes me back to lazy summer afternoons of my childhood, when the cares of adult life seemed so remote and meaningless. Some food products just transport you and for me, velveeta is a time machine.
So, what exactly is velveeta? How would you classify this product? Is it an actual food product that might play a starring role on your dinner table? Would you place a block of velveeta on a cheese platter? Or is it a condiment, only to be mixed with other things? And why does it have to be that almost neon orange color?
Tang is another neon orange item that wisks me right back to the 70’s. In 1969 when Appolo 11 made its historic moon landing, we were poised in front of the TV with huge glasses of tang. My brother and I were 7 years old and we totally bought into the Tang marketing concept that it was the drink of astronauts. I imaged these guys bounding through the Sea of Tranquility with big glasses of ice cold tang. We drank tang every single day. My mother mixed it with instant iced tea, another flavor combo that causes an immeidate gag reflex. I have not seen tang on the grocery store shelf in my adult life. Is this pioneer of the powdered drink movement still available? And more importantly, was I just a naive idealist to think that astronauts really drank this orange sugar-water?
Food triggers strong and vivid emotional memories for all of us, that is certain. I’m sure there must be some food product you might be embarrassed to admit sits in your pantry or fridge right now, just for the memories it conjures. Am I right? I am, aren’t I?