Friday, October 17, 2008

In Defense of Fake Cheese

I believe that Kraft macaroni ‘n cheese is good for you – or, at least, it’s not going to kill you tomorrow. Here’s why: I have two sisters, and when we were growing up, my mom sustained us on a relativelt healthy diet, punctuated with our favorite stop-gaps: Bisquick pancakes, beef-flavored Top Ramen, and, yes, Kraft macaroni ‘n cheese. I still remember the royal blue cardboard box. The noodles, innocuous enough, had a semolina base. To the boiled noodles you added milk and butter, but the true magic lay in the cheese packet. You ripped open the package with your teeth, and out came a clump of powder glorious to behold, better to taste. God only knows what the fine folks at Kraft put in their fake cheese (fire hydrant paint, from the color of it). Whatever plants or animals it came from originally, upon consumption it was processed, hydrogenated, and emulsified into a vegan’s nightmare. Paradise on a plate. Julia Childs it wasn’t, but it filled me up, and the preparation was simple enough for me to slay my third-grader hunger until dinner time.
Many would gainsay me, among them, presumably, the designers of the food pyramid and legions of parents. I see their point. I’ve downed my share of square meals, and I like it when my food has ingredients I can pronounce. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are massive health care concerns, and they must be addressed with improvements to our overall lifestyles. But I think, sometimes and in some places, we’ve gone over the edge. I have seen juice cups wrested from the hands of babes. I encounter parents in the aisles of the supermarket, angst-ridden over the choice between seven-grain Kashi crackers and organic carrot sticks. Don’t we have enough to feel guilty over? Aren’t their enough menaces to truth, justice, and the American way with finding them in the peanut butter jar?
My sisters and I have grown into intelligent, active, cancer-free adults. The occasional enjoyment of fake cheese did not permanently stunt our development, but we might well stunt the rising generation in more grievous ways if we expend our energy on minor battles instead of major challenges. A warming planet will kill us. Multi-resistant TB will kill us. Wars of religion and ideology and oil will kill us. Give the mac ‘n cheese a break.

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