It’s the first week of the year. Roughly nine out of every 10 Americans are hating themselves for overindulging in rich or otherwise non-nutritive foods over the past month.
So I think I’ll write about … packaged food.
Earlier this week I stumbled on the Flickr account of Jason Liebig, who collects food labels, wrappers and packaging. He has kindly scanned in hundreds of items from his collection.
It has never occurred to me that someone might see fit to collect, say, empty potato-chip bags. Just never thought of things like that as something people might save.
But some people do. And it’s kinda cool to spend a few minutes paging through the scans — both to recognize products from my youth, and to compare and contrast the finer points of packaging design through the ages.
A few of my favorites from the Liebig collection, then:
Welch’s grape-jelly donuts: Can’t say I remember these from the freezer aisle. (Yes, they were sold frozen.) I love the colors and design, though.
Grapefruit Tang: I had no idea this existed either. I imagine combining it with $7.99-a-bottle gin for an evening of drinking that would buckle my knees, muddle my brain, but provide me roughly 1,550 percent of my daily quota of Vitamin C.
Minute Rice fried rice mix: Does anyone still use the Standard Oriental Typeface any more with a straight face?
Hi-C Apple Cranberry Drink: In my newspapering days, I covered Lynn Swann for a couple hours during a local stop as part of his quixotic campaign for governor of Pennsylvania. I should have asked him if Hi-C still cut through his thirst. Alas, I hadn’t seen this label at the time.
(Since I went back to the newsroom after the event and wrote a story for the paper, that means I can claim to have successfully covered Lynn Swann. A lot of NFL cornerbacks and defensive backs would love to say as much.)
Pillsbury Milk Break milk bars: I remember once having the Chocolate Mint flavor of these. I liked them, though my palate as a 10-year-old was not especially refined. I suppose I have that half-cup of powdered milk to thank for my sturdy, erect bearing today.
Morton beef pot pies: I ate a whole bunch of frozen pot pies as a kid, though not necessarily Morton; they might also have been Swanson or store-brand. If I keel over out of the blue one of these years, that might be a contributing factor.
Andy Capp’s Pub Fries: The “Andy Capp” cartoon had roughly one-and-a-half jokes (layabout squabbles with wife, goes to pub). I was always astonished, not only by its longevity, but at the longevity of its apparently successful spinoff in America’s snack aisles. I think I had Andy Capp’s Pub Fries once; I remember them as being amazingly salty (even by my standards then) and perhaps also spicy as well.
Underwood Deviled Ham: Can’t remember ever having Underwood tinned meat as a kid. But I remember it stood out on the shelf because it was canned, and the cans were wrapped in white paper. Always seemed weird to me.
Uncle Ben’s Stuff n’ Such: A remarkably noncommittal product — the “anytime stuffing mix for the outside of things.” Peanut-butter sammiches? White Castle sliders? Beached whales? Bring ’em on.
French’s Chicken Fixns Sweet n’ Sour Sauce Mix: Only included here because it dates to the days when French’s corporate headquarters were in Rochester. When one set of my grandparents bought their house in the Rochester area circa 1986, I remember them finding a manila envelope or poster tube with some French’s materials that had belonged to the prior owner. (It wasn’t a recipe for the perfect dijon chicken or anything useful like that … just a couple of random documents the guy had brought home from work and lost down the back of a cabinet or something.)
Hi-C Florida Punch: No idea what this stuff tasted like. But if it had existed during my childhood, I’m sure I would have craved it, just because of the evocatively sun-drenched name and the surprisingly effective green and dark red of the packaging.
Irischer Fruhling: Early-’70s Irish Spring soap package for the German market. This is baader than Meinhof.
Quaker Peanut Butter Granola Dipps: Obligatory pop music content: Check out the box, which promises one of five free records about the history of rock n’ roll. (I assume no actual rock n’ roll was included, for cost/licensing reasons.) This particular box included a record about Live Aid; other subjects included “Rock’s Greatest Guitar Heroes” and “A Tribute to John Lennon.”
I am trying to imagine a young-ish kid sitting down in front of the family stereo and getting a potted (and, probably, at least partially incorrect) history of John Lennon from a record that came with his granola bars.
Dentyne Dynamints: 40-year-old Wonder Bread goes moldy. 40-year-old Twinkies go green. But 40-year-old breath mints look as shiny and effective as ever. Maybe the weirdest stuff in your cupboard isn’t what you thought it was.