At 11:47 PM, after watching two episodes of “The Wire: Season 4,” it hit me like a ton of bricks: an intense craving for Honeycomb cereal. To put this into perspective, I haven’t consumed Honeycomb in years. I haven’t consumed cereal in years. What brought this on? Why was I out my door, shuffling along the street like Bubs and his shopping cart, needing a Honeycomb fix?
I blame a college student who interviewed me a few weeks ago. She asked what food I used to snack on in college and before I had a chance to think, my mouth answered for me: “Honeycomb!” Then my brain flew into action, conjuring memories of late night study sessions, early morning breakfast sessions, and mid-afternoon snack sessions involving me and a box of Honeycomb. There wouldn’t be a bowl: I’d just tear that yellow cardboard open, dip my hand in and crunch my way through half a box. Honeycomb made me the man I am today.
I have, of course, read my Michael Pollan; I now know I’m subsidizing a very corrupt corn industry with the $4 it cost me for that box. And yes, I am filling my body with nutritionless muck. But we don’t choose our vices, and Honeycomb is a vice. Even Craig was disgusted: “You’re eating a bowl of sugary cereal at midnight?” Then he glanced down at my belly. I think that qualifies as domestic abuse, don’t you?
Its comforting in a way that defies taste or rational thought. It made me think of another David Simon show, the one that premiered last night: “Generation Kill.” The food references in that show–Skittles, Subway, Pizza Hut–are all of the crassest, most commercial variety. And yet for a troop stationed in Iraq, I imagine there’s great comfort in the familiar, that very strange and specific Subway smell that eludes me every time I walk past a Subway store; the chemical consistency and delightful combination of red, yellow and orange Skittles. In a strange way, our reliance on and enjoyment of mass-produced commercial food unites us. I want to throttle the younger me who, when visiting Paris for the first time on a high school trip, gleefully patronized Planet Hollywood with my friend Jared; and yet Jared and I weren’t alone. We were surrounded by other American tourists, happier to nosh on Kaptain Krunch coated chicken nuggets than an authentic crepe or pot-au-feu.
Sure, sure, go ahead–leave your nasty comments, I agree, the younger me was pretty lame–but I think it speaks to the power of the familiar. For many people, the power of the familiar trumps the power of the new. In fact, our love of things familiar affects not just what we eat, but often who we’re friends with, the movies we go to see and very often who we vote for. And tonight the power of the familiar sent me out of my apartment in a t-shirt and flip-flops, armed only with my wallet and my iPhone (which took the pictures you see, posted directly on to Flickr with the new application Airme), to purchase that old familiar comfort food: a box of Honeycomb. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I think I’ll go have another bowl.