I tried Cap’n Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch for the first time last night, and I am not ashamed.
Food is hard right now. So many more people are going hungry during the coronavirus crisis, as the country’s terribly frayed safety net begins to fall away — anyone with a heart finds it heartbreaking to contemplate, yet we must, and those of us with the means must try to discern where to donate, given all the need. (In Seattle, consider the new WA Food Fund, providing goods to every food bank in Washington state, or FareStart, which just delivered its 100,000th emergency free meal since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.) Some of those newly in need are refugees from the restaurant industry, which, along with the intertwined arts community, faces a very real and frighteningly unknowable degree of ruin from this thing. (Those of us privileged enough to have enjoyed it so miss what you do. Thank you for carrying on with takeout, one way we can support you.) Among all of this, grocery store trips involving waiting in social distancing lines and face masks and scavenged shelves and palpable tension in the air shouldn’t count for much, but food is fundamental, and anxiety about it hits us on a gut level in a very real way.
Call it frivolous to talk about this, but I’m here to say that eating Cap’n Crunch right now is OK. Yes, it’s important to stay relatively healthy during this time, but this is a lockdown, people. The rug of our world has been pulled out from under us, our lives dramatically constricted in the strangest way. Pretty much all we can do is take a walk or run weirdly down the middle of the street — that and eat. Food can and should be a source of joy at all times, and with this dearth of our other usual pleasures — pleasures as basic as seeing other human beings face to face — the impact of that joy is magnified now. Sure, don’t go overboard, have a carrot, etc. But there’s never been a better moment for the electric happiness that is sugar cereal, food-shaming-free. Let’s set the harping about “mindful eating” aside and join the Cap’n, shall we?
The Peanut Butter Crunch box alone is a lurid visual feast — multiple fonts, including one reading “PEANUT BUTTER” in creamy-rounded brown letters, are outlined against a neon orange background to create the effect of near-hallucinatory vibration. The Cap’n salutes you and your impending rapture, his gold epaulets bulging along with his crazy-eyes. “GIVE ME THAT PEANUT BUTTER CRUNCH!” shouts some bonus verbiage — the box demands its own contents? This makes no sense. No matter! The cereal-balls are “ENLARGED TO SHOW TEXTURE,” which is comforting, given the fact that the largest is approximately the size of a quarter, coming at you practically in 3D. The back of the box currently features a riotously eye-popping scene at a place called Peanut Butter Beach including a Crunch Island word jumble, an invitation to find at least eight things that do not belong (definitely the banana with the baseball bat) and even “More Fun in the Sun.”
Peanut Butter Crunch tastes only vaguely like peanut butter, which, tellingly, comes after sugar in the list of ingredients. Sugar — just “sugar” — is the second ingredient, bested only by corn flour, and it coats the cereal-orbs with an intensely crispy texture, rendering them apparently impervious to milk. The shattering of Crunch as you crunch lacerates the inside of your mouth, permitting the introduction of the sweet, sweet sugar directly into your bloodstream. This is food that, be it “good” or “bad,” makes you feel intensely alive. Wait, is this food? Never mind. After one small bowl, I felt like running in tight circles around the kitchen floor then lying down on it, maybe crying briefly, then sleeping for a long, long time.
I mean that in a good way! Though it may not sound desirable to you, and understandably so. Pick your own self-soothing poison — we all deserve supersalty MSG or a supercharged sugar rush right now. We’re not alone, either: Top Seattle chefs I’ve talked to, the kind you’d assume engulf only the most sustainable/artisanal/foodiest of foods, are currently eating hot dogs from 7-Eleven, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, brownies from boxed mixes, cheap frozen pizzas. See what pleases you, whether it’s something new or a nostalgic old favorite. I happened across some Jiffy Pop while attempting to calmly scan the store shelves recently and impulse-bought it — now that is not just a food but also an activity of sheer joy, forcefully reminiscent of childhood camping trips, of a time when a simple thing could be magic, “As Much Fun To Make As It Is To Eat!” as Jiffy Pop itself says. Recommended!