(originally posted February 23rd, 2014)
Deluxe, the box declared humbly. Rich & Creamy. “Creamy” in huge font here. Original Cheddar, as opposed to the derivative cheddars used by so many companies. But those were all of secondary relevance compared to the largest font, “GIVING HOPE a hand.” Wrapped in that familiar breast cancer ribbon. A subtle touch, I noticed upon my third inspection, is that the bowl carrying the macaroni and cheese was pink. The color of breast cancer awareness. I suddenly “got it.” This wasn’t just another stock Kraft product, or even a Deluxe Kraft product. It was the psychic tour into the mindset of a breast cancer victim.
“Live. Love. Laugh!” You may notice these words, in large text on the box’s back, are not arranged in the typical alphabetical order. Even the punctuation difference of “Laugh” shows an imperative tone – Laugh, dammit! Live and love all you want, but first and foremost, laugh! “I found a lump in my left breast in late 2007 so I made an appointment for a biopsy.” This first sentence in a three paragraph confessional signals the tone of the ensuing journey – This isn’t a culinary experience, this is a political statement. You are standing with this woman. Shhh. Shhh. Don’t consider the taste. Focus on the ideology. The emotional pangs laced into each noodle, each drizzling of pseudo-cheese product.
Despite all this forewarning, I still began the narrative with my stubborn male prejudices. “Why don’t the ingredients have any milk?” I wondered aloud stupidly. “Or butter? I’m putting milk and butter in this, I don’t even care.” I boiled the water, realization not yet hitting me, that the hot water is a metaphor for the average woman’s life – Hectic, turbulent, full of chaos.
Then, I poured in the noodles. Revelation still eluded me. What else is filmy and floppy and pale in color? Well, the phallus yes. And noodles. And worms. But more importantly, breasts, my friend, breasts. True, breasts aren’t filmy, or at least I’d hope not, and insinuating all breasts are pale hits into some ethnic concerns, but that misses the point. Breasts are thrust into the boiling chaos of the female experience, because they’re part of the female identity, what Descartes could’ve called, “L’esprit de l’identité feminine,” if he were using Google translate and was just saying random things. Yet even that all-important pair of anatomy weakens in the warmth of life’s tropic storminess. Unless you throw it into the drainer early because you’re getting impatient, then it’s still somewhat firm.
When I felt up the cheese packet, that’s when realization crept into me. “This isn’t powder?” No, Blaise, this isn’t powder. Breast cancer is not something you can solve with the concentration of powder known as the pill. No, it requires the liquid sadness that is chemotherapy. As I poured the goop into the noodles, its cheese whiz sloppiness looking absolutely disgusting as it plopped into the pan, I was horrified. But that’s the point. Chemotherapy is a horrible, horrible thing, and no, it’s not meant to mix in well with the noodles like powder would, because chemo doesn’t mix well with a person. It creates nausea, much as the cream nauseated me then.
I unwittingly added to the psychodrama by throwing in some frozen peas into the mix. We all know what green represented in medieval times – Sickness. And what’s more, churned in with the noodles and chemicals, they looked like lumps. I had replicated the scenario of a breast exam’s awful discovery. Reinforcing the message was that the frozen veggies had lowered the mixture’s overall temperature and I had to microwave each bowl a minute to get it hot, in much the same way that the knowledge of cancer cools off the vividness of life. Or proof that the peas should be mixed in with the boiling noodles instead of in post-production, but again, that misses the point.
The final instruction on the box – NOTE: DO NOT OVERCOOK PASTA. What importance lies therein, since who cares if the cook burns up the noodles, it’s not going to kill anyone. But cancer does kill, and overcooking creates carcinogens. It serves as both a summation and a warning to younger women – be careful of cancer-causers. On the box’s top – GOOD SOURCE OF CALCIUM & PROTEIN. Notice it doesn’t say it’s a good source of “nutrition,” but what firms up bones and muscle. That’s what’s important, the indomitable spirit, not worrying about ingredients like “Oleoresin Paprika (color)” or “Enriched Macaroni Product.”
As I ate, I lived. I loved. Most important of all, I laughed! I experienced the highs and lows of emotion as I traveled through the transcendental journey offered by this “Macaroni and Cheese Dinner,” as the box says. Perhaps if I were cynical, anti-woman, and pro-cancer, I would’ve thought differently of this meal – That it was a below subpar version of an already unhealthy product that tastelessly exploits the sentiments of a real dilemma many American families experience by promoting cancer charities whose fund misuse and futility are well-documented. But none of those thoughts live… or love… or laugh. As the food wreaks havoc on my digestion system, I can rest assured that Krogers gave three million dollars – three million dollars – or less than a hundredth of their profit for one year in favor of a charity they can’t be bothered to name on their box or on the website they promoted on said box. I contributed. Probably none of the money that bought the box went to anything beyond bonuses to executives, but what’s important is I was one with women today.