Friday, July 17, 2020

Insight: Requiem for lost youth -- Food Edition

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a fascination with nostalgia. Having grown up in the 1960s, I can recall what it was like to view the introduction of new products advertised on television and then saddened to see them go when discontinued or replaced by another.

Recently during a discussion with a younger colleague, I tried to describe “Fizzies,” which were one of my favorite treats as a child. “Fizzies” were similar to Alka Seltzer, effervescent candylike tablets that bubbled when put in a glass of water.

Coming in a variety of flavors, “Fizzies” could be found near packages of Kool-Aid in the grocery store. My favorite flavor was root beer and it was an amazing sight to watch the tablet dissolve before my own eyes and turn into soda pop without the bottle or can.

Alas, “Fizzies” soon fizzled out and were gone by the time I completed junior high school before they were revived and discontinued several more times over the years.

Another product I enjoyed in my youth was a cereal called “Crispy Critters.” It was sweetened oats made into the shape of animals like animal crackers and the cereal box featured “Linus the Lionhearted,” who was the star of a Saturday morning animated TV show.

Heavily promoted by Post Cereals, “Crispy Critters” initially sold well, but faced enormous competition and I stopped seeing it on supermarket shelves by the early 1970s.

And while I’m discussing cereal, when is the last time you could find Alpha Bits in the store? It seems to have disappeared for good like so many other brands from my childhood.

As I got into college and started working, and being on a limited budget and miniscule salary, fast food restaurants appealed to me because of economics. One of my favorites was Taco Bell and at the time they offered a tasty item called the “Bell Beefer” on its menu. It was seasoned hamburger meat on a bun served up with diced onions, shredded lettuce, taco sauce and optional grated cheese.

For me, the “Bell Beefer” was akin to a sloppy joe and often paired with nachos on late-night trips through the drive-through. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Taco Bell dropped the “Bell Beefer” and the world seems a much lonelier place without it.

As a young reporter for the Albuquerque Journal newspaper in the late 1980s, I worked evening shift from 2 to 11 p.m. and always ended up being sent to dinner about 8 p.m. by my editors. When I didn’t brown bag my lunch, the only place open near the newspaper plant was a Wendy’s less a half-mile from there.

I rapidly became a huge fan of Wendy’s “Build Your Own Salad Bar,” which included every salad item known to modern man and a “Build Your Own Taco Bar.” For just $2.99, I could satisfy my hunger and I’d be remiss to not mention the heaping bowls of chocolate pudding for dessert included at Wendy’s with the “Build Your Own Salad Bar.”

But alas, like many other food trends of years past, Wendy’s phased out the “Build Your Own Salad Bar” and by the time I became an editor myself in 2007, they were gone for good.

Lastly, those who know me well are also aware of my sweet tooth and inability to pass up candy.

Two personal favorites of mine from childhood, “Turkish Taffy” and “Chick-O-Sticks,” appear to have vanished from the candy selection in modern stores.

At a price of just 5 cents, “Turkish Taffy” was a slab of gooey chewy delight that defied eating all in one setting. Banana was my favorite flavor, but I challenge you to find “Turkish Taffy” anywhere today other than in the nostalgia candy offered in the gift shop at Cracker Barrel.

“Chick-O-Sticks” was a crunchy spear-shaped mixture that indulged my affinity for peanut butter and coconut and usually required me to brush my teeth afterward to remove crunchy after-bits that clung to my molars like there was no tomorrow. Like “Turkish Taffy,” I believe “Chick-O-Sticks” can only be found today in vintage candy sections.

And my wife frequently reminds me she thinks I’m the only human left alive who still buys candy “Circus Peanuts” when I see them at the store. 

Like they say, all good things eventually come to an end, but memories do indeed last a lifetime. Nostalgia sure isn’t what it used to be. <

—Ed Pierce

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