From my first trip to Argentina at age twelve, my most vivid memory remains the jingle for yogurt “crash cups” a rip-off or maybe re-design of Danimals Crush Cups in the US. My sister and I can still sing it word for word, despite the fact that it’s in Spanish, a language she doesn’t completely speak and one I don’t speak regularly. Why do we remember that jingle and that commercial, the kids dancing with plastic yogurt cups in hand?
In fact, I remember all kinds of things about American Danimals; the monkey-turned-CGI DJ mascot, the countless commercials with Disney stars Cole and Dylan Sprouse, the way the little plastic bottles curved to fit a child’s hand to a tee. I remember the way the strawberry flavor (my favorite) tastes, even the texture of the drinkable version.
I remember other things, too: a box of Wheaties with David Robinson splayed across the front on a living room shelf in my childhood home, a Kind Bar wrapper set next to the woman drinking a green smoothie in a coffee shop I was working in, a banana with a Star Wars sticker on it.
These memories encompass for me the greatness of food packaging: the way corporations synthesize humanity, condense it, print it on little plastic sheets millions of times, then sell it back to us. We buy food because we like how it tastes, but it’s not a huge leap to say that maybe we love the way our food comes to us as much as we like the food itself. It’s an even smaller leap when I examine what kinds of foods I buy and when; certain foods (fast foods, bags of chips, other embarrassing snacks) are relegated to my bedroom trash can and the back of my car, and late at night. But a Lara Bar is more my style, something I like to look at in my hand, something that gives off some type of image. Is she vegan? Or is she just healthy?
It’s silly to ignore that the food we buy often targets us, whether it’s with low calories, our favorite cartoon character, or the allure of a small toy. As a child, this was apparent. I wanted many foods specifically because of the packaging--I wanted an entertaining cereal box, and I certainly wanted the chance to meet the Sprouse twins, even if I knew it would never really happen. As an adult it’s maybe less apparent that I want food packaging that looks nice, but it’s far more dire; I need now more than ever to be aware of the waste I’m producing, of the massive footprint I’m leaving on this planet by eating most of my snacks and meals out of plastic packaging. But I can’t simply ignore my desires! My unshakeable cravings.
Most processed and packaged food look like the most delicious things on the planet. Walk into a gas station and just observe the aisles: the way that the labels on candy wrappers are both chaotic and intriguing. There are hundreds of options and thousands of colors. Everything looks all Americana beautiful. I want it. Sometimes, even, I need it, or at least it feels that way.
It is normal (in this capital-d Digital Age) to want things that look nice, that have some appeal outside of their plain function. And it’s very normally American to produce obscene amounts of waste, whether it’s food, plastic, or emissions. I think of a class I took in college, where a professor told the class on the first day that Americans value privacy and choice above all else, something he knew from experience.
When we are faced with hundreds of options, variants of the same processed sugars and corn-based chips, we as Americans enjoy it. I enjoy it so much that I can barely tell when I’m plainly craving something, and when I just saw an ad for a food I kind of like and want it as a consequence. I want snacks at times when it makes sense to--when I’m bored, when I’m hungry but it’s not time for a meal, when I’ve just gotten off of work--but it’s no coincidence that I’m also taking in a constant stream of Youtube ads, billboards, radio commercials, and any number of other marketing tools that might artificially create a craving in my head.
But lately I’ve had to ask myself: in the face of the imminent death of the planet at the hands of humanity, do I actually want this bag of Baked Lays? This box of Lucky Charms? This bottle of Coke? Or, for that matter, the easily recyclable can of Coke?
The answer to practically every one of those questions is yes, because despite my fears about the future (near and distant), I still feel like I want these things on a regular basis. Whether or not it’s a product of advertising, I’ve come to love the taste of sugary or salty and heavily processed foods, and crave them in moments of weakness.
The line between the way food is marketed to us and the impact individuals make on the planet is hardly blurry compared to the line between an individual consumer’s cravings and the ads they receive. It’s hard to locate where feelings come from in most situations, but waste is much simpler: try keeping track of your trash for a week and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Our great American loves (think Mark Summers in Food Network reruns of Unwrapped) are the things that are hurting the planet the most. And even if I am not to blame for my cravings, for my manipulation at the hands of super corporations, I will always be the inevitable cause of each piece of waste I leave on the planet.
It’s not fun to think about, all the toothbrushes and to-go cups and grocery bags I’ve ever used either buried in a mound of trash somewhere far away or floating in the ocean. Unfortunately it’s a necessary discomfort, and something I think me and everyone I know must start grappling with if we plan on having kids in the next twenty-or-so years. So I try to contend with this discomfort, despite the weird ads I get for Hardee’s on Youtube even though I don’t know that there’s one within a 40-mile radius of my house, despite those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials that are weirdly sexual, despite my cravings.
is a writer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has appeared in The Millions, The Rumpus, and New Orleans Review.