Home is where the Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate is

Members of an online expatriate group recently heaped a midden of praise on Martha’s Backyard, a local importer of American crap. The store, according to its Website, features “genuine US brands at reasonable prices AND AMERICAN FOOD ITEMS.” (Martha’s emphasis).

Judging by comments left on the expat group forum, Martha has tapped into quite a niche market. For instance:

(Martha’s) is a fantastic place. Prices are a little high but you have to remember, she’s shipping it over from the US. Can of Manwich sauce is $5, box of Cheerios is $8, bag of Goldfish is $6. She also has…great seasonal stuff…I got pumpkin cans and made some pumpkin pie!…I wouldn’t be surprised if she had Peeps for Easter! She has an email list so that you can get updates when new stuff arrives, and there’s also a special email list for when Twinkies come in (apparently they sell out in a day or so).

Something about this effusiveness bothers me. I understand that most of the items mentioned are technically considered food in that they can pass through the digestive system without causing too much permanent damage, at least in the short run. But I find it hard to imagine an adult working up an appetite for this shit, let alone shelling out extra dollars for it.

It’s not that I oppose to eating junk food completely. We’ve all been through bouts of desperation. I myself have had my moments with Cheerios from time to time, I ain’t ashamed to admit, but I swear I didn’t like it. And I’d be a liar if I said I never paid $6 for a bag of Goldfish out of a vending machine when I was working one of my night shifts at the New York Post. And though I’m not familiar with the product, I gather from context clues that “Manwich sauce” is not a euphemism for a residue that must be refrigerated at a fertility clinic soon after its client “pops his can.”

So while I’m generally familiar with the sophisticated refinement embodied by these quintessential American products, I still can’t understand why an adult would go out of his or her way to consume any of it. Surely there are quicker, easier ways to kill yourself. I mean, Twinkies a best-seller? Twinkies are the reason why I left America. I’ve applied for refugee status in New Zealand because of what Twinkies did to my family.

It seems too obvious to state, but homesickness and sentimentality are the essential motivating factors at work here. If it were simply a desire for something engineered to exploit our  innate cravings for fat, salt and sugar, Martha’s would be out of business. There are already plenty of disgusting foods to choose from at the supermarket, including some American brands and other American products packaged for the New Zealand market.

The wrapping is the key to Martha’s success because what really matters to the homesick American is not the junk food, but the familiarity of the package it came in, the “genuine US brands” where genuine is taken to mean “the same exact shit you grew obese up with.”

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12 comments

  1. Don’t forget to make Paula Dean’s special bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg between two glazed donuts. Nothing says home like cardiac arrest 🙂

  2. While I generally hold junk food in contempt, I have to admit that when I lived in London for six months, my friend and I made a trek across town (which in London actually takes a whole day) to eat at the one Taco Bell in the city. Clearly it was not a need for empty carbs and hydrogenated fats that drove us there (there were plenty of indigenous options available), but rather the need to eat something we would have eaten at home. Except that we never went to Taco Bell at home, since we lived in Texas, where we could easily find better Mexican food.

    At any rate, I will send you some Manwich sauce soon, if only metaphorically.

    1. I must confess that a few weeks ago Jacquie and I ate Burger King, the first fast-food either of us have eaten in years, for the same reason you went to Taco Bell. It’s the fact that you can’t go anywhere in the world without colliding into an American brand that makes an importer of genuine US products seem like a joke. But I’ll have to visit Martha’s Backyard to see for myself what everyone’s raving about.

  3. I figure homesick nostalgia comfort food for the bronx boy comes from a bodgega, so i just put some quarter water and a selection of pork rinds in the mail to you. With the change from my dollar I bought myself a tube of stale peanuts. Enjoy!

  4. They have some online stores that sell stuff like that in Italy too, and I have to say that after my first year here, I stopped looking for these kinds of things. The last few years we’ve made our expat Thanksgiving dinner from scratch (no canned pumpkin, no Campbell’s mushroom soup or fried onion thingies for the green beans or, God forbid, marshmallows on the sweet potatoes!) to rave reviews from Americans and Italians alike. It’s a whole different taste experience. The only thing I really miss is good ethnic food, but sounds like you have access to that over there.

  5. I feel I should disclose that I’ve recently found out that there’s a Ben & Jerry’s not far from me, and I’m going to go get real ice cream one of these day. I’m maybe the only person on the planet who doesn’t love gelato. I find it too slippery, texture-less and insipid, lacking the “bite” of ice cream.

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