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.”