Tenth Helpings is a humorous column by Food52 cultural critic Ella Quittner.
I’m a ‘corn kid. I was born in 1991 on Long Island – not sure, never sure – so I spent much of my youth browsing the Lisa Frank section of our local Rite Aid. Once every few months, I was allowed to buy a pack of stickers, with which I would decorate everything from the plastic-wrapped journal that I carried around but rarely wrote down, to the closet wall in my bedroom.
The rainbow leopard was a go-to sticker, funky and chic, and a bit spooky. The balloon also had chops; it got to its point fairly quickly and had the added benefit of fitting perfectly between the curved heart and the shooting star, thanks to its very heavy design. And I wouldn’t have fired the oversized butterfly from a three-pack.
But there was no Lisa Frank sticker more powerful, more omnipotent, thicker with the potential of what life was, and what it could ultimately be, than the unicorn. The unicorn was the most sacred body, the most transcendent form I had ever seen. Conceptually, for me, it represented immortality, and visually, it was all iridescence and happiness. Slap one of these little assholes on a filing cabinet, and it doesn’t suck at doing math homework.
At some point in the last three decades, I lost touch with this magic. Or something. I must have! That’s the only way I can explain my gut reaction a few weekends ago, when I discovered a product called “mini funfetti unicorn pancakes” at my local Gristedes, and wished, at that moment- there, to be thrown directly into the sun.
Big Grocery’s great unicorn probably peaked around 2018, when every conglomerate from Kellogg to General Mills had a rainbow-hued offering on the shelves. Which does not mean that there has been a lot of reflux. Today, the following unicorn flavored products are available within a mile radius of my apartment: a Betty Crocker Unicorn Cupcake Kit, Snack Pack Unicorn Magic Pudding, Little Debbie Unicorn Snack Cakes, Funfetti Unicorn Vanilla Frosting, Bang’s Energy Rainbow Unicorn Drink, Key Food Two Bite Unicorn Cupcakes, and the aforementioned Mini Pancakes, shipped direct from Satan.
And as I looked at these tiny, tiny pancakes, I realized there was nothing I could do about it. But I could try to understand. Empathize with her. Become one with the trend. Maybe, just maybe, rediscover magic.
That night, in the bath, as I lazily traced the outline of a psychedelic hot air balloon against the damp wall, I pondered my path forward. It was clear. I would taste every unicorn flavored item I could get my hands on. I was eating these processed snacks until I was bleeding pink and blue, until I was burping confetti, until I was ‘corn and the ‘corn was me. And then, maybe, I could never think about it again.
Here are my field notes:
The “unicorn” flavor is sweet – often overly sweet, the kind of chemical saccharine that eventually turns into tongue fluff. Sometimes “unicorn” is just a whistle for cotton candy. Other times it is unapologetically “berry flavor”, which is not to be confused with the actual flavor of a berry, and which means a distinct flavor not found in nature, but which is closely related to a Dum Dum or Lip Smackers lollipop. bright. It can also taste like any of the following, alone or in jarring and disturbing amalgams: sugary cereals, cherry fluoride, imitation vanilla, Fruit Loops, packaged cake mix, Go-Gurt, chewing gum and Nothing at all.
The “unicorn” flavor is never meaty, never horsey. Never literal, never horny. Sometimes a unicorn-flavored product will refer to the shape of a unicorn, but more often it will rely on sinister food coloring to make its point.
The “unicorn” flavor can exist in most formats, as the company has determined through its inaction on the matter that the “unicorn” flavor does not need to adhere to social contracts. It is without law. It’s chaos in a two-bite cupcake, chaos in a neon tin can. We saw the unicorn flavored products emerge, and we sat at our little desks, typing on our little computers, hitting send on our little Tweets, and we didn’t band together to protest, we didn’t We’ve provided no feedback in any form, and now my tongue is the color of Smurf’s bile and my head hurts so much I wish to detach it from my body.
The “unicorn” flavor takes no prisoners. He doesn’t care about our expectations. If it was a person, it would be the person who always shows up to your dinner early in a loud outfit, but not in a cool way. That would be a jock shock. Someone you said hello to, to get rid of it, before you excused yourself to go to the bathroom. The “unicorn” flavor would be a really sexy person with a horrible personality, a personality she didn’t reveal to you until it was too late.
The “unicorn” flavor is a violation of everything Lisa Frank stickers stood for. It’s not fancy, it’s not inherently beautiful, and it doesn’t make you want to take a little LSD. It’s not fancy or fun. The “unicorn” flavor also has nothing to do with an actual (mythical) unicorn, which would bring tears to my eyes because it would be so beautiful and free.
The worst iteration of the “unicorn” flavor is Snack Pack’s Unicorn Magic Pudding, which is a shame, because I love a good Snack Pack. The best iteration of the “unicorn” flavor is Little Debbie’s Unicorn Snack Cakes, which are passable, although they do have a faint taste of perfume that was left in a hot car.
If you get a little drunk before tasting it, the “unicorn” flavor can be nice and satisfying, although a little rough and sweet around the edges. He can hit the spot, as long as the spot is messy and big, an easy target.
The “unicorn” flavor is probably intended for children. But there are other edible treasures better suited to children. Boxed macaroni and cheese cut hot dogs! Freshly baked cookies! Dumplings of all kinds!
The “unicorn” flavor is a philosophical problem, more than a flavor. This calls into question the whole concept of “delight”. How can a snack so bubbly, so affordable, so available in the Gristedes below my apartment be so (mostly) appalling? Either it’s a means to an end – corporate America and late-stage capitalism and the rip-off that co-opts millennial nostalgia for sales of hyper-processed junk food, all rolled up into a glittering ball – either that’s it, or that’s not God. Or there is a God, but he’s an asshole. The “unicorn” flavor can therefore be the source of all evil, because it raises such questions. And a whole litany of answers. For example, either God is an asshole or humans are very bad. The “unicorn” flavor makes me think, probably, that humans are very bad.
The “unicorn” flavor will probably outlive us all.