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Monday, November 9, 2009

The Apex of Human Endeavor

What is the crowning achievement of humankind thus far in our existence? Some would say it is higher thought and the ability to reason. Many believe it is our capacity to love. Other contenders might include the discovery of Mathematics, the creation of Art, the legacy of Architecture or the fractal, ever-nesting theories of Physics. (I have personally met two different Turks who would have told you it is the Interstate Highway system and its attendant Scenic Rest Areas.) Wrongo. It is my sincere belief that the absolute zenith of human invention, creativity and applied intellect is the Pop Tart™. Frosted, of course. I doubt that most people will require much of a justification for this opinion, as upon reflection it seems quite self-explanatory, perhaps even facile. However, I would just like to tick off a few of the finer qualities of these delightful anytime snacks (No Virginia, they’re NOT just for breakfast anymore!)

First, some critics would point out the flat, nearly tasteless pastry itself. As to the “flatness”, we read in the King James Version of the Bible, Book of Galatians, Chapter 5, Verse 9 that “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (which always reminds me of a girl I knew who had to quit High School – but I digress.) As any aficionado of kosher culinary pursuits can tell you, the effect of yeast on baked goods is highly overrated. In his masterpiece, Walden, Henry David Thoreau chronicles his experiences living off the land and by the “labour of my own hands”. In order to make his bread rise, he needed to keep a colony of yeast alive and well. Since the yeast required warmth to survive, he carried a cork-stoppered bottle of yeast in his pants pocket. He finally quit using yeast in his homemade bread, mainly because he got tired of the cork slipping out and sending a warm, pungent surprise running down his leg. Talk about your quiet desperation! Thus we see that whilst any lump can leaven, the inventor (dare I say - discoverer?) of the Pop Tart™ dares to be flat! As regards the tastelessness of said shortbread, I see it as a blank canvas upon which the artist may create a masterpiece.

Which brings me to the tasty synthetic filling. Whether ‘tis nobler to choose from the simulated fruit group or the even further removed from nature Chocolate, Vanilla Shake, Hot Fudge Sundae, S’more or any other petroleum byproduct based flavors must give us pause, indeed. The filling is the tonic note of flavor in the Pop Tart™ composition. I personally prefer the Blueberry or Strawberry, much as I appreciate Aaron Copland’s straightforward “Fanfare for the Common Man”, whereas other folks might enjoy a Chocolate Fudge-frosted, chocolate fudge-filled Chocolate Fudge Pop Tart™ while listening to the polyrhythmic stylings of Phillip Glass. If the filling were any thicker it would no doubt dribble all over the damn place, any thinner and it would lose that Pop Tart™ je ne sais quoi and become as mundane as its many imitators. It is apparent to me that considerable time, effort, research and trial and error experimentation went into the development of this, perhaps the most important layer of all.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, what did they add? That’s right, Frosting! In this area, people generally fall into one of two extreme groups. One group disdains frosting and all its works, while the other (of which I am a member) would have trouble resisting a cream cheese-frosted dog turd. By swiping the frosting onto each Pop Tart in a layer that is thinner than Oliver Twist’s gruel, both camps are appeased. The “Frostophobes” can hardly be offended by such a delicate layer of sugary goodness, yet the “Frostophiles” are pleased by what at least amounts to a token effort to satisfy their (read: our) specialized cravings. People unfairly malign refined sugar, but I’ll tell you this – I LOVE it! I have eaten as many as twelve Sugar Frosted Pop Tarts™ a day with no ill effects, and if I hadn’t acquired Type 2 diabetes I would still do so today!

Depending on whom you choose to listen to, either God or the Devil is in the details. From the Jaguar hood ornament to the star atop your Christmas tree, it is the final touch that completes and pulls together a design as a whole. A simple list of ingredients does NOT tell the tale: Sugar, rice flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed, soybean), corn starch, cellulose gum, carrageenan, soya lecithin, FDA yellow #5, FDA red #40, FDA yellow #6, gum tragacanth, gum arabic, FDA blue #1, FDA blue #2, artificial flavor. However, when we put all those things together we get… Colored Sprinkles! A dash of these babies (which are without both taste AND nutritional value, thus a purely aesthetic choice) atop the Pop Tart™ while the frosting is still damp provides the piquant pièce de résistance to this amazing creation. The colored sprinkles create Fun in a way that is truly Wonderful – to coin a phrase, “Pop Tarts™ are Funderful!”

In conclusion, let us look beyond this simple and now thoroughly proven matter of the Pop Tart™ as the Ultimate Human Achievement. Sure, the Great Pyramid has lasted over four thousand years, but so will A Pop Tart™ in its original airtight foil-coated heat-sealed space baggie! And due to the preservatives it should taste the same and be just as nutritious as it was the day it rolled out of Battle Creek, Michigan. Would Thoreau have subsisted on Frosted Pop Tarts™ if that option had been available to him? Probably not. Could Copland and Glass have put their musical differences aside and enjoyed a shared Pop Tart™ brunch al fresco? I would like to think so. If a person can find joy and purpose in a humble pastry – who are we to deny them that right? Can Pop Tarts™ provide the answers to any of the many pressing questions or problems of our modern world? Not unless the question is, “What’s that burning up in the toaster?” The only remaining objection which could be raised by a (truly harsh) critic is that using a toaster to prepare a Pop Tart™ is too labor intensive when compared to, say, eating a Space Food Stick™. Just to let you in on a little family secret – we never told our kids that you are supposed to toast the damn things! As far as I know they still have no idea. Thank you for your attention.

© Copyright 11/09/2009 by James Clifford Dobbs


  1. I likes the fudgey ones. :) They're like brownies, only faster.

  2. Well said. Your command of the language is exceptional, your prose artful. A fun read. Pop Tarts suck. Pop Tarts kill. I have such little respect for the pop tart that I'm not going to bother to figure out how to put the little trademark doo-hickeys next to the words. Here is what Jim won't tell you. The pop tart, when prepared as instructed on the box (by the way, the poptart and the box have roughly equal wholesomeness) will render it into an enriched flour based wafer that delivers to your mouth froot flavored napalm. Napalm as you know is a gelatinous substance that allows it to stick to whatever it is applied to, so while the roof of your mouth is searing, your tongue, which is now burning as well, is desparately turning to spread this death-sludge joy around. In fact there is the inner napalm described above which is hot enough, but also the outer frosty "stealth" napalm which does not have an obvious indication to it's core-of-the-sun properties. The burning takes your mind off your problems, or the realization by some of your other senses that your eating rectangular shit. Gimme a nice cool box of Count Chocula with evaporated milk anyday.

  3. Mothership Cap'n - I'll take the brownies any day!
    Bruce - an inspired rebuttal! OK - I take it all back - Pop Tarts suck, so never mind.