MAD DOG: Jello Turns 100

There's no question. A 100th birthday is cause for celebration. Think about it, there aren't many people in this world that last that long. It's hard to believe any marriages have made it through that many years, and even though Buffy The Vampire Slayer feels that long, the truth is it only lasts sixty minutes (86 if you were one of the four people who saw the movie).So why aren't I a bit happier to hear that Jell-O brand gelatin is celebrating its centennial? Maybe it's because it feels strange knowing the wobbly, unearthly substance is nearly half as old as our country, shakes more than Anna Nicole Smith on a jogging track, and has all the substance of Supermodel Week on Jeopardy. But more than likely it's the memory of looking down after dinner and hoping for a piece of pie a la mode but instead seeing a bowl of twitching strawberry Jell-O with canned fruit cocktail suspended in it like some kind of primordial aspic.Obviously I'm in the minority here. After all, Kraft Foods claims that in the United States they sell a box of Jell-O every four seconds. That's fifteen a minute, 900 an hour, 21,600 a day, and enough in one year to encapsulate the Statue of Liberty and give it back to the French who like gelatinous desserts.It all started in 1897 when Pearl Waite, a carpenter in upstate New York, vowed revenge on the world for being given a woman's name. Just kidding. Actually, being a carpenter, he came up with the concept of nailing Jell-O to a tree but since he couldn't find any of the stuff in the store he sat down and invented it himself. His wife named it, he started selling it door-to-door, and once the fish-shaped gelatin mold was invented, the stuff took off like a space shuttle without the computer glitches and liquid oxygen leaks.So, being a red-blooded American who hates to waste precious TV viewing energy by chewing his dessert, what's the best way you can commemorate this momentous occasion in culinary history? By going to see the traveling exhibit those fine folks at Kraft have put together. But don't worry, if you don't catch it when it comes to a town near you, all is not lost. Knowing that people will never tire of seeing old ads, vintage recipe books, and something called the Jell-O Brick Road (which would have been in the Wizard of Oz had the studio heads been taking as many hallucinogenic drugs back then as they do now) the exhibit is going to settle down in a building in LeRoy, NY, which will become....the Jell-O Museum.To what do we owe the popularity of this semi-solid substance that even Stephen Hawking won't pretend to understand? It could be the flavors, which started at four and now total 23, including the about-to-be released White Grape which is supposed to be made with soda water, ginger ale, or as I'm sure will happen very quickly, beer and champagne. I guess this is better than the cola, celery, chocolate, coffee and apple flavors they put out in the past and dropped once they found out that no one with anything resembling taste buds wanted to eat them.Face it, Jell-O is for kids. It's the playability factor. It shimmies, it shakes, it bounces and it slides down without having to chew. What an ideal food! If they'd put lots of vitamins and minerals and other things they tell us we should eat in addition to our usual diet of fat, chemicals, and snack foods that come in colors not found in nature, then we could live on Jell-O and Jell-O alone. But until that happens we're just going to have to fill in the nutritional gaps by eating pizza-flavored corn.That's right. Scientists in London, not content to work on finding a cure for the common royalty scandal, are busy artificially flavoring frozen vegetables in the hope that it will get British children to eat better. They started this project after reading a study which said children in that country eat hardly any fruit or vegetables, unless you count fruit roll-ups as fruit and potato chips as a vegetable. Thus they came up with such tasty combinations as chocolate-flavored carrots, cheese and onion-flavored cauliflower, and baked bean-flavored peas. For reasons only they understand, they decided not to go with bubblegum-flavored broccoli.This is all quite a revelation for a country which thinks the word "food" and "boiled" are synonymous. Remember, this is also the country that has farmers painting their lambs with foul tasting glow-in-the-dark paint so foxes won't want to eat them, is proposing to put commercial sponsors on street signs (I can't wait to drive down the road and see Fleet Enema Street), and had a political candidate for the Monster Raving Loony Party who vowed to tow the whole island to a warmer climate if he won. It makes one wonder whether the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London was onto something when they recently complained that there weren't enough hospital beds for psychiatric patients in England.So let's hoist a bowl and give a toast to the dessert that launched a thousand spoons. In the words of grocery store owners everywhere: "There's always room for 509 million boxes of Jell-O a year."


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