MAD DOG: When Fast Food Just Isn’t Fast Enough

If there’s one thing we don’t have enough of, it’s time. Okay, so we don’t have enough money or sex either, we all know that if we had more time we could get the money and sex, demonstrating once again that rationalization is a beautiful thing, even when it smells suspiciously like self-delusion.

Luckily there are people who take our need to save time seriously. Unfortunately that driver who was in front of you this morning who hasn’t figured out that cars go faster when you push down on the gas pedal isn’t one of them. No, these are food companies, and I don’t mean fast food restaurants, which have proven to be more of an oxymoron than a timesaver.

These are food manufacturers who understand that what we really want are good old fashioned home cooked meals just like the ones we pretend Mom used to make, only in a fraction of the time. And without the dirty dishes. And very definitely without Mom, because if she was around we’d have to explain that we haven’t cleaned up the house in months because we’re waiting for someone to develop self-scrubbing toilets, furniture made from genetically altered trees that exude Pledge, and a microwave vacuum cleaner that does the chore in minutes rather than a few minutes.

That’s why General Mills should be in your prayers tonight. Thanks to them we can start saving time at breakfast, which we all know is the most important meal of the day, not the mid-afternoon snack like we tell ourselves it is. They’re releasing a new breakfast treat called Milk n’ Cereal bars, which have Cheerios on the outside and a creamy real-milk filling on the inside. No bowl, no spoon, no taste buds required. I know it sounds suspiciously like a candy bar, but that’s just semantics. After all, they wouldn’t expect us to eat a candy bar for breakfast, would they? Yuck! There’s no way that would go with warm Coke and cold pizza.

It will be interesting to see if this does better than the product Kellogg’s once introduced: milk and cereal in the same box. For some odd reason no one cared, which is a good thing since if it had been a success I’m sure they would have followed it up by crossing a pig with a chicken so the bacon would already be in the eggs when you fry them, not to mention pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You know, like the ones Smucker’s is making.

That’s right, knowing how much trouble it is to spread peanut butter on one slice of bread, jelly on the other, then slap them together, Smucker’s is test marketing already-made frozen sandwiches which only need to be thawed and served. This shows just how little ingenuity American food companies have. I mean really -- waiting for things to thaw is so ‘90s! If Smucker’s was on the ball they’d ram a stick in the sandwiches and sell them as quiescently frozen confections. Sure no one knows what that means, but it’s been on every Popsicle package for years and we still eat them, don’t we?

The real problem is that we all like our PB&J made differently. Some like lots of peanut butter and a little jelly. Others like the balance reversed. Still others believe in equality. When Smucker’s figures this out they’ll end up releasing three variations, each available with different flavors of jelly, and each of those as crunchy and smooth. The peanut butter, not the jelly. This will result in at least eighteen different kinds of frozen PB&J, which won’t leave any room in the frozen food counter for other fine products, such as Hebrew National’s new spreadable kosher hot dogs ("Now with mustard, relish, and ground-up unidentifiable animal parts already inside!").

This leaves dinner. It’s easy to save time here. All you have to do is set out a smorgasbord of IncrEdibles, which are push-up tubes of food you toss in the trash. I mean, the microwave oven. No plates, no utensils, no appetite. Each one has a plastic push-up stick in the bottom so you can sit back and, with minimal effort, enjoy your macaroni and cheese with chili, scrambled eggs with sausage, and Maalox with Mylanta sauce right out of the tube. Yum, yum! It doesn’t get any better than this.

But what about those of us who like to cook but can’t stand waiting for old-fashioned ovens? GE has come to the rescue with the Speedcook, a $1,300 oven fitted with three halogen lamps to speed things up. Chocolate chip cookies in only 4_ minutes! Lasagna in 15! And all the while you’ll wish you’d gone to the toy store and bought an EZ Bake Oven so you could have saved yourself $1,280.05.

One problem with push-up Split-Pea-Soup-On-A-Stick, pre-made sandwiches, and the Speedcook is that we don’t get the aroma of cooking food, and all our lives we’ve been told that smell is an important part of eating enjoyment. Sure durians destroy this argument, but why should we change our thinking just because so many Asians love a fruit that smells like a sewer and tastes like garlic-flavored bananas?

That’s why we’re lucky iSmell is here. This is a device you tuck under your arm to find out if the name is appropriate. Just kidding. Actually it’s a box you hook up to your computer that emits smells when you visit certain websites. Right, as if most web sites don’t stink enough already.

The iSmell could come in very handy. GE could have a website with photographs of different foods cooking so you can click on the appropriate one when you’re using your Speedcook to make Spam au gratin in two minutes flat. The IncrEdibles web site could have illustrations of a real tuna casserole which you could smell while your on-a-stick version was being nuked. Yes, the future will be wonderful. Well, just as long as they have it set up so you’re warned when you’re about to stumble across www.durians.com by mistake.

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