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The Sound of Chewing

[whitespace] ice cream Ice, Ice, Baby: The heyday of fro-yo never replaced good old-fashioned ice cream.

Michael Amsler

Food fads come and go, but they are sure to stay in our memories

By Joanne Eglash

REMEMBER WHEN Pop Tarts rocked and SpaghettiOs were hot? Recall the era when frozen yogurt ruled, and obscenely large muffins were born? Still in mourning for the way "power drink" juice bars have rudely replaced Dairy Queen and its Blizzards? Then join us as we pay tribute to the food fads of yore.

If you consider this a trivial pursuit, consider Proust. You see, as Proust so wordily chronicled in his voluminous book, Remembrance of Things Past, food ranks high in creating and preserving our memories. It is impossible to predict just what memory a specific delicacy will yield.

Now that you understand how a craving for a Charms Blow Pop qualifies as a scholarly pursuit, feel free to join us in a trip down food memory lane, revisiting the delectably (well, mostly) crunchy, munchy, comfy trends of yesterday. It's time to free those sensuous shadows, be it by licking a Good Humor bar, sampling some cheese popcorn or nibbling on a frozen Milky Way bar.

It should be noted that food fads generally exhibit two common characteristics: They are not exceptionally healthy, and they rarely require endless hours of chopping, mixing, dicing and slicing. Conveniently packaged or located in practically any store, food fads are easily accessible and ready to satisfy any sugar, salt or calorie-laden craving. But it's usually that sinful taste that keeps them in the memory banks.

THE RESEARCH begins in an area that's no stranger to food fads: shopping mall food courts. Here I interviewed snackers chomping on everything from pizza to pretzels to obscenely large cinnamon buns. When asked to name food fads, many interviewees mentioned frozen yogurt (or "fro-yo," as devotees have dubbed it).

"I think that frozen yogurt kind of hit its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s," San Jose's Marcella Andrews says, as she happily munches on an aforementioned bun. "I used to own a pet shop next to a frozen yogurt shop. And kids would come in with these containers jammed with chocolate chips and Gummy Bears and hot fudge sauce on top of the frozen yogurt, and the parents would be congratulating themselves that the kids were eating something healthy because it had the word 'yogurt' in the title."

There's a general agreement that while frozen yogurt lives on, it's no longer as in vogue as it once was. "Same goes for bagels," says Rich, a Santa Cruz resident. "You can still buy bagels everywhere, but it seems like there used to be a bagel shop on every corner. Now there's more coffee joints than bagel places. But I'll tell you what I really think of when you talk about food fads.

"The days of breadmakers," he says, sighing wistfully. "In the days before I became aware of the existence of cholesterol, I bought a breadmaker. All my neighbors had one, and we exchanged recipes. The best bread was this white flour and white sugar concoction. After the bread was all baked and brown, I'd butter it with sweet butter and pour real maple syrup over it. Ahhhh. To me, that is what they'll serve in heaven. Forget the manna, the nectar. When I'm an angel, I plan to dine on freshly baked hot bread with butter and maple syrup."

Rich's daughter, Janette, shakes her head. "Not if your doctor's there," she informs him. However, she admits to her own favorite food. "Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs!" she says, singing the commercial, adding a little vibrato. "I remember when SpaghettiOs were new on the market. All the kids at school were always singing that song, and we all badgered our parents for SpaghettiOs every night for dinner."

Rich nods reminiscently. "With hot dogs cut up in them," he clarifies.

Together, they sigh. "Boy, those were good!"

I could predict their menu for dinner that night: spaghetti with chopped-up hot dogs, and freshly baked bread topped with butter and maple syrup for dessert.

IN THEORY, Santa Cruz ranks as a mecca for health food addicts. But when asked about memories of food fads, few confessed to a craving for seaweed and soybeans.

Smoothies are as close to health food as food fads get. "I work at World Gym as a trainer," Mike Bordner, a 21-year-old UCSC student, says. "We sell a lot of protein drinks and smoothies. They contain protein powder, which includes carbohydrates, and we can put in fruit, peanut butter, juice, milk."

So many spots sell them now, you can barely walk a block without running into a juice bar. Could they be the bagel shop of the future?

Both on campus, at the gym and in "real life," coffee is a food fad that won't die. Flavored brews, espresso concoctions, iced and blended drinks--they're everywhere. "You gotta have your coffee," Bordner says. "There are so many little coffee shops all over the place, especially on campus. But it's UCSC, so they have to have soy milk to go in it."

As for fond memories of foods past, "I remember Lucky Charms. I still eat Lucky Charms. And Squeeze-It drinks, and Drumstick ice cream cones. And my grandmother would have ice cream bars," he says wistfully, adding with a sigh, "[but] now I'm into body building, so I [stick to] meat, eggs and protein shakes."

His friend, 21-year-old Cabrillo student Ray Knight, however, was not interested in wasting time discussing such healthy food options. "Squeeze-It drinks and other [packaged] juice drinks are good. And remember Jolt Cola?" Ray asks. "Also Creamsicles and Fudgsicles. And I still love SpaghettiOs."

WHILE FOOD FADS like juice bars, SpaghettiOs and hyper-caffeinated beverages may come and go, some hang around. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, a haven for such gourmet guilty pleasure delicacies as saltwater taffy and candied apples, is a testament to the tried and true.

"If you can't deep-fry it or chocolate dip it, we don't sell it," says Ken Whiting of the Boardwalk's Whiting's Food, a company that operates many of the Boardwalk's food and beverage stands. "Deep-fried artichoke hearts, French fries, fish 'n' chips, caramel apples, chocolate-dipped bananas--they've been sold for more than 50 years."

Whiting has observed some distinct trends over the years. And he has an excellent vantage point: His family has been in the food concession business on the Boardwalk since 1953. Though many items still ride the trend wave, they don't fall into complete obscurity.

"Shaved ice, for example, is still sold, though it's not as popular as it used to be," Whiting says. "Same with churros. And fresh-baked waffle ice cream cones--10 years ago, we had three locales selling them. Now they're less popular."

As for health food on the Boardwalk, well, it's pretty sparse: You can buy bottled water, fruit or a smoothie. Because when it comes to food fad popularity, junk food rules.

"Our 'bread and butter' is the fun foods," Whiting notes. "Cotton candy runs the opposite of all the health trends. But it's still extremely popular. So are funnel cakes and chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. People come [here] and they leave their diets at home."

Whether the craving for fad foods stems from childhood memories, commercialized trends or just an innate human need for foods that stray off the beaten track, one thing is certain--they'll continue to rule our gastronomic subconscious for a long time to come.

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From the October 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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