I love snacks. Always have. Looking back, I remember being 7 or 8 years old and eating sleeves of Oreo cookies with my Saturday morning cartoons. I’d tear through my dad’s stash of Frosted Mini Wheats with a vengeance. Until he started hiding them in places I couldn’t reach. Every time I visited my grandparents’ house—usually on Saturdays—I immediately bee-lined it for the cookie drawer. Zingers, Vienna Fingers, Pecan Sandies … and don’t forget the dish of hard candies on the counter. I really took my snack habit to the next level sometime in 1996, while a student at North Adams State College, which now goes by the name of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. I was 19 and a philosophy major with a head full of ideas and impulses. I was thinking DEEP. DEEPER than DEEP. I was going to unlock the secrets of the human consciousness, find all the answers to all the questions. My classes ventured into animal rights and logic, and I started “expanding my mind.” Logic said I didn’t need to eat meat to survive. So I stopped. The rest is mostly salad-shooter history.
But rather than putting on homemade patchwork pants and paring down my diet to a sensible smattering of greens, beans and grains, I took another path past the meat wagon. A snackier path.
Cocoa Puffs. Mashed potatoes. More Cocoa Puffs, mixed sometimes with Lucky Charms. Maybe a little salad with Thousand Island dressing and extra croutons on the side. It was a perfect storm of all-you-can-eat cafeteria food and newfound independence. I’m pretty sure we averaged late-night pizza (extra cheese of course) 4-5 times a week. I packed on the Freshman 15 and then some—not the expected outcome of my newfound vegetarianism. My friends busted my balls relentlessly for being a vageterian. And they weren’t wrong: it didn’t make a lot of sense for the son of a Boston auto mechanic to be a lettuce-head (thanks for that one, pops).
Fortunately I had thick skin—in Massachusetts, all conversation is an exercise in sarcasm. My entire adolescence was spent verbally sparring with friends and trying to break one another’s spirit.
It didn’t end with name-calling, however. Over the years I’ve been pelted with handfuls of Hamburger Helper and slapped in the face by a piece of raw bacon. I once came home to a road-killed skunk corpse sitting inside my Jeep’s front seat. All in good fun of course. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a talk-show moment where I start crying about being bullied for eating Cocoa Puffs three meals a day while wearing a “drug rug” that smelled like musty hay.
Over the last 15 or so years my diet has improved largely through the persistence of my wife, but despite her best efforts I still can’t relinquish all the snacks. Sautéed kale and garlic? Love it, especially with Fruit Mentos and Hershey Kisses (dark chocolate, of course) for dessert. And don’t get me started on nachos … “Remember that time we had bar nachos for dinner four nights in a row?” Ah, which one?!
As my most forthcoming friend recently told me, “It’s less a vegetarian thing and more an ‘impulse’ thing.” I’ll buy that - why else would I combine Haribo Gummi Bears, Buffalo Bleu chips, Caramel Rice Cakes, hummus and sweet pickles in a single snack-sesh? Or put 4-5 condiments on an organic, soy-free veggie burger and slather yam fries in chipotle ranch?
Because I can.
[Words: Mike Horn / Photos: Justin Cash]