Come Eat A Little Of The Forbidden Fruit

I’m tempted, so tempted by a larger-than-life, King Kong sized caramel apple that drips, glistening golden goo. I want it. It measures 5 inches by 5 inches. I know because I measured it. It’s the largest of any apple you’ll find in the kingdom, though I’ve noticed apples are getting bigger all the time. The wonders of genetically modified food? This monstrosity, though, is disappointing because it’s not completely smothered in caramel; the bottom half is naked, its red cheeks exposed. And it’s not a real apple. I mean it’s real, it’s just that it’s on the cover of Eating Well magazine. I’m a new subscriber looking for original ideas and recipes during the pandemic when it seems all I do is plan meals, shop for meals, prep meals, cook meals, clean up after meals over and over again. From a magazine with a promising title, I didn‘t expect to be taunted like this; every time I pass the coffee table, I see the cover and I salivate. But I quickly forgive the magazine folks because it’s the October issue, trick or treat month; I’m late drooling over it though, finally working my way through the magazine stack I’ve somehow amassed and never conquered during Covid. But oh, how I’m enjoying being stimulated now.  

I want to lick it.  

I flip a couple of pages and find myself in the middle of a gold rush. On the left side of the spread is an extreme closeup of a diagonally cut, grilled cheese sandwich. Again, more gooey goodness in the form of melted, fake-orange cheese squishing out along the cut line while the gluten-filled, white bread is perfectly grilled and crispy. I spin thinking about french fries and a bowl of tomato soup to go with it. I want it for lunch. No not lunch. Now. I just ate lunch. But now I’m drawn to the right page to a rack of oversized crunchy, fried drumsticks. I fantasize about a blue-skied picnic under a big tree with creamy potato salad and coleslaw. And chocolate chip cookies. And cake. Pie too. Praise the food stylists for taking me away.  

Wait! Something’s wrong. What exactly are they selling here? I look at the cover again. No, I was right, the magazine is “Celebrating 30 Healthy & Delicious Years!” Maybe I had it all wrong with my grain bowls, overpriced organic veggies, pea shoots, micro greens, and packaged food with labels so beautiful you could frame them. Maybe, what I was looking at was the real deal of eating well, healthy, and delicious. Or these magazine people were just luring me to the healthy content.  

A little bait and switch to come?

I keep going and it’s worse than that. Much worse. This is a magazine for sickos. Or people who don’t know it yet.  Or they know it and don’t know what to do about it. Of all the magazine pages, 14.8% are pharma ads for Vascepa, Zyrtec, Xiidra, Dupixent, Palforzia, Stelara, Xeljanz XR, Systane, and Robitussen. I know because I counted and did the math. And they’re not pretty ads. They’re mostly lines and lines of boring text packed with disgusting descriptions of things that can happen to your body: inflammation in parts of the large intestine, abdominal pain, ulcers in your stomach, ulcers in your intestines, parasitic infections, cold sores, blood in phlegm, burning when you urinate and of course the classics, vomiting and diarrhea.

Why are these folks rubbing these words up against their recipes? These are appetite suppressants if I ever saw them.  

The only explanation is there’s not a lot of cross communication between the advertising, editorial and layout departments. Maybe they don’t like each other. Or this is the result of a happy hour, brainstorming, Zoom meeting, “Yes that’s a winner. Let’s pair the Dupixant injection with the Sweet & Sour Braised Halibut.”

Not to give the wrong impression, it’s not just big pharma that advertises. Oscar Mayer meats, Lunchables, Lean Cuisine, frozen mac and cheese, veggie tots, and portable protein are all represented but they don’t scream eating well or healthy either. On the other hand, I completely agree that mayonnaise is a ”real food.” Anyone who knows me well, knows I believe the food trinity is butter, mayo, and Vermont maple syrup and I’ve been known to stash a back-up of five pounds of butter “just in case.”

There was hope though. Honey, coffee, tea, walnuts, Irish butter ads existed along with dog and cat food touted as “crafted” and wholesome because they were made with real chicken. One contained “more meat for your dog’s wild side.” Woof.  

I flip back to the cover just to look at the apple again.  

Above the magazine title, a tag lines reads, “Ingredients for the Good Life.” Ads may not tell the whole story then. Maybe the good stuff really happens in the recipes. There are 44 of them. The helpful food writers created a nice chart in the back detailing each one’s calories, carbs, protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, Vitamin A, and whether it’s low cal, vegan and on and on. But I don’t care about the Terra-Cotta Stewed Chicken or the Horseradish-Cheddar Mashed Cauliflower or the Clam Pizza Fra Diavolo.  

I only care about the forbidden fruit on the cover.  

I hurry to the caramel apple recipe. It makes enough for six. I’ll need six small apples. Small. Small. Small. Trickery. I knew the cover was too good to be true. The caramel is made of brown sugar, agave, butter, and salt. A neat, little italicized note gets my attention: “These fall treats have just enough caramel to give a nice hit of salty-sweet flavor in each bite.” Just enough. Just enough? Exactly how much “just enough” per apple? Just. One. Tablespoon! I’d never eaten like one Oreo, seven potato chips, or a half strip of bacon. The back of a spoon dipped in caramel would have more than a tablespoon clinging to it. I bet these evil, demented people were chuckling over their tomfoolery and trick photography.  

I close the magazine feeling deceived. I noticed one last thing. The stick the apple sits on. There’s a message printed on it. It reads: “Take a Bite!” And they meant it.

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