Short Story: Pink

Recently I’ve been on a trend towards making more “ordinary” foods myself rather than buying them. I’ve been making my own bread for a long time, and I made my own cheese for the first time last month when I was trying out a recipe for saag paneer. I’ve made tortillas, and tortilla chips, and ground my own flour… though quite frankly, none of those three were really worth the effort. Two weeks ago, I starting making my own yogurt, which turns out to be ridiculously easy and gave me the ability to flavor it the way I wanted without a bunch of extra sugar like the store-bought yogurts have. And that got me thinking a lot about health foods, and probiotic bacteria, and everything that goes with food culture here in the US.

It all spilled out in my daily writing exercise today, which I post here for your enjoyment.

—–

Jim fiddled with the lid until it finally popped open. He considered the jar’s contents for a pregnant minute. “What is it?”

“It’s the latest superfood,” Sally responded.” There’s the equivalent of a whole salad in there. This stuff puts Kale to shame.”

“Well it’s about time someone put kale to shame. Kale is like my uncle who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t eat carbs. We all wonder if he’s going to be as insufferable when he’s 120 as he is now.” He shook the jar. “So why is it bright pink? I don’t remember ever eating a pink salad. Or a pink vegetable, for that matter.”

“They add probiotic bacteria. For a healthy gut.”

Meaning I’ll take a crap on a regular schedule, Jim thought. How considerate of them, to pre-chew my food AND let me plan my time on the toilet. “So the bacteria is pink?”

“No, the bacteria produce stuff that’s pink. Part of their probiotic function.”

“So if I eat this, those little guys are going to poop pink stuff inside me. Will it turn my poop pink as well?”

Sally’s eyebrows popped up as she tipped her head to the side. “Huh, I hadn’t thought of that…let me check.” She rummaged through her handbag and emerged a moment later with a folder paper, covered in tiny print. She scanned down the front, flipped it over, and worked her way through the back, stopping about halfway down and squinting at a dense paragraph. “It says here that some consumers will experience a discoloration of their stools. So I guess that’s a yes, or a maybe.”

“Lovely. At least we’ll know who forgot to flush the toilet at work – the guy with the jar of pink goo in the break room fridge with his name on it. So what does it taste like?”

“Did you ever drink Strawberry Kwik when you were a kid?”

Jim perked up. “Yeah – I used to love that stuff. Though I tried it again a couple of years ago, the first time in about 15 years. It was weird; it didn’t taste like anything recognizable. Certainly didn’t taste like strawberries. That’s what this tastes like?”

“Yup. They did that on purpose. They want a familiar taste that’ll help people get over the color, and they’re hoping kids will like it. So I guess it was either Strawberry Kwik or Pepto-Bismol.”

Jim chuckled at that notion. “But that means that it doesn’t naturally taste like Strawberry Kwik. I guess that makes sense – how could it? But they added some flavoring to make it that way. Doesn’t it sort of defeat the purpose of a superfood if you have to pump it full of artificial flavoring to get people to eat it?”

Sally beamed with pride. “Oh not at all. In fact that’s what we think has been wrong with all the superfoods that have come before this. We thought people expected their health food to be all-natural, so much so that they were willing to eat things that tasted horrible, but in the end people always go back to what they actually like to eat. So we’re flipping this upside down; it’s the health food that first and foremost tastes great!”

“And looks alien, and has all sorts of other stuff in it.”

“Alien! Oh that’s so good, we can totally use that. People love aliens. Very sci-fi, very futuristic, very nerdy. Nerdy is so in. We were looking for a good name. How about ‘Alien Super Supplement?’”

“Or ‘Space Goop.’ Goes all the way through to Uranus!”

Sally shot Jim a stare that would have frozen Mercury. “Hey now, not funny. Health food is big business. We could be on to something here. This could be huge for our company.”

“I know. That’s what scares me. Everything you’ve said makes perfect sense. It could sell like crazy. And we would be in the business of selling a product that comes in a color that doesn’t occur in nature, tastes like a children’s beverage, is full of one-celled organisms, and turns your poop pink. In the ‘health food’ section of your local supermarket.”

Sally gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Oh no, we won’t sell this in stores. We totally think the sweet spot for this is fast food restaurants.”

Jim’s jaw fell open as he considered the implications. “So… McSpaceGoop?”

“Exactly! And our food service experts have figured out how to dispense it from one of their milkshake machines, so they don’t even need to bring in new equipment! They just drop the vanilla shake, and replace it with…”

Jim cut her off. “Hey now! McDonalds can’t get rid of vanilla shakes! I’m all about the vanilla, and so are lots of other people! Don’t be disenfranchising my people!”

“’Your people.’ I didn’t realize you had a people. And they would be…”

“My people like quiet food. Vanilla shakes. Salads with cool ranch dressing. Fries with mayo.”

“Wait, did you say fries with MAYO? That’s disgusting.”

“It’s very popular in France,” Jim retorted, crossing his arms in defiance.

“Last I checked, this isn’t France. It’s America, and we eat our French fries with ketchup, the way God intended.”

Jim smiled and leaned back in his chair. “If that’s the way God intended, then why are they called French fries?”

“I… have no response to that.” She paused to collect her thoughts. “So.”

“So you were explaining how you’re going to replace my beloved vanilla shakes with tasty pink McSpaceGoo that will make you so healthy you won’t care that you’re leaving pink droppings behind.”

“Um, yeah, and actually McDonalds is pretty excited about it. We just need the tie-in to make it perfect.”

“Tie-in?” Jim asked.

“Right, some kind of media thing to connect it to. Like a hot-selling book series, or a movie or TV show. Mickey D’s would prefer it to be TV, since it appeals to their target audience.”

“Doesn’t Nickelodeon already do something with goo?”

“Yes, but it’s currently green goo. We’re going to give them a call, see if they’d be willing to change it to pink for a share of the profits.”

“I see. Hopefully their audience isn’t too tied to green. Which brings up a good point: won’t this be a hard sell with boys? It is pink, after all.”

Sally was ready for that. “We thought about that, but in the end we’re not that worried.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for two reasons. First, it’s never hurt sales of Strawberry Kwik.”

“Fair point,” Jim conceded. “And the second reason?”

“Let’s be honest: boys were never going to be the target market for this anyway.”

Jim was shocked. “Wait – you’re going to throw away half the potential audience right from the start?”

“Oh no, not at all. Boys will drink it, but we’ll sell it to their parents. They’re the ones footing the bill anyway, and they’re dying to find a way to get their sons to eat something healthy – ANYTHING healthy. And if it tastes good and that’s the price to pay to get more chicken nuggets, the boys will drink it up. Besides, you just gave us a third reason, which trumps both of the others.”

“I did? And that was?”

“Aliens. We could make it bright pink or lavender purple with cute little bows, and as long as there was a connection with aliens, boys will be all over it.”

Jim paused for a moment, then let out a long sigh. “OK, seems like you’ve got this all figured out. I just have one more question for you.”

“How do you sleep at night?”

Sally laughed out loud. “Oh you should try this new sleep aid we’ve been working on. You’ll love the color.”

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