My friend’s sandwich looked straight out of “Chopped.” He had taken a firm sesame seed bagel and sliced it in two, artfully placed slices of roast beef on the bottom, and delicately drizzled sprigs of arugula on top of it to create a lunch that was as tasty as it was tasteful.
My sandwich took longer to prepare but required half as much effort. As I waited patientily I heard an obnoxious “buzzzz” ring across the bustling co-op kitchen of Chi Theta Chi (excuse me, “576 Alvarado House” as the Stanford overlords prefer to call it). I walked to the stained microwave and removed my meal, unwrapping it from its paper towel plate on the counter next to my companion’s creation. My Jimmy Dean sandwich was a sorry sight, frozen croissant hardened by the loss of moisture, neon orange cheese stuck like rubber to the thin beef patty.
But if this were indeed “Chopped,” only my sandwich would advance to the final round. While my friend’s food would subtly dance across the tastebuds, mine embodied the all-American tradition of taking Yummy Things and beating you over the head with them. Croissants? Delicious, especially when you pronounce the hard “t” at the end as I guarantee all Jimmy Dean fans do. American cheese? It may look inedible (and it more or less is), but the combination of chemicals deserves a Michelin star. Beef patty? It’s a greasy, ground-up slab of animal flesh, what more could you ask for?
Jimmy Dean sandwiches melt in your mouth, unleashing their tidal wave of fatty goodness all over the palette. Their flavor will linger long after the meal is finished, but no sane person would ever want it to leave anyway. The signature sausage patty is just the right level of salty, that is, extremely, and only an equally unhealthy soda seems like the proper pairing to dilute the deliciousness.
I grew up at the intersection of two very different brands of white American. My mother, a former actress from a family of Brooklyn Jews living in Santa Barbara, raised me on a combination of Ashkenazi Jewish dishes and Oprah Magazine health food. But as delicious as her meals are I was also fascinated by my father’s favorite guilty snacks, arising from his casual-Christian upbringing in a relatively low-income Los Angeles family.
As a result, my palate has developed to appreciate what could only be described as “white trash caviar.” I know the amount of force needed to skillfully crack open a can of Vienna sausages so the strange meat-water can be emptied out. I daydream of the unique squirt of grease that comes from a first chomp into a Slim Jim. And I know my way around a 7/11 like it’s my own bedroom.
And yes, I do force myself to eat plenty of things like “salad” and “fruit,” because I’m pretty sure that my theory that I’ll become immortal if I eat enough preservatives will probably have the exact opposite effect. But in the meantime, college is one of the few points in my life where it is socially acceptable for me to consume objectively terrible pre-packaged foods. Film snob I may be, but food snob I am not, so I’ll continue to enjoy every minute of it.
Contact Noah Howard at noah.howard ‘at’ stanford.edu.