Friday, March 18, 2011

The Flavor Yellow

I was lucky enough to have a pretty decent dining hall in college. Though it was several times shut down for health code violations rumored to have involved rat feces, the food was still mostly edible and varied, much more so than one can generally expect from cafeterias in the Midwest. I enjoyed serving myself tilapia with polenta in time with Prince's "Raspberry Beret" while gossiping with the lively and generally friendly staff.

But things were far from perfect. The O.J. was made from a mix and always came out either syrupy or tasting like water that an orange had sneezed in; the pizza was always wrong, but I could never tell you why; and somehow, in three years, the pasta never once came out "al dente."

Then there was the pie.

Every day at lunch and dinner, the table next to the cereal presented a variety of dessert options. The exact mix varied from day to day, but there were five or so possibilities for pie. There was apple and cherry and strawberry-rhubarb. There was chocolate and banana cream. And there was yellow.

The "yellow" flavor of pie had no obvious counterpart in the natural world. It was clearly not meant to be banana flavor as there was a banana flavor that tasted like banana.

When banana and yellow sat next to each other, they were easy to tell apart. Yellow was significantly more yellow than banana, in color and, I can only assume, in taste as well.

Next to banana, yellow looked cartoonishly bad, like a child's hyperbole of a yellow pie. You knew better than to touch it. Unfortunately, however, banana was not always there to illustrate the contrast. When only one yellow-colored pie sat on the table, it was difficult to determine by sight whether it was yellow-yellow or yellow-banana.

In this situation, most of us chose to play it safe. Sure, the upside of choosing correctly was banana pie, but the downside was ingesting a cloying mouthful of indeterminate yellow substance before realizing your mistake. It was the classic red wire/green wire dilemma, only if you were color blind.

I say "most of us" because some of us really love banana cream pie. Some of us were having a hard time during the long, banana-less winter months, which lead some of us to think it might be worth the risk. As it turns out, some of us were wrong.

I remember staggering into the dining hall one bleak February afternoon. Suicide Prevention Day having come and gone, and I was faced with an endless stream of classes, problem sets, papers, and labs for 7 more weeks, culminating in finals week a.k.a. long, drawn out death. I really needed something, anything to brighten my day.

And there it was. A lone yellow-colored piece of possibly banana-flavored pie, waiting for me.

 The beaming rays coming off it in the illustration are not hyperbole: it actually had a phosphorescent aura emanating from it. I probably should have taken that as a clue, perhaps that the mysterious yellow flavor was actually yellow uranium flavor, but I was too worn down by the Chicago winter to think clearly. I grabbed myself that piece of pie and dug in.

The sensation I experienced halfway through my first and last bite of this pie is probably most analogous to being raped in the mouth by Mickey Mouse.
So sugary! So cloying! So...yellow!

Although I spat it out as quickly as humanly possible and begged my taste buds' forgiveness, I had been violated and would never fully recover. To this day, I cannot see yellow food without experiencing a paralyzing jolt of fear at the memory of that yellow pie.

Happy belated "Pie Day",

S. Misanthrope


  1. Talk of "cloying" food always reminds me of this classic scene: