Ah, the lunch kit. Unrivaled in convenience, unparalleled in packaged self-containment, unpalatable in taste, lunch kits are today a $750 million-a-year business, according to BusinessWeek.
To understand this meal concept's success, we need look no further than the weeks-past-its-sell-by-date box of Oscar Mayer Lunchables Lunch Combination Mini Tacos I recently poached from a darkened corner of the Riverfront Times' communal fridge.
Plucked from the shadows, this Lunchable revealed itself as a sort of C-ration for the Wii brigade. Festooned with images from the (at time of purchase, upcoming) Transformers movie, the box held three plastic-wrapped mini tortillas, a package of shredded cheese, a tube of liquefied "taco filling," mild salsa, a bladder of "Fruit Dive" Capri Sun and a tiny box of cherry Nerds.
Just for kicks, the folks at Oscar Mayer threw in a "Pocket Transformers Toy," a silver-colored plastic clamshell whose main transformational quality, from what I can tell, is that when opened it reveals a picture of a midlevel Decepticon flunky named Blackout.
Clearly, toys aren't what they used to be.
Like any good food technology, my Oscar Mayer Lunchables Lunch Combination Mini Tacos lunch kit came with easy-to-follow instructions: "Squeeze Taco Meat Filling onto Tortillas; add Toppings. Enjoy!"
Dutifully, I unsealed the two-inch diameter tacos. A bit firmed with age, the flatbread's hardworking preservatives quickly turned it supple in the heat of my hand.
The taco filling was less promising.
Although the plastic tube promised "Seasoned Ground Beef in Taco Sauce," the sachet felt more like an unopened packet of ballpark relish that is to say, 95 percent pickling juice with the occasional cartilaginous floater thrown in.
I was surprised, then, when tearing the top from the taco filling tube and forcing its contents from the bottom, the taco filling didn't immediately melt into a puddle of beef. Rather, squeezed onto the tortilla in a long tube, the burnt-sienna substance retained its fecal shape even as I dressed it with the provided cheese and salsa.
Phew! Steps one and two completed without a hitch.
Sad to say, Oscar Mayer's final instruction was harder to follow.
Gumming my way through this curiously sweet chemistry project, it occurred to me that I wasn't really being instructed, having transformed these disparate ingredients into a mini taco, to "enjoy" my Lunchable.
Rather, like Optimus Prime to his Autobots on the box, Oscar Mayer was commanding me: "Enjoy!"
Like the Transformers tagline says: "Their war. Our world."