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Flackers and Kombucha

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayI’ve been eating pretty conscientiously lately. I have good reasons, so don’t get douchey. (Although, now that I think of it, when do people eat conscientiously for bad reasons? “Eff it. I’m gonna cut back on meat and sugar to really stick it to my mom. That’ll show her.”)

Some of the stuff has been pretty revelatory. For instance: spaghetti squash is better than pasta for pesto, in my opinion, and while pinto beans can still go straight to hell, cannellini beans are like little butter bombs full of protein and velvety goodness. I could drink olive oil, and 36 percent of my adipose tissue is actually guacamole. (My love handles are deeeeeeelicious.) Parsley is a vegetable and makes everything better, and although I respect you, vegetarians, grass-fed, farm-fresh ground beef is probably a good enough reason to at least seriously consider killing a cow. (Although, I’m not sure I could do that—they are really tall. Much taller than you’d think.) Kale chips are mouth-watering, Swiss chard wants to kiss your face (yes, with tongue) and don’t even get me started on what eggs can do. Don’t even.

However.

Have you ever had “Flackers?” or “kombucha?” Both are very strange.

Let’s start with Flackers. Flackers are a trademarked brand of crackers made of flax seed. Think of them as cracker facsimiles or “cracksimiles” for those who enjoy the occasional serial portmanteau. They are sprouted and blessed and prayed for by endangered owls or whatever. But mostly, they are flax seeds. Google “Flackers” for a picture of them, in case you’ve never been compelled to eat them. I can see why you might never be compelled to eat them. I would likely have passed them by, too, were it not for the ultra-restrictive “cleanse” diet my husband and I were on. While we had ventured back into dairy, we still were not eating wheat, and wanted a snack vehicle. I spied Flackers as possible diet-friendly vehicles for cracker accoutrements. So we got them, along with some squishy marvelous cheeses.

I want you to know that I will continue to eat them, even after this discussion, but not because they, in and of themselves, are yummy. They are suitable, nutritious vehicles for cheese and other tasty cracker riders. Their flavor is savory and earthy, and they are salty enough to do the job. But their texture is soooooooo weird. It’s something akin to eating an entire mouthful of tiny insect carapaces. Like, maybe weevils or cigarette beetles? They are cemented together with some kind of clear, edible netting substance. It looks like maybe the teeny beetles had even teenier glue guns and just glued together all the corpses around them. (I don’t know why the teeny beetle craft enthusiasts were surrounded by corpses. I have only made up a little bit about their society.)

The flax weevils are stacked, with some relative uniformity, about three deep and 37,189,750,708,715,807 long. When you bite into a plain, unencumbered cracker, the flax weevils are spontaneously released from the glue web, and immediately dissipate into your mouth, most of which end up nestling gently into the space between your teeth and gums. This is fun for a magnificently long time afterward. The ovoid shape of the flax seeds makes them nigh impossible to dislodge with floss, and while you can absolutely brush them out, they just slide right back in. There’s probably a military application for this, but I haven’t thought of it yet because I already stopped thinking about it as soon as I said the sentence. The balance of the flax weevils become very slimy and slippery and seem to literally flit about your tongue, which is terrific if you’ve always wondered what it would feel like to eat 37,189,750,708,715,807 live weevils all at once, but not great if you haven’t.

The only reasonable way to consume them is with cheese. The cheese absorbs all wayward flax weevils and escorts them with a firm, creamy hand to the sharp, chewing parts of your teeth (rather than the cave-like, must-be-extricated-by-a-dentist parts of your teeth and/or gumline) and then, in a rich, speckled blob, down your throat and into your Omega 3 processing lab, where all of the Chicken in a Biscuit crackers you previously consumed are destroyed and replaced by four extra minutes of life or a more lustrous, manageable cerebral cortex—whichever you wish for.

So, I keep eating them. And every single time, I try one without cheese, just to see if I’m mistaken. I’m not.

Worst case scenario, I know I could survive on a bug and cheese diet. I am having some trouble imaging the scenario that would necessitate such a diet, but should it materialize, I’m ready.

The second weirdest thing I continue to consume on purpose is kombucha. Kombucha, according to Wikipedia, is “a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly intended as functional beverages for their supposed health benefits.” Fermenting things is all the rage. You can buy fermented anything at Trader Joe’s, which has really helped me out, buying wedding gifts for people I don’t really like. (Enjoy the box of lacto-fermented Mike and Ike’s, Paul and Tammy.)

On the whole, fermented stuff is yummy. Sauerkraut, beets, kimchi … yummy. Plus, it’s supposed to heal your guts, or, in layperson’s terms, “make you poop appropriately.” Who doesn’t want an appropriate pooping life? So, as a consummate fan of fermented goods, I started my relationship with kombucha already sold on the idea. Everybody kept telling me about it. “Ermaglerb, kermbercher …” etc., etc. So I finally picked some up.

First, after minutes of careful examination, I realized all of the kombuchas were rotten, each with a gigantic, 1/4-cup snot glob lurking along the bottom of the bottle. I’m as interested in disturbing gustatory experiences as the next person (see “37,189,750,708,715,807 live weevils,” above), but 1/4-cup of snot is just too much snot. (I’m not actually sure what my snot ceiling is, but I am certain one-fourth of a cup exceeds it. And here’s to never having a more precise answer to this question.)

I asked the staffer nearest the kombucha whether this snot stuff was supposed to be in there. He averred, explaining that this gelatinous, goo-blob was called a SCOBY, or “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast,” which is the cutest acronym for the grossest thing I’ve ever heard, beating MRSA and C-Diff by a landslide. This SCOBY, he explained, was largely responsible for the health benefits of the kombucha. Because I wasn’t about to spend all this time trying to buy unrotten kombucha, only to go home and do a bunch of research about science, I resigned myself to somehow imbibing it. I chose what sounded like a delicious but unlikely flavor for a fermented item, something like guava kiwi, or strawberry fripple, and cracked the seal. Upon air exposure, the kombucha facsimilated an eighth-grade science volcano experiment, and powerfully overflowed the bottle. I was immediately doused in what smelled like someone had somehow distilled a burp into a concentrated perfume.

I cautiously took a sip of the 2/3 liquid that remained in the bottle. I want to say I’ve been fooled by olfactory hallucinations and subterfuge before. You know how cheese smells revolting, but the flavor is plum delicious? Or how liverwurst smells scrumptious, but tastes like lukewarm assholes? Not my first rodeo. But kombucha? Kombucha tastes just exactly like it smells. It tastes like a distillation of manifold burps. Dessert burps, banana burps, cheeseburger with mayo and Dijon mustard—all in one, like some horrible Willy Wonka gumball catastrophe. Kombucha tastes like what your burps would taste like if you could eat burps.

Because I already owned the entire bottle of kombucha, I took another sip. Same. Then another. Yuck. And another. Why was I still drinking this? Pretty soon, wholly without explanation, I had consumed the entire bottle. Huh. I regarded the nutrition label: one bottle, two servings. Twice as healthy, right?

A feeling of warmth and well-being washed over me. The people walking by my car in the parking lot were more attractive. The sun came out, the ice melted off my windshield, and my favorite song came on the radio. My ex-boyfriends all missed me, my sister gave me that one sweater I love, and my mom and dad got back together. Just kidding. My mom and dad would never get back together. But I did feel really good. For a while.

About an hour later, my guts began to rumble. I didn’t worry too much about it until the sound was audible to people adjacent to me. I was at the mall at the time, and knew I was in trouble when the cashier at Old Navy offered me her granola bar. I began to locate the exits. When the grumbling and groaning in my guts was producing visible tectonic changes in the flesh of my abdomen, I drove home like a bat out of hell. (On a related note, one time I gave my toddlers Fiber One bars. AS PROMISED FIBER ONE. As promised.) I literally bolted up the stairs to my bathroom, at which point kombucha taught me a lesson in moderation that tequila, Natty Ice, Totino’s Party Pizza, and marinated artichoke hearts had been unable to teach. Respect the kombucha. Or the kombucha will fetch a pound of flesh.

Here’s the kicker: I still drink it. It tastes horrible, explodes all over me, and then occasionally shaves my dignity down to a kind of dignity flattop. High and tight. But between the glugging and the regrets, there is the glowly postprandial elation that only SCOBY-juice can provide.

And there you have it. I’ve succumbed to the hippie rhetoric. I’ve drunk the fermented Kool-Aid and partaken in the flax-seed wafers offered by the church of erudite but dietarily responsible snacking. I feel like a traitor.

Between you and me, Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and cheesy garlic bread potato chips are no less inexplicable.

1 Comment

FranceneStarr

about 5 months ago

I almost miss my Chicken in a Biscuit and Keebler's Fudge Sticks days. Kombucha is too weird for me.

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