JUNK FOOD IS FUNNY -- tiny double-decker hamburgers made out of ocher-tinted bubble gum, pink cupcakes coated with coconut made to look like snow, sugary fake wax lips and teeth, swirl of my dreams ice cream.
Attempting to make something intrinsically amusing, funnier by writing heavy satire about it is like gorging on chocolate-covered donuts. You end up with literary carbo-overloading, or in the case of Junk Food the book, five hungry editors in search of a joke.
Junk Food dishes out 100 occasionally satirical stories, including illustrations and cartoons, all by authors with different humor priorities. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
The pick of the chick is a serious story by Anne Beatts about what to feed a finicky dolly. "The easiest and often the most enjoyable way to reduce the size of food is to eat it yourself. For example, eating all around the edges of your own, normal-sized hamburger will eventually transform it into a tiny burger, just right for dolly."
You want inside dirt on famous Junkies? Colonel Sanders hates Filet O'Fish because he says it's made out of codfish and codfish have parasites. Sanders says it's because "they eat the seal dung off the bottom of the ocean. The white cream filling in Oreos is "basically congealed fat plus confectioners sugar." Baby Ruth was not named after the baseball player Babe Ruth, but after President Grover Cleveland's daughter. Babe Ruth, however, "often placed a lettuce leaf under his cap to keep his head cool on hot days." (He died of syphilis.) Those little Keebler elves are foreigners. The company is owned by United Biscuit of the U.K.
There is a handy list for home movie makers on what food makes the most realistic-looking guts, coagulated blood, brains or warts. If you have to know, it's macaroni cooked in Hawaiian Punch; a mixture of grape and raspberry Jell-O; wet and softened KA-ME Ramen Chinese noodles, and Cocoa Puffs (or Sugar Smacks), in that order.
The stories divide like this: 17 very funny to funny, nine informative to philosophical, 28 funny to weird/sick, and a few moldy leftovers (drawings not included) -- which means every good bit will set you back the price of a bag of fries. Not such a bad deal.
In the very funny group, even the author's credits show wit: "Rex Weiner is co-author of Woodstock census . He has written 'for every magazine ever published . . . and some that weren't.' Yes: Stuckey's Pecan Log. No: Any cracker in the shape of a fish." Or "Andrew Zimmerman lives on 14th Street, Manhattan. He likes the grapes in fruit cocktail."
Honest-to-goodness junk food recipes are given for yucko's like Athlete's Fish (an innocent fresh salmon poached in Gatorade) and Pete de spam. But there are limitations: "You can't mix carbonated grape soda with creme de menthe and hope for any palatable result; so Nehi To A Grasshopper didn't make the cut."
Cyra McFadden's spoof on "theme restaurants" features one in L.A. that recreates a high school cafeteria; the credit for the joint's popularity with all those primals and rebirthers is given to its return to institutional food: "'I mean who hasn't eaten government surplus okra off a metal tray at one point in his life or another? The bottom line is everybody's been to summer camp. Oh sure, we all evolve, call ourselves grownups; but what we really are is the reflection of our culinary culture. Look at McDonald's . . . talk about your golden archetypes.'"
This is all good gruel and there is more, but there is a lump in the oatmeal. It's the recurring sf theme called "The Century of Progress." The year of 1983 and the state of Illinois has been sold to an agrarian conglomerate with a thing for cows -- bovine logos, name-this-cow contests, cow diagrams, etc. The company is having a grand opening on the 112th anniversary of the Chicago fire and you get pages and pages of dull details on everything the Century of Progress has to offer, which is nada .
Junk food combines the worst of The National lampoon, the best of Mad magazine and Saturday Night Live, all garnished with a sprig of originality. Given the choice I'd rather read than eat it.