Many excellent products from the past, good friends of the bachelor cook, have become revolting, only the famous name remaining to attract the unwary customer. It seems that the skilled creators of these products have now departed, and their successors are completely incompetent. The consumer will vote with his or her choices, and these products do seem to have a declining popularity, though they still show up on the shelves.
The gradual decline in quality of some products from excellent to merely ordinary or borderline is something different. Wisconsin cheese, Idaho potatoes, Washington Apples and California peaches are examples of a descent into tasteless mediocrity or low quality; all should be avoided, but are edible in a pinch. Colorado red potatoes, peaches and canteloupes, Texas grapefruit and onions, New Zealand apples, and Borden's mincemeat (for pies) are contrary examples of excellent quality. I have had California raspberries with no flavor at all, and peaches with no scent. It would seem difficult to do this, but they have managed somehow. They are edible, but it is no fun.
No, here I am talking disgusting. The canned ham was once a delicacy, firm and tasty, and very convenient to have in the pantry. A recent Armour's Black Label ham was little better than Spam--in fact Spam would have been less disgusting, and a lot cheaper. There were traces of fibrous structure resembling meat, but a piece rubbed between the fingers would disintegrate into a crumbly paste. The texture was like gelatin, not meat, and the flavor very poor. Are there quality control people tasting these hams? If you want real ham, the best bet seems to be one from the meat counter, but this is usually very inconvenient for the single cook.
Franco-American spaghetti used to be a favorite of mine, either alone or as the basis for a skillet meal or casserole. Some genius at Campbell Soups found out long ago how to can spaghetti and leave it with bite, and the sauce was an excellent flavor. Now the sauce looks like tomato soup, and the spaghetti is like snot strings. I imagine we have suits in the kitchen, choosing the spaghetti. It cannot be rolled on a fork, and disintegrates into 1/4" bacilli upon stirring. I regarded this as tragic, another casualty of American entrepreneurship. The alternative is good Barilla spaghetti and one of the canned sauces, which can also be ready in 15 minutes. I haven't found a sauce tasting like the old one, unfortunately.
Campbells apparently discovered something was wrong with Franco-American. This year (2004 or 2005) Campbell's Spaghetti appeared on the supermarket shelves, and it is the old, good Franco-American. This restores my trust in Campbells, and shows that there is still someone there who thinks quality is important.
My local Kroger supermarket has been pushing something called "Old Fashioned Lemonade" the last month or so. This product, in half-gallon jugs, is the most disgusting fluid currently offered for human consumption. It is not only too sweet (corn oil sweet) but is also oily, leaving an indescribably repellent aftertaste. It is obvious nobody tasted it before putting it on sale. If you want to know what a really disgusting lemonade is, try some. I did, because I did not believe anything that was called lemonade would be so bad. Instead, try Crystal Light, aspartame-sweetened but with a fine natural flavor. Real lemonade is, of course, easy to make, but lemons are surprisingly expensive now.
The worst baked goods in the world are made by Entenmann's. This is just the name of an old and defunct Chicago delicatessen with a fine reputation, now used by industry purely as a brand, for products sold in supermarkets. These heavy, leaden products are designed to last up to months in storage. The later you get them, the worse they will be. There may be people who eat baked goods like this, but it is hard to understand their lack of discrimination. The best alternatives are the Jiffy mixes, to which you add an egg and milk, and bake yourself. It only takes 20 minutes, and you have something much better than Entenmann's could ever make, at a much lower price. There is no sell-by date on Entenmann's products--they stay on the little table until some fool buys them or they rot.
These are the examples I happen to have at the time of writing. They are, of course, my own opinions.
Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 13 July 2002
Last revised 27 February 2005