I have always equated Banquet frozen dinners with times of depressing poverty, and for good reason. They are small, cheap, and made almost entirely of inorganic matter, but when you’re flat broke, it’s something you can put in your mouth and pretend it’s real food. You don’t like it, but at least it’s a break from the constant stream of mushy ramen.
All of Banquet’s selections seem equally unappealing, which is why I did a double take when I saw this at my local grocery store.
It’s like they’re not even trying to make this abomination seem in any way attractive to the human palate. First off, let’s deconstruct the name. “Cheesy” implies that there may be something cheese-like involved, but in no way makes any promises that there will be real cheese. I’m guessing that in this case, “cheesy” actually translates to “melted plastic dyed orange”.
“Smothered” would be a lovely descriptive word if you were sitting in a restaurant, perusing the menu and reading the description of their homemade chicken fried steak. Here, “smothered” brings forth nightmarish images of some Banquet executive silently creeping into my room at night, a pillow gripped tight in his sweaty palms, a rictus, maniacal grin on his face as he hovers over my slumbering, innocent form.
“Meat Patty” immediately sets off alarms. It’s not meatloaf, it’s not roast beef, it’s…”meat patty”. According to the USDA’s website, “The definition of “meat” was amended in December 1994 to include as “meat” product derived from advanced meat/bone separation machinery which is comparable in appearance, texture and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand. Product produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery can be labeled using terms associated with hand-deboned product, e.g., pork trimmings and ground pork.”
Strangely, the ingredients list on the box lists the components of the meat patty and the cheese sauce together, so it’s impossible to tell what’s in which. All I can suss out is that the meat patty contains beef, pork, and a mysterious mix of approximately 38 other ingredients, some of which are chemicals that would cause me to lose the state spelling bee. I guess I’ll pretend the meat patty is made of beef and pork, and the other 37 ingredients are in the cheese sauce. Wait, that’s not comforting at all.
You’d think the word “Meal” wouldn’t conjure any feelings of dread, but after the first four words, it somehow becomes an ominous caboose on this haunted word train of doom. I mean, truth in advertising is great and all, but couldn’t you have named it something a little more obscuring, like “Happy Funtime Meat-o-Rama with Awesome Sauce”? At least let the sad sacks who are buying this shit to delude themselves a little. There’s no reason to throw their poor life decisions back in their faces with the name of your frozen dinner alone.
Furthermore, as if the name of this meal didn’t tell you everything you never wanted to know about it, Banquet feels that further clarification is needed, and goes on to say, “Grilled Meat Patty Smothered with Cheddar Cheese Sauce with Mashed Potatoes and Bacon Bits.” My beef (probably the only beef you’ll actually find here) with their use of the same preposition twice aside, I noticed something curious: the phrasing leads you to believe that the mashed potatoes contain Bacon Bits, but in the picture, the mashed potatoes appear to contain no such thing, while the cheese sauce has little pieces of bacon in it. At least, they look sort of like pieces of bacon. God I hope that’s bacon.
So, what the fuck, Banquet? What world of madness is going on here? Who am I supposed to believe, the words or the picture?
Speaking of the picture, here we have yet more evidence that the Banquet marketing team was high off their asses when they created Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal. I’ve seen pictures in 1960’s cookbooks of hot dogs and pickles encased in Jell-o that look more attractive than this abomination. It looks like the winner of Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest drank a gallon of Sunny D and vomited onto the bowel movement of an alcoholic hobo who just accidentally stepped in his own mess. The mashed potatoes look like mashed potatoes, but you aren’t noticing that, because you’re transfixed by the hideous apparition the foreground that Banquet is trying to convince you is safe for human consumption. For the first time in my life, I’m convinced that the food inside this box must look better than the “food” pictured on the front of the box. As much as I don’t want to, I guess it’s time to find out if that’s true or not.
To remain true to the cooking instructions, I can’t peel back the plastic just yet to see what’s underneath, but here’s a sneak peak. The neon orange color of the frozen cheese tells a forlorn tale of loss and destitution. The mashed potatoes look like recycled paper pulp.
Time to cook. I am instructed by the box, which I already hate and mistrust, to slit the cover over the potatoes and microwave on high for 2 ½ minutes. Then I have to open the cover and “Rotate patty a half turn. Spoon sauce over patty and stir potatoes”. I am afraid I will lose my morning coffee and add it to the cheese sauce upon peeling back the plastic and smelling this beast. I am afraid of Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal in general.
You know what I’m more afraid of, though? I’m afraid I might actually like it. It would seem an impossible feat, but what if everything I know about the universe is wrong, and I find myself enjoying my meat patty? What kind of person does that make me? What maximum security mental institution would dare take on such a twisted, deranged mind?
On first glance, my fears of enjoyment will most likely be unfounded. It’s much less odoriferous than I anticipated – there’s a tangy, not-so-pleasant fake cheese smell, but you actually do get a bit of fake bacon smell underneath that. I did not vomit. Yet. I also did not add any salt or pepper. Usually, I add a shit-ton of both to any frozen dinner I eat, but for the sake of SCIENCE, I will experience Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal in all of its naked glory.
The cheese glistens sickeningly atop the meat patty, pools of grease already forming on the outer edges of the compartment. Tendrils of cheese cling to the sides, as if trying to escape and form into some sort of terrible fake-cheese golem that will come after me and attempt to assimilate my body into the hulking beast’s. It manages to be both greasy and clumpy, falling off my fork in misshapen blobs. It is in no way a sauce.
Immediately, there are textural problems for me. It’s like a sponge with a thick coating of melted vinyl. When you bite down, there is no sensation that you are biting into a piece of meat. I imagine this is the sensation a komodo dragon feels as it rips into the bloated corpse of a long-dead wild boar. There is no resistance.
The cheese slides around my mouth like I just bit off a clump of Nickelodeon slime. I keep taking bites, hoping to be able to describe to you what it tastes like, but it is an eldritch horror not of this world, for which the English language has no words. It is not overpowering at first, as you might think, but instead is stealthy, slowly building. Each bite compounds an uneasy feeling that radiates down my throat and into my stomach. My esophagus is coated with a slime that I swear I can feel moving of its own volition. I feel like the color grey.
The bacon flavor floats in and out, like haunted souls trapped in a dark bog, submersing, then briefly breaking the surface to open their mouths in a soundless scream for help. The cheese soon swallows them up again.
As it cools, the cheese congeals into what I could only describe as a cheese gel. It’s the fakest fake cheese flavor I’ve ever tasted, and I voluntarily eat cheese-in-a-can. The meat adds nothing. It has long since been stripped of any flavor it might add, in some factory, as a robot tears apart, crushes, and recombines various unwanted scraps of meat until there are no remaining characteristics of the animal that was sacrificed.
I eat the whole meat patty, struggling until the very end to find the words to convey what I am experiencing. My body feels wrong, as though it is telling me that all systems are not go, sound the alarms, there has been a terrible accident in Sector 7G. There is a white streak in my hair now.
I had figured the mashed potatoes would be a tasteless respite from the meat patty and cheese sauce, but instead, they honest-to-god really do taste like paper pulp. To the point where I really do wonder if that is what I am eating. Originally watery and runny, by the time I finish choking down the meat patty, they have formed into a thick paste that comes up from the bottom of the compartment with a sick slurping sound. Have you ever eaten paper? It tastes somewhat bitter and unpleasantly woody. I take two bites and can’t take any more. I dump the rest down the sink. The mashed potatoes have finished what the meat patty started.
Despite the small portions and not even finishing the mashed popapertoes, the whole thing sits like a stone at the pit of my belly. I honestly feel like I have ingested something wrong. I feel like I should go get a colon cleanse treatment or go on a three-day grapefruit-only diet or something. The list of ingredients is formidable, totalling over 50, but I’ve eaten foods that have had more ingredients than that before. But Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal is possibly the most unnatural thing I’ve ever tasted. Every aspect of it, besides the doomed fake bacon, tastes like it’s been made from industrial processing plants. I’ve just ingested a child’s slime toy that stains walls and clothing, a sponge that had been used to clean a bathroom stall, and a recycled copy of The New York Times. Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal goes beyond the realms of poverty and desperation and enters a dark, frightening place, where even monsters and demons fear to tread. I should probably go get my stomach pumped now.
- Score: 0 out of 5 suicide crime scenes
- Price: $1.40, $1.00 on sale, my soul forever
- Size: 7.1 oz. Pandora’s Box
- Purchased at: Safeway
- Nutritional Quirks: Not actually made of any edible material, anywhere, ever.