The View From Planet Kerth: In praise of free-range animal crackers
I was happy when I read that animal crackers were changing their packaging in a significant way. The old packages showed cookie lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) in circus cages with bars that kept them from roaming free like all other cookies and crackers and crisps (oh, my!). The new packages would eliminate the bars altogether.
And so I dashed to the grocery store to pick up a box of animal crackers — or “Barnum’s Animals” as the sign at the top of the box proclaims.
I don’t know exactly why it was important to me to do that. It may have been to see if happy free-range hippo crackers grew plumper than caged hippo crackers. Or if unshackled ape crackers would be less likely to fling their sweet feces at me out of anger.
Or maybe I just suddenly had a hankering for animal crackers because it had been a long time since I opened a box of them, cage bars or no cage bars.
I was disappointed when I got to the grocery store, because all they had were the old, restrictive caged boxes on the shelves. I know, I should have turned away in protest of the confectionary cruelty, but there were those yummy-looking elephants right there on the cover of the box, and who can say no to a pachyderm that packs only 10 calories?
I felt a little silly putting the animal cracker box on the revolving belt at the checkout line, because they were jarringly out of place with anything else in my shopping cart. Oh, they might have worked with the onion dip if you washed them down with the Irish whiskey, but that would be a stretch. There was little chance anybody would think I was young enough to have an actual animal-cracker-munching kid living under my roof, but just in case, I picked up a head of lettuce so DCFS wouldn’t call me to ask what kind of meals I was feeding the kid.
The lettuce, it turns out, wasn’t necessary to prove that I was nutrition-conscious, because it says right there on the box that animal crackers are a “good source of calcium.” In fact, you could get your full daily minimum requirement of calcium by munching only about ten boxes of animal crackers—though you’d have to down an additional 24 boxes to get all the fiber you need. Fortunately, if you’re allergic to vitamins A or C, you don’t have to worry, because Barnum’s Animals are unburdened by pesky vitamins altogether. So I was feeling pretty good about my dietary choices.
I dashed home with the box, excited to meet my munchy menagerie.
On one side of the box were pictures of the gorgeous tiger, hippo, giraffe and zebra, each with their darling little offspring in tow. On the other side were the magnificent lion, polar bear, gorilla and elephant, also with their little tots nuzzling them adorably. Writing on the top of the box promised that I would also meet a seal and koala inside.
Still, I hesitated to rip open the box once I got it home, because that beautiful red-and-yellow cardboard animal-train car was as much a part of my childhood as were the happy little critters inside—cage bars or no cage bars.
But then I noticed the little blue sign on the bottom of the box that said that it was made of “100 percent recycled paperboard,” probably from newspapers like the one you’re reading right now. I wondered how many of my recycled columns it had taken to make the box in my hands, and how the flavor of the crackers would be affected by the dreck I pound out weekly.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to rip the box open to free the animals, because I knew better than anybody where my stories have been, and what they’re full of.
When I opened the box, I was relieved to see that I had worried in vain, because the animals were sealed in a silver-plastic bag to keep them safe from contamination from yesterday’s fake news. I breathed a sigh of relief. You could drop that plastic bag in the ocean and those animals would be safe for several tens of thousands of years — just one more example of the Nabisco company’s social awareness.
I tore open the plastic bag and spilled the menagerie onto a paper plate, and they were all there—or almost all there. I couldn’t find the giraffe, and the lion had to be put back together because it had broken in half. (Or maybe it just split down the middle—a giraffe would be a pretty filling meal.)
To my delight I found other animals that weren’t pictured or listed on the outside of the box—a buffalo, a camel, and three beavers. There were four other crackers I couldn’t identify. One looked a bit like a wombat. Another might have been a Toyota.
Anyway, even though I wasn’t able to bring a cage-free animal cracker box home from the grocery store, I was glad that the Nabisco company has finally awakened to their social responsibility. Scrapping the bars that imprison their adorable critter crackers will show kids that we have an obligation to treat animals humanely.
Me? I like to bite their heads off first.
The author splits his time between Southwest Florida and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Why wait a whole week for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Get T.R.'s book, 'Revenge of the Sardines,' available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online book distributors.