For all of you who grew up (or parented) in the early to mid 90s, you’ll likely remember a healthful, nutritious snack called Fruit by the Foot. They’re made with large amounts of sugar and corn syrup and minor little bits of concentrated fruit puree, then laced with partially hydrogenated fats and several grams of blow. I LOVED THEM!
I may not have had the biggest sweet tooth as a kid, but I couldn’t suck down the processed fruit roll products fast enough. In fact, the first time I ever ate a Fruit Roll-Up (the sister product to Fruit by the Foot), I was so anxious to hork it down I accidentally started chewing up the plastic cellophane sheet the roll came attached to. I was halfway through my snack before I began to wonder what that weird, crackly, plasticky taste in my mouth was (I’ll say it now: the fact that I was never a fat kid is somewhat of a miracle).
As a young elementary school diner, a Fruit by the Foot was pretty much the coolest thing you could have for your lunchtime dessert, second only to perhaps Gushers or Dunkaroos. Kids who procured such treats from their lunchboxes were obviously badasses, the same kinds of kids who brought sandwiches piled a mile-high with Boar’s Head deli turkey and ate fashionable chips like Cool Ranch Doritos.
But for years, Fruit by the Foots were the only “badass” lunch item I ever really nailed down. Usually, I was the weirdo with big honkin’ meatloaf sandwiches (courtesy of my dad), on WHOLE WHEAT bread, not IRONKIDS BREAD, and a side of Pepperridge Farm Seasoned Herb croutons to compliment (I used to eat croutons like chips. Croutons were my Lay’s. Don’t judge.). And I never, ever, EVER drank the stupid chocolate milk the cafeteria distributed as our beverage because it was a) usually too warm, which is disgusting, and b) no matter how you dress it up, I’m never going to drink milk.
So there I’d be in the lunchroom, constantly up and down, running to the drinking fountain, crunching on croutons like a maniac and my sandwiches messily bleeding with ketchup. Fruit by the Foots were the one thing that let the other kids know I wasn’t a total whack job.
And thankfully, there was one single afternoon that cemented me into the Fruit by the Foot Hall of Fame. It was the day of THE RACE.
Me, having no real concept of the notion that proper 9-year old young ladies don’t challenge dirty, smelly boys to duels, decided to challenge a male classmate of mine into a Fruit by the Foot eating contest. We’ll call this young lass Jon.
“Jon,” I said, one fine afternoon, as the other kids crowded around him to admire his Triple-Berry Blast Fruit by the Foot. “I’ll bet you tomorrow’s Fruit by the Foot that I can eat mine faster than you.”
The other boys scoffed.
“In your dreams. ”
“Are those croutons?”
“I’ll betcha I can,” I continued, pushing my huge, thick glasses up my nose, “and if I win, you HAVE to give me your Fruit by the Foot tomorrow.”
“You’re on,” replied Jon gamely, scooting his chair down so we could face each other across the table properly.
We squared off, and another kid readied his Timex. Jon and I opened the plastic packaging containing each Fruit by the Foot, but left the roll itself attached to it’s long paper backing — we agreed that paper removal would be an important part of our sport.
There were no excuses. Do or die.
“GO!” screamed what felt like a thousand rabid fans, as my heart nearly shot out of my chest.
Jon pulled a small piece of his roll off the paper, then began feeding it into his mouth. Gnawing and gnawing and swallowing as fast he could, he continued to pull off the roll as he went, looking like he had a 3 foot long pink and white paper tongue dangling from his mouth and pooling onto the lunch table.
Me? I had science on my side. I was at least 4 feet tall by this age, so my arm span was longer than the roll. Standing to get some leverage, I deftly held one end of the fruit roll with my left hand, then used my right to unfurl it in its great 3-foot long pink and blue splendor. I felt like the Incredible Hulk, unleashing my might with a great guttural roar of ferocity.
Just as quickly, I peeled the entire fruit roll off its paper, then began balling it up into one mega hunk of Fruit by the Foot. Jon looked up from his barely waning tongue of fruit roll in surprise.
Before he could even react, I shoved that entire ball of triple berry goodness into my mouth, chewing and swishing my saliva around to dissolve the sugar as quickly as possible. Within a few more seconds, I opened my mouth to reveal nothing except my tongue, stained bright purple.
The Timex was stopped.
“FOURTEEN SECONDS!” raved the timekeeper.
The table erupted into loud cheers of disbelief and excitement.
“FOURTEEN SECONDS! VICTORIA ATE AN ENTIRE FRUIT BY THE FOOT IN 14 SECONDS!”
I was their hero, their king. If they could’ve, those boys would’ve lifted me up in one of those small, plastic lunch chairs and paraded me around the room, tossing the leftover Fruit by the Foot paper wrappers in the air like celebratory streamers. They would have chanted, awestruck, adoringly, ALL HAIL THE FOURTEEN-SECOND-FRUIT-BY-THE-FOOT-EATING CHAMPION!!!!!!!!!!
On the playground that day, word spread quickly of my great feat. It was a proud moment.
There would be other days, other races in the lunch room. But me, I would always remain legend.