Last week I was walking back from the subway after a day in the office, chastising myself for yet again not thinking in good time about how I would feed myself that evening when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some stoop bounty. Vegan, bunny-backed bounty to be precise: ten or so cartons of something called Annie’s Vegan Mac Shells & Sweet Potato Pumpkin stacked inside a big cardboard box marked TAKE ME!
I picked up one of the cartons to investigate, and my stomach was encouraged. A cartoon rabbit smiled back at me, languorously draping its paws over the lower part of a circle banded with the words BUNNY OF APPROVAL. The whole color scheme was soft yellows and purples, and there was a sun and a leaf motif—so I figured it must be wholesome and good. Piled high on a spoon in the center-front of the carton was a photo of the mac shells. I will admit they did look like a really constipated, beige shit, but being both curious and lazy, I remained positive and took just one carton, waving it toward the house in a gesture of gratitude.
Back at my apartment, while pondering which wine to pair this lucky treat with, I realized I wasn’t quite sure what was inside. How could a pumpkin fit in that narrow carton? And, wait, what exactly is a sweet potato pumpkin? Upon opening, I could see that Annie had been rather liberal with her descriptions and her ampersands. Inside, I found a bag of mac and some dried seasoning in separate foil wrapping. Now I understood: this was sweet potato and pumpkin seasoning.
The steps were few: cook the mac in boiling water, then mix the seasoning with some form of non-dairy milk, before finally combining. This sounded easy until I saw I had absolutely no guidance from Annie (actually, technically it’s “General Mills”) on how much non-dairy milk to use. I stood in my kitchen with my ’68 Chianti in one hand and my oat milk in the other and felt entirely befuddled.
I hope for Annie’s and the bunny’s sakes that I did it all wrong because what I made was a bowl of cellophane-texture mac shells topped with a crust-veneer of half-melted, half-still-granulated cumin-colored coagulant.
I ate what I could, then went online to see what I should have done and found myself only further confused and down a rabbit hole. Customers seemed to be advocating adding cups, half-cups, liters, and grams of various liquids, solids, and powders to make the dish zing. I noted that the customer reviews were largely good—so congrats to those with a more natural flair for judging quantities and thinking on their feet. But a few of those reviewers did say they were disappointed because the final meal didn’t taste like cheese.
The melted part of what I had managed to make looked a little bit like cheese—but was this sweet potato and pumpkin seasoning even supposed to be a cheese? Could seasoning ever be cheese? What kind of magic did these people expect? If they wanted mac and cheese, why didn’t they buy Annie’s Vegan Mac Macaroni & Cheddar Flavor instead? Annie’s website didn’t really help me out either, as it only said that this product is “made to meet USA Organic standards.” High ambitions, but I’m not sure this gives it an actual food group.
It was getting late now, and my Chianti was nearly empty, and my oat milk reserves were still in good shape, so I popped outside again and discovered the TAKE ME! cardboard box was missing. Those soft yellow and purple cartons were now discarded over the wet sidewalk. The once-happy bunny stared back at me; it reminded me of the scene at the start of Watchmen with the smiley face badge in the gutter—but in plural. Over 4,500 calories of bunny-approved cheese-like, vegetable-esque, pasta-ette soiled and no good.
Currently, Walmart seems to be entirely out of stock of this product across the Lower 48. Somebody somewhere will figure it all out, I’m sure.