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Lileks: New app lets you interrogate pasta icons

November 18, 2018

I was mass-deleting e-mailed press releases the other day when I found something that was actually relevant to my interests.

To be honest, it sounded like a vision of hell. “The next time you walk down the sauce aisle at your favorite grocery store,” said the press release, “the voices you hear might not be from fellow shoppers — they could be coming from products on the shelf.”

I’d like to think not.

“Thanks to augmented reality, jars of Francesco Rinaldi Pasta Sauce can now talk directly to consumers who download an app called the Francesco Rinaldi AR APP. With this app, shoppers can simply point their smartphone at the iconic woman on the Francesco Rinaldi label and see her come to life.”

Great. Another reason for someone’s cart to block the aisle. “Could you move, please?” “Buzz off. I’m looking at an iconic woman come to life.”

My first impression was that no one will ever do this. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d love to talk to the spokesmascots. Here’s an example.

Chef Boyardee recently brought out a “Throwback Lasagna” variety. It sounds like something inedible you get rid of as quickly as possible. Throw it back! But the term in modern slang means “historic.” People have “throwback Thursday” on social media platforms and post a picture of a TV show from 2008 so they can feel like old, grizzled veterans of the culture.

Throwback Lasagna turns out to be the original recipe. You suspect the old stuff’s better. Not because canned food from 1967 was all natural and healthy. In those days, labels said things like “Thalidomide Added (for Freshness).” But they didn’t dump a cup of sugar in everything.

The online reviews rave about Throwback Lasagna, noting that the modern stuff is too sweet. Of course it is. Everything has too much sugar, and we know it, and they know we know it and use it to manipulate us. I bought tires last month, and there was a “no sugar added” option.

So I’d love to interact with the iconic man on the label: “How are you doing, Chef B?”

“I’m-a fine, an’ how are-a you? Mama mia.”

“Hold on. We have the ethnic cliché settings dialed into the 1960s ... there. So, can we talk about this Throwback Lasanga?”

“I’m delighted to chat about my delicious, original recipe which comes from the Old Country to your home. We start with vine-ripened heritage tomatoes.”

“Yes, well, what doesn’t. I’m more interested in Spaghetti-Os and the Barfaroni, as we called it. You were a real chef. You were Ettore Boiardi, renowned restaurateur. I’m sure you’re happy that your name survives, but surely it pains you to be associated with stuff most commonly found smeared on the mouth of a 2-year-old.”

(Hologram pauses, smiles, blinks.) “Then we simmer the tomatoes in spring water drawn from artesian wells and add a special blend of locally sourced organic spices.”

“OK, but can we talk about the ravioli, which combines all the joys of a slimy oyster with ketchupy sauce so sweet it would give diabetes to a doorknob?”

“I’m sorry! I’m wanted in the kitchen.” (Hologram disappears.)

There will be holospokes at the bottom shelf for kids, so they can ask questions to the mascots for various cereals. But these will be hogged by strange obsessive young men in their 20s who want to ask Cap’n Crunch questions.

“OK, you captured Jean LaFoot the pirate in 1973, but he showed up again in the ads in 1974. Was he extradited to France, and then sent back to pillage the trade routes as an unofficially sanctioned privateer?”

Cap’n Crunch: “Ahoy, that’s a good question! I’ll have to ask my first mate.”

“Well, then, when you introduced Ooops! all Crunchberries, we assumed there was some sort of production facility accident, but now they’re sold year after year, which suggests a recurring mechanical failure. Why haven’t you fixed it by now?”

Cap’n Crunch: “Ahoy! That’s a good question! I’ll have to ask my first mate.”

Little kid: “Can I ask a question?” Young man: “Shut up! I’m streaming this.”

There are questions I’d like to ask other holospokes.

Little Debbie: “So, if we put one of these snack cakes in a time capsule, it’ll still be fresh in 2119, right? What is that frosting, some sort of linoleum?”

Mrs. Butterworth: “What happened to Mr. Butterworth? We never hear anything about him. What was your maiden name? Wafflegoop? That would be funny. Do you ever think about people drinking straight out of the hole in the top of your head?“

Poppin’ Fresh: “You smile when poked hard in the stomach, but you know, that’s how Houdini died. Someone punched him when he wasn’t expecting it, and ruptured his appendix. Do you have an appendix?”

If you think the grocery store of the future will not have grown people shouting “Do you even have an appendix?” at a holographic object in the freezer aisle, you haven’t been paying attention to the 21st century so far.

Note: You’ll also be able to ask questions of holographic newspaper columnists, I’m sure, so I’ll probably be called in one day for full-body scanning to upload me to the app so they can boot me up long after I’m dead.

You’ll probably find me under the “Throwback” menu.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks facebook.com/james.lileks

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