Friday, August 20, 2010

Variety Friday: I deal in junk food

 Meiji assortments with a Pokemon theme.

When I first started this blog, my priorities were rather different than they are a year and a half down the road. Initially, I was merely interested in sampling and talking about as many items as I could. The basic idea was to share experiences and in doing so to encourage me to try many more things than I might otherwise try.

As time has gone by, the way in which I regard things and subsequently the manner in which I rate them has changed. One of the points about being a reviewer of anything is that the bar on what you consider worth repeating keeps inching higher and higher relative to average people who aren't sampling all of the time. Rather notoriously, this happens to professional film reviewers who will often rate a film more highly because it is novel rather than conventionally enjoyable.

This tendency to keep expecting more or desiring something which is different means that I might rate something more harshly or easily than someone else because our comparative experiences are different. Sampling one weird Japanese KitKat can be an exciting and interesting experience. Sampling fifty of them makes you regard the fifty-first one rather differently than the second one. In fact, Japanese KitKats in particular are a serious challenge because there is only so much that can be done with a chocolate wafer bar before it degrades into utter novelty with no sensory value whatsoever.

One of the things I've realized is that the chances that I will buy anything again are getting slimmer and slimmer as time goes by. There are favorites (the best of the best, as it were, and I'll do a post about those some time) that I have purchased again and again, but there's only so much I can consume before expiration dates become an issue. My ratings system, which is based on the idea of "would definitely buy again" (very happy), "may buy again" (happy), "probably won't" (indifferent), "likely won't" (unhappy) and "definitely won't" is becoming more of a theoretical reality rather than an actual one. In essence, the ratings are about a willingness to purchase again more than the likelihood that I would do so.

A display of sembei which includes a seafood variety (left) and wasabi kaki no tane (right).

Since each reviewer has their own criteria for how they rate items, I felt that it may be valuable in understanding my current ratings and opinions if I were to offer mine at present. Here are the factors that go into how food is currently rated:


This is actually a very high priority for me these days. When I started this blog, I was posting less frequently and therefore sampled fewer snacks. I had time to finish off things and I wasn't so worried about how much I ate. The truth is that at present I have a "calorie cap" on what I'll "spend" on snacking on junk, and something which is highly caloric or only available in large sizes is less likely to be reviewed. I place a high value on portions and being able to consume a small amount of something with ease. Anything that will require me to eat more than 200 calories per day to consume a reasonable sample will decrease the chances of my purchasing it. The "calorie cap" is one of the reasons that I sample so few cakes and baked items since most of the cakes in Japan are super carb and fat bombs despite not being very sweet. The "average" cake at a convenience store is between 350-400 calories. A lot of them are closer to 500.

If something is densely caloric and not all that tasty, I'll rate it lower because I'm always thinking about the cost of the calories relative to the sensory pleasure I receive. If the pleasure is too little for the calories, I lower the rating. If the calories are low and the pleasure is modest, I increase the rating. This is how something like an Oshidori milk cake, at a mere 25 calories per stick, earns a "happy" rating rather than "indifferent". It's a good amount of sweet for a low price even if it doesn't blow the lid off my flavor meter.

And, believe it or not, I've lost weight since starting this blog. One might think I'd be gaining, but it's a bit like the person who works in the chocolate factory losing her insatiable desire for candy. I haven't lost my taste for snacks at all, but my appetite for such things is measurably lower. Rest assured, I still enjoy sampling foods immensely, but my appreciation is achieved with the consumption of quite modest quantities.


I make very little money from blogging. It doesn't even come close to paying for the food I buy for review. I'm sure that is no surprise to anyone, especially people who also blog. I also do not get food for free to review. Everything you see reviewed here was paid for with my own hard-earned yen unless it is a food gift (a rare, but not unheard of, situation). That means that I'm going to factor how much something costs when I offer a rating. This can be seen as "value" for pleasure. If something is cheap and moderately pleasurable, it'll get a better rating than if it is expensive and moderately pleasurable.


I hate to buy huge portions of anything because I have so many new things I'd like to sample and it will sometimes take a week (or more) to get through even an average-sized package of snacks. If I can buy a single portion, chances are that I'll be more inclined to try a particular snack. That being said, if a food is compelling enough, I'll buy a large quantity if I have no other option and then give away the items that I can't possibly eat before the expiration date rolls around.

A display of "grandma's snacks" at a local market. It includes sweet potato candies which I've previously reviewed (top shelf, center) and butter candies as well as macarons and "Trappist cookies", which are a popular type of cookie in Japan made by Trappist monks.


Let's face it, I deal in junk food. I'm not making any pretext about what I write about being good for you. That being said, if some snack has something to offer in the way of nutrition, I'm more likely to give it a better review than if something is pure trash, though being trash that is tasty won't bring a rating down. The truth is that outside of what you see reviewed here, I eat very little in the way of unhealthy or packaged/prepared food. Not only do I not eat anything that can be considered junk outside of this blog's fodder, but I cook almost every meal myself. I make my whole wheat bread, my own vegetable soups, and work hard to balance nutrition between protein, carbohydrates and fats. I'm much more likely to eat a nice sweet, perfectly grown carrot than a potato chip on a given day.

So, I am wary of nutrition when I review foods, and one of the reasons I can do this blog and not feel terrible about what I'm consuming is that I'm so attentive to my diet in every other way. It's rather ironic that my diet has improved as a result of writing a junk food blog because it has made me lose a lot of the impulsive cravings and desires for such foods (as I have such foods so frequently) and it has pushed me to work that much harder to prepare the rest of my meals such that they are much healthier.

One of the reasons that each blogger rates the same foods differently is that we all have our different priorities in addition to our varying senses of taste and differently experienced palates. No one is ever going to rate a food the way you would, and some people are going to hate what you love or vice versa. It's not an indictment of their tastes or yours; it's just a reflection of the subjective nature of reviews and the reviewers' priorities. These are mine, and I hope explaining them adds some value to the way in which my ratings are received.

As always, thanks to my wonderful readers who follow this blog regularly and make continuing to do it worthwhile. It's continued growth keeps me at this. :-)


Rodzilla said...

I feel the same way about a lot of these things. Part of what appeals to me about Japanese snacks in particular are the individual and smaller serving sizes.

Dani said...

Ever since I discovered your blogs not too long ago, I look forward to reading them daily. Thank you for continuing to post on them! :)

Serena said...

It was really interesting hearing your in depth review criteria. I love your blog and enjoy reading it daily. I also read your 1000 things about Japan blog everyday, it's neat reading a foreigners experiences in a different culture.

By the way, I love the picture of the Pokemon display. =)