Taste the Rainbow

Last week, Starbucks debuted a limited edition drink called the Unicorn Frappucino. The name alone evoked magic and cotton candy, which sounds interesting on paper, but turned out to be all sorts of extra. I’ve downed my fair share of bubble teas that have run the gamut of colours, but even this was just a little much too much.

The Unicorn Frappucino (April 18-23, 2017, RIP) was a blended drink that was created to dazzle the eye.  It had a pink, sparkly, mango-flavoured cream base, was laced with a “pleasantly sour” blue ripple and, as a final flourish, topped with whipped cream and a light dusting of pink “fairy dust.” In other words, it looked like someone took major elements of gay pride, put it in a blender, poured it in a venti cup and topped it with diabetes. No, I did not buy it.  I’ve lived long enough to know when something looks like theoretical unicorn vomit, odds are it’s not going to taste good. It was obvious that they had created the drink for the purposes of conquering social media, not actual palates.

I wasn’t wrong. Based on the reviews I read, it was sour and weird. Even four-year-olds couldn’t stomach the stuff. It still sold like nobody’s business, because the frapp hit the great trifecta of social media relevance: it was pretty, it was on trend and it was limited edition. No one could deny how photogenic it was. In a world as shallow and image-obsessed as the one we live in, pretty is all that matters – even if it tastes like “sour birthday cake and shame,” as one reviewer so eloquently put it.

We’re supposed to be evolving as a species with dignity and grace, not running around pimping a neon concoction for no other reason than that it looks interesting, but I guess this is the new normal. The icebergs are melting, climate change is here and the first horseman of the apocalypse just came galloping in on a unicorn.

Yes, life is hard. Things are bleak. The constant exposure to all things depressing, magnified by the immediacy of the internet has caused us to be world-weary and so we all cope by reaching for whatever magic we can find. Hence, unicorns. Unicorn poo (rainbow-coloured ice cream). Unicorn candles, unicorn make-up, unicorn soap, unicorn bagels.

Our obsession with taking pictures of food is also to blame for this insanity. When almost everyone has a camera in their pocket and there’s only so many sunrises to catch, flowers to admire and selfies to take, what else is there to take pictures of? Food, of course. If we are what we eat, and what we eat looks awesome, we become, by extension, awesome. How can we ever prove that we lead fabulous lives if what we eat looks like prison slop? The horror!

A lot of us record what we eat for posterity.  I’ll freely admit I do it (to my husband’s utter disgust). Give me mouth-watering close-ups of deep-fried turon, coated in sugar. Show me dark, glistening roast pig glazed in its own juices. Zoom in on the glory of bright red strawberries enrobed in rich, creamy chocolate. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

The occasional bit of food porn is understandable, but not when it leads to the creation of monstrous food hybrids for the sake of Instagram at the expense of taste and common sense. Not everything has to look palatable to be worth chowing on. You can style a bowl of dinuguan with all the tastefully placed green chillies in the world, it’s never going to win a food pageant on the basis of its looks. Neither will beef vindaloo, hummus, chia pudding, or a bowl of pork humba floating in its own grease. But that’s okay. Unpretentiousness is attractive too. It also tastes way better than a Unicorn Frappucino.

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