Very Specific Reasons to Buy and Eat Dessert
I used to work for a company that did brand strategy and market research. Part of that job was talking to people about very specific memories and feelings they had about products—”Tell me about your first sip of soda, what does the can feel like in your hand, tell me how it feels when it touches your lips”—and finding Deep Insights that the brand management and advertising teams could use to sell people more soda.
Matt Powers was at my house recently, and I played market researcher and asked him about dessert.
LS: When is the last time you had ice cream?
MP: Ten seconds ago.
LS: Tell me about that.
MP: I was laying down on a rug, and I was moved to open the carton of ice cream—
LS: What kind of ice cream?
MP: Vanilla chocolate chip. An old standby, it just felt right. And I put it into a mug and then I poured some brandy over it. And then I ate it.
LS: Tell me about the brandy. Have you done that before?
MP: No, I don’t think I’ve ever done it before, it was more intuitive. Brandy has a sweet aspect to it, that dessert flavor already. I figured to mix it with ice cream would be a good mix, and sure enough it was.
LS: What did it taste like?
MP: I think it was sort of almond-y, it had some sort of almond kick to it. But I think that it was sort of almond color. So maybe that’s where I got that from.
LS: How did it make you feel?
MP: A little sleepy. But I also felt vindicated that it worked. It wasn’t a sure thing that it would work. Because in the liquor store you wanted to get wine, and I said brandy, and then you said Jim Beam, and I suggested this cheap alternative. So there was a lot of risk involved. High risk. High reward.
I have this problem that, whenever I have a meal, I have to have a dessert afterwards. It was classical conditioning, from growing up. We would always have three kinds of desserts. My mom loved sweets. So the emotion I felt, at eating this ice cream, was almost like relief. It was like an addict getting drugs. It was something that had to happen. That’s almost too negative. But it feels good.
LS: Every night you had dessert? Tell me about that.
MP: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. We would kind of all finish dinner at the same time, eating around the table. And then our dessert, we would eat in front of the TV. The ultimate in bad, everything that is bad for your body at the same time, television and sweets. It was very much a family bonding experience. And to this day we all love dessert. My mom recently texted me a picture of the cookies she made me.
LS: Were the desserts always homemade?
MP: No. Only sometimes. She makes really good chocolate chip cookies. But there was usually a bag of candy, Snickers or Hershey’s Kisses. And then ice cream, or a cookie. Oreos are always handy. Chips Ahoy.
LS: Would you eat everything?
MP: Sometimes someone would take a brownie and put some ice cream on it or maybe you’d eat a couple cookies and have a Reese’s peanut butter cup afterwards. There was no set regimen. It was depending on how you felt that night, depending on how your day went.
LS: What was your favorite combination?
MP: My mom makes these cookies called peanut butter blossoms, peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s kiss on it, so I don’t know if that counts as a candy and a cookie, it depends on how you demarcate. I don’t know, I’d probably just call it a cookie. So that, with ice cream. Or her mocha cake, with ice cream.
LS: When did this start?
LS: Were there rules when you were younger, about how much you could have?
MP: Were there limits when we were kids? Well, there were, but because my parents were so fallible, they weren’t great at limiting themselves, and it was hard to enforce a rule. They would step in if we were going nuts, but we learned how much was okay. And then once we got older, we could have whatever we wanted.
LS: Did your friends flip that you had dessert every night?
MP: Yeah. People freak out when I tell them about it. Let me tell you something. We’re good friends with this family and my friend Jeremy would come over, and they’d say wow, good desserts, great desserts. But if I slept over at his house, he was allowed to have Froot Loops or Lucky Charms. And I would kill for some sugary cereal. Because at my house, it was all healthy, until you got dessert.
LS: Did you keep up with daily dessert once you moved out on your own?
MP: Dessert wise? It’s funny, you think it’d be, no holds barred. I think I still had above average dessert intake, but I kept it in line. I went more overboard with sugary cereal. I would have a whole bowl of Lucky Charms with every meal. That is not an exaggeration. But I think since I had access to ice cream and cookies and candy at home, it wasn’t a huge new thrill to have that freedom. And I didn’t abuse it at home either. We needed that release, that sweetness after the salty.
LS: So what would happen if you had dinner without dessert?
MP: Oof. I can do it. For the hour after I eat lunch or dinner, I get figgety, and it’s not confusing at all what’s happening. I need the sugar and my mouth starts sort of salivating and my brain is conjuring images of candy and it knows exactly what it wants. But once I get through that hour, I’m okay.
As I’m getting older, I’m getting better at not responding to it. My Snickers bar is my go to. I used to work at a place that had free Snickers bars, that was a problem. But now I’d say I buy three a week. That’s not very scandalous.
LS: Tell me about Snickers. Why Snickers.
MP: Snickers is the perfect candy bar. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s super satisfying. I think I trained myself to crave only them. Because, you know, mountain climbers eat Snickers bars, because they’re substantial.
LS: Wait for real? Or was that a commercial?
MP: Logan I think I know the difference between a commercial and real life. Milky Way is disgusting. Three Muskateers is like nothing. Get out of here with that. Baby Ruth is okay. Baby Ruth I can do.
LS: Have you ever tried to stop eating sweets?
MP: There was a time when I thought I was diabetic. I was peeing like eight times a day, and I was about to go live abroad. I’d just finished that internship where the Snickers bars were free. Was there a correlation? Maybe. Maybe I was drinking too much coffee. The doctor said I was fine. No diabetes.
I’ve always been pretty healthy. But those sweets. If my mom sends me back with a thing of cookies, they’ll be gone in two days. Because I have them so rarely, I’ll just put those away.
LS: Do you make cookies?
MP: No. I have, but I haven’t done it in a long time. My oven is pretty bad, it takes a long time to heat up. And they have to be gluten-free, so that’s a mess, and you have to worry about cross contamination. I just stick with the Snickers, and hold out for my mom’s cookies.
LS: So what do you do if you’re at a dinner party, and there’s no dessert?
MP: I’ve definitely hit up a bodega for a Snickers bar. That’s happened a lot.
LS: Do you remember the first time you had a Snickers bar?
MP: Let me try to think. I don’t. That’s a question I never thought would be asked. It was probably a fun size one on Halloween. But they’ve gotten much smaller, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I wish I had one from 1997 and could put it next to one from 2013. You’d be shocked. It’s the kind of story no one is talking about. They did it so slowly, so no one notices. So the American people haven’t recognized. I don’t want to be the whistleblower, bite the hand that feeds me, but it’s true.
My brother used to like Reese’s, so we used to trade Snickers for Reese’s at Halloween. I remember that. It wasn’t until I was older that they became something I really liked. In high school I just think I had normal Snickers consumption. College, too, I think. No, I’m remembering now, it definitely happened in college. I lived in Denmark, and they sold these Snicker bars in four packs, and one night I ate all four of them. That was one of the best nights. So much pleasure.
LS: This is a serious interview.
MP: I ate four candy bars. It was a good day. I ate the first one. And then the second one. And then the third, and then the fourth, I didn’t want to leave it alone, it felt wrong. So I ate that one, too.
To bring it back, I think I have an extreme tolerance for sweets. There are certain things I can eat a lot of. Tacos and sweets. I can literally put down like 15 of those peanut butter blossoms in one sitting. And my body won’t give me the biological feedback that I’m full or sick because I like them so much. But then if I ate that many carrots, no way. Tacos I don’t know. I can eat those all night.
I once did a half gallon challenge, and ate a half gallon of ice cream. I think I got halfway and wanted to die. And then I realized that he bought the light ice cream, which I think was cheating. I had like 200% of my daily saturated fat, and he had like 40%.
LS: What kind of ice cream were you eating?
MP: I picked something really fucking ambitious. With the little peanut butter cups, Moose Tracks. That was hubris. I was planning to humiliate him. And I ate more than him, but stopped like 2/3rds of the way through.
LS: Have you always been a quitter?
MP: Objection, leading. But the answer is of course, yes.
LS: Did you get sick from the ice cream?
MP: No I was fine after like, 20 minutes. I think I deal with sweets good though. But sometimes if I bend over too fast, it will feel like my ribs are stabbing my heart. But that only happens very rarely. I won’t be able to move for like 40 minutes.
LS: What does that have to do with sweets?
MP: Oh nothing. Completely unrelated. I don’t know what that is. My ribs trying to hug my heart.
LS: Do you keep sweets in your house?
MP: I buy a bag of Baby Ruth’s every week. I would get Snickers but they just have the really small ones at the store, so Baby Ruth’s.
LS: Um that’s big. Why didn’t you mention that before?
MP: You didn’t ask.
LS: How do you ration the Baby Ruth’s?
MP: No real set method, to be honest with you. Usually I’ll have dinner and then I’ll eat one, knowing I’ll eat two. The first one is kind of a primer for the second one. And then depending on how my day went, three. But that three could turn into four. But the good thing about getting Baby Ruth’s every week is that the novelty has worn off. I’m not sick of them, but bored. Like I could eat another one, but why? But sometimes I’ll buy a caramel filled Cadbury bar, and I’ll buy three intending to eat just half after every dinner, because they’re so rich and sugary and sweet. But of course that always fails and I eat the whole thing.
LS: Do you get mad at yourself?
MP: No not really. It’s really without reflection. It’s not like I eat half and I’m like, oh, don’t eat the second half. The only time I’m mad is the next day when I don’t have any dessert, and I have to go down to the bodega. It’s a real drag.
Matt Powers lives in Brooklyn.