7-Eleven Glazed Honey Bun

A Little Debbie Honey Bun, 2011 [photo:Evan-Amos; via Wikimedia Commons]

This winter I spent two months in Los Angeles, hoping to experience the United States in a new way and learn more about this odd country, in which people think that owning guns is a right and health insurance is not. A major component of this quest for 21st-century Americana was food. The culinary habits of North Americans have proven endlessly fascinating to me since the first time I tasted pancakes at age 13. After weeks of thorough and obsessive research, I ended up with a list of approximately 60 restaurants. One night, I ventured into a Hollywood strip mall to visit one eatery that seemed particularly interesting; it served some reinterpreted version of Korean monk food, heavy on fermentation and light in calories.

The meal proved to be good but far from the stellar praises I’d read. Most of all, it wasn’t much. I guess I should have realized that “monk food” doesn’t mean “Outback Steakhouse portions.” This lack of satisfaction led me to the pastry aisle of an adjacent 7-Eleven, where I spotted an item that, while previously unknown to me, seemed fitting for my desire to fill my stomach with something more substantial than a bowl of moldy crudités: a glazed honey bun.

I was captivated by this honey bun. For a pastry, it seemed atypically heavy, and its weight in my hand already proved oddly satisfying. Back in the car, I unwrapped it. As its rather conventional smell of artificial honey rose to my nose, I took a bite. Almost instantly, my mouth and my brain became one, and without even wanting to, I moaned.

The taste was, as expected, over the top: a cheerful funk twirled around pungent sweetness, as if a team of Texan cheerleaders were jumping around my mouth. But it didn’t feel too sweet; it felt exactly sweet enough for America, which meant that, to me, it came across as a familiar feeling taken into exotic territories. Just like the way coffee is served, yoga pants are worn, and the word “love” gets used on this side of the Atlantic. The consistency came close to something between cake and donut; the unorthodox density of the dough, its marriage between chewiness and mushiness, filled my mouth with the same sort of pleasure you experience when rewatching a TV series you’ve already seen too often. As for its appearance, it reminded me of an ancient piece of ceramic, a clumsy sausage of clay arranged into a knot and lacquered with a heavy yet swift hand.

This trinity of taste, texture, and appearance triggered a succession of entertaining and oddly authentic images in my brain. As I sank my teeth into the pillowy abyss for a second time, the pastry resisting slightly and then spreading in my mouth, I wondered who was the genius who’d so brilliantly trapped this country in a bun? I imagined a midwestern, blonder, and chubbier version of Don Draper, wearing a boxy yet elegant suit and gesticulating in front of 7-Eleven executives. “Our people find joy in a seemingly contradictory  combination: mellowness and intensity. By adding the taste of a genetically modified beehive to the texture of a bagel boiled for too long, we’ll give them just that, in the form of a hypercaloric blister of dough.”

Who was it destined for? Certainly not a twentysomething from Mitteleuropa, a region in which the dedication to pastry almost surpasses skepticism toward anything foreign. Was it meant for American children? Maybe, yes.  I saw in my mind’s eye  a mother unpacking the bun for her boy at a Michigan highway resting area, benevolently looking at her offspring while fanning herself with a magazine. Stoners? Probably too, and I could clearly picture two red-eyed dudes mumbling, “So good, brah” while wolfing down the bun in a homoerotic display of intimacy as they sat on a fucked-up couch in some San Fernando Valley basement. The elderly? Given the item’s texture, that also seemed possible, and my brain transported me into a Boca Raton retirement home, in which an old woman clad in a tracksuit  tore the item into small pieces for her once-dapper, now ailing husband. Upper class liberals? Plausible, as the bun  may give any liberal arts graduate with a job in advertising the faint impression of connecting with a blue-collar slice of the American reality, even  while stepping onto East Village pavement.

My fascination continued to grow with every bite. My boyfriend reminded me that, in the video for their song “Telephone,” Beyonce fed Lady Gaga the same type of pastry, only a different brand. The video is intricate, eccentric, and populist in its thematic and visual composition. Once a piece has been bitten off, the performers proceed to drive away in their Hummer and poison a bunch of people in a diner—both activities being neither particularly useful nor productive. Consuming a 7-Eleven glazed honey bun isn’t either. It’s filled with useless calories, probably hurtful chemicals, and tons of sugar. Who cares? In its industrially manufactured and probably accidental complexity, the honey bun could, surprisingly enough, compete with the Filipino-American fusion, fried-chicken tacos, Pennsylvania steak, Pacific hamachi crudos, Hawaiian poké bowls, California-Italian pasta, and other neo-American dishes I’d had so far. Through the power of the 7-Eleven glazed honey bun, I could not only taste America in my palate; I could also see it in my mind, in all its straightforwardness, contradictions, and multiplicity.