Once upon a time (in the early 90s), my family went on a bender. And, like many benders, it resulted in tragedy, recriminations, and a lingering sense of shame whenever we passed a freezer full of processed meat.
My mother had recently gone back to work at JCPenney's after more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom, and having more money in the coffers and less time to cook meant that a few new (to us) frozen delicacies found their way into the basement freezer.
Enter...the Jennie-O Turkey Loaf.
Look at those clearly-defined meat striations. Much like a geologist rappelling down the walls of the Grand Canyon, you can easily make out where the more-recent light meat layer ends, and where the aged darker meat begins. What was once in clumsy, non-striped, bird-shaped form is transformed into an ergonomic, easily-boxed square of meat. It's the IKEA of meats! Science! Is there anything it can't do?
Okay, I mock the turkey loaf now, but then? I loved it. We all did. It was moist. Juicy. So much more succulent than Spam, what with the gravy gurgling in the bottom of the "roasting pan" (i.e., cardboard trough). I'd always liked meatloaf; this new, exotic form of loaved meat was destined to simmer its way into my heart.
Until...The Infamous Jennie-O Turkey Loaf Incident of '96.
It was February. Our ongoing love affair with the turkey loaf had waxed and waned over the ensuing years, but it was still a frequent guest in the freezer. One night after work, probably before shuttling me into town for pep band, my mom popped one in the oven and set the timer. When the dinger dinged, she pulled it out of the oven, cut into it with a knife, and this is what happened:
A bloody, mangled mess. It looked like something that had been pulled out of the grill of a semi. (And covered in gravy.)
(Frankly, I'm shocked that any blood could even come out of something that processed, but whatever.)
Tragedy had struck. Not only was dinner ruined...but none of us could look at a turkey loaf the same way ever again. It was so traumatic that yes, it merited being captured on film, so that the legend of the bad turkey loaf could be passed on to future generations in all its disgusting glory.
And, also, so my mother could write an official Letter of Complaint to the good people at Jennie-O.
The woman is a master of the Letter of Complaint. Much like the turkey loaf bender, she goes through Letters of Complaint spurts...she won't write one for months, or even years, but then all of a sudden something snaps and boom, she's back in the game. Her letters are to-the-point and polite - she expresses her love of the product, she expresses her disappointment at some flaw in the product, and includes a sample of the product to prove that she's not crazy. For example:
"Dear Potato Chip Company:And why? "To get free chips. Or whatever."
I'm a huge fan of your chips and recently purchased a bag. I was disappointed. These chips were too salty. I've enclosed a chip for verification purposes.
Well, she couldn't very well put the turkey in an envelope and mail it in, so photographic evidence it was. The results are captured for posterity on the back of the picture:
A $5.00 coupon? Not bad. It didn't get us back on the turkey loaf bandwagon anytime soon, but it was something.
Months later, the oven was acting up, so my parents had the gas guy come over to check it out. "Geez, that thing's shot," he said. "It's not warming up at all. Ain't good for nothing other than a bun-warmer."
And suddenly, it clicked: there was nothing wrong with the turkey loaf. It was the OVEN. THE OVEN!!
That was the last Letter of Complaint my mom sent out for a while.
And then, a few weeks ago, she got some Kix that didn't taste right. And some Old Dutch popcorn that had a giant clump of salt in the bag.
Letters were written. Samples of the offending products were mailed. (In padded envelopes & everything, to prevent sample breakage - she's upped her game.)
And look what showed up in the mail the other day: