Not So Sweet

      Today was sunny again, after three days of constant drizzle. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I enjoy the rain, the gray days sitting inside, looking out the window and dreaming. But I also enjoy, after the rain, the wide pale blue sky, with a dot of a sun, straining to warm the land.
      So today, I went for my afternoon walk to Exmouth. It was cold when I set out, with the sun penetrating the air with its light, but not its heat. The path beside the field was still muddy, with sliding boot prints, mud pressed brown leaves and a clean light smell of water and grass, with an underlay of earth and manure.
      The tide was just leaving, so the abandoned boat engine was half visible in the water.
      Once in Exmouth, I skipped the fish and chip shop to visit the bakers.
      With my lunch in my hand, I walked down to the seaside and ate my desert first, because damn it, why the hell not?
      It was a jam doughnut.
      The first time I asked for a doughnut at the pastry shop, I asked for a ‘Jelly’, and was mildly rebuked by the lady behind the counter with a sharp glance and a quick ‘Jam’. Which she instantly realized was a bit too quick and harsh, so she gave me a big smile.
      Jam and jelly doughnuts are essentially the same, except for the outer coating. The American one is glazed, or the sugar is poured on, while the British version has millions of tiny crystallized sugars stuck to the outside. The crystallized sugar falls and collects in the folds of my shirt and sticks to the corners of my lips so I can lick it off afterwards.
      But the reason I visit this shop is the pasties. Pasty is pronounced with a long a sound, and is different from the American pastry, or the things that some girls use while working in strip clubs.
      The pasty was originally created in Cornwell so long ago that no know really knows why it was originally created. But the general theory is that the miners ate them for lunch while they were working underground, because pasties are wonderfully portable.
      A pasty is simply a piecrust wrapped around meat and potatos. The pasties from ‘The Crusty Cob’ on Exmouth high street are wonderful if for no other reason because it tastes like they soaked in vats of butter before baking. They are shaped like the letter D and the first bite into one of the corners, is crispy on the outside, but soft and moist and warm on the inside. Little pieces of the crust flake off and settle with the crystallized sugar on my shirt.
      Who said there is no such thing as beautiful British food.
      Then I took a drink of my can of soda (330 ml, not 12 oz.) and my taste buds sank. It was a ‘Tango’ apple. Which is the equivalent of a ‘Fanta’ orange. When I picked it up at the store, I took a quick glance at the side and it said “No artificial…” and so I bought it.
      It was not the taste of apple that disappointed me, because I wasn’t expecting the greatest apple juice in the world, but the after-taste. That horrible -chemical waste- aftertaste of artificial sweetener –in this instance aspartame.
      I reread the side of the can and it said “No Artificial Colour or Flavour.” But nothing about no artificial sweetener. I hate advertising departments.
      I assume there are millions of people out there that don’t notice this stuff, bur for some reason I always notice it, and it always annoys me.
      And the British have added a whole new dimension to my horror by adding it not only to apple juice, but also to water.
      But lets start with the three reasons why I dislike artificial sweeteners. One, they taste horrible, like the after-effect from some chemists nightmare. Two, I always feel like it’s going to give me asbestos like cancer (yes I smoke, what about it?), or blow up my trans fat heart (there is nothing wrong with battered chips). Three, I find it insulting to the rest of the (starving) world, that we, who have so much food, need to spend our time and energy creating a chemical to trick our taste buds into thinking we are eating something sweet. Rather than spend that time and energy trying to feed the world.
      Ok, off my soapbox, and back to the stunning stupidity that someone feels the need to make apple juice sweeter. Isn’t it sweet enough? Without pouring more sugar in? And not just adding more sugar, but adding fake sugar? What are we going to do next, start injecting our apples with aspartame?
      But this isn’t the first time I came across this in England. I bought a bottle of sparking water with lemon and it had aspartame in it. I’m beginning to think the company who makes this stuff controls the whole British beverage industry.
      I found that there is sweetened and unsweetened sparkling water.
      Adding sugar to water? What the hell is wrong with you people?
      Ok enough of that.
      I put away my Tango apple, and happily munched on the pasty. The beef was soft and warm, floating in the thick brown gravy, which gave off a homely, comfort-food odor. The small slices of potato stayed solid on my tongue, until they disintegrated with an easy bite.
      The beach had a scattering of people, some laying on the sand soaking up the warmth, a few eating lunch like me, and two couples throwing balls in the wave-less water for their dogs to catch.
      I knew the walk home was going to be warm enough to take off my jacket, and maybe there was an afternoon nap in the near future, which made me smile despite throwing away almost a full can of apple juice.

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