Summertime, and the living is easy... Or is it? With rising temperatures and rising fuel prices combining to crank up the energy bills, and all the costs associated with new hot-weather wardrobes, summer travel, and beach parking or swimming-pool access, sweaty consumers are likely to be feeling the financial pinch of the sunny season. Which is why the ever-helpful A.V. Club has once again scouted the nation's dollar stores for another roundup of the best and most terrifying of dangerously cheap eats. These refreshing beach-or-pool-ready dollar snacks are light, portable, and picnic-worthy, to the degree that they're worthy of human consumption at all.
Artificially Flavored Fruity Ice Pops
They don't make frozen treats more generic than Artificially Flavored Fruity Ice Pops, which come 20 for 50 cents. Packaged in a plain yellow plastic bag (which announces "Containing No Fruit Juice" on both sides, in large letters, as though it were a selling point), the individual Ice Pops consist of long, rubbery tubes of thin plastic filled with colored water. Once frozen, they can be snapped in half at the midpoint, pried out of their sleeves, and eaten—at the risk of frostbite from the handle-free frozen surface and sugar shock from the actual product.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: Artificially Flavored Fruity Ice Pops are mostly corn syrup, water, and dye, but the manufacturers found room for both "Sodium Benzoate" and "Potassium Sorbate."
Worth the price? Possibly for use as the marital aid which they so closely resemble.
Baskin Robbins Marshmallow Ice Cream Cones
Through some miracle of olfactory science, this little bag of cutely shaped marshmallows actually smells like a Baskin Robbins: cool and sugary, with undertones of minimum wage. But those in the mood for the full B-R experience will need to get in the car. These marshmallows look like ice-cream cones, but they taste like marshmallows.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: Nothing too bad—just sugar, corn syrup, and a rainbow of food coloring.
Worth the price? If you like adorable food, absolutely.
Nothing says "cheap" like a cut-rate knockoff of Cheez Whiz, which was a bargain-basement version of a real food to begin with. This aerosol cheese-in-a-can comes out of the dispenser looking and tasting like sticky, foamy nacho Velveeta. Any resemblance to actual cheese is entirely coincidental. However, judging from the stars-and-stripes packaging, the product is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and Mom's spray-on apple-pie-in-a-tube.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Guar Gum."
Worth the price? Probably depends on how much actual foam cheese can be extracted from a can, and whether it's eaten, or used as a budget-conscious Silly String substitute.
Old Dominion Butter Toffee Peanuts
Looking for any edge in the crowded snack-nut market, Old Dominion has crafted a regionally appropriate rival to Mr. Peanut: "Mr. B.T.," a bumpy brown lump sporting boots and a tri-cornered hat. He looks like a turd that just got back from Colonial Williamsburg.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: The package list only includes peanuts, sugar, butter, and salt, which might be scary for those who like some preservatives in their snack food, just to be safe.
Worth the price? The nuts look glazed and off-colored, and taste chalky. But the bag is still worth a buck, just so you can point at the package and say, "Check this shit out."
Yes, Clamato is a reasonably popular beverage. No, clam juice in tomato drinks is not a creepy new concept. However, a canned tomato-clam beverage named "Clam Club" is really pushing the limits. Why not just come right out and call it "Frosty Fish Drink"? Does that just not sound cliquish enough?
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Clams." Not "clam juice," mind you, just "clams." The prospect of finding an entire clam bobbing around inside the pop-top can should scare off even the most hardened tomato-drink aficionado.
Worth the price? If you like spicy, thin, slightly sour Italian tomato soup served cold, sure.
Garden Fresh Gourmet Veggie Twists—Grilled Rosemary & Roasted Garlic
Easily the most repellant foodstuff ever crafted by man or machine, these twisty, crispy sticks of dried, compressed vegetable powder have the consistency of packing peanuts, but are nowhere near as yummy. The twists come in three sickly pale colors, but share the same sour, grassy taste.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Rice Bean Oil" isn't scary, but it does sound kind of made-up.
Worth the price? Depends. Do you want to eat a bag of dried salad?
Dippin' Dolphin Pop
With its protective lid in place, Dippin' Dolphin Pop looks like a chubby pastel dolphin wearing a space helmet. Pull the helmet off, and if it's at all warm out, a good chunk of the head underneath will come with it. What's left is a sticky, gluey little critter with a plastic body and a super-sweet lollipop head. Given that kids are expected to suck this thing until it's just a half-dolphin plastic nub, a "Not Dolphin Safe" warning label might be appropriate.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: In lieu of an ingredients label, there's a little tag that says "For Nutrition Facts, please write to Best Sweet at the address above." Now that's scary.
Worth the price? No price, and no corn-syrup sweetness, is worth the risk of walking around looking like you're fellating an entire toy dolphin.
Mickey M's Graham Snack Cookies
Disney Xtreme! Coolers—Shreddin' Strawberry
The staff of Disney's marketing department is apparently working overtime to hip-ify their flagship character, judging by the eye-popping packaging of these two passable snack products. Whoever this "Mickey M" is, he sounds like one awesome dude, even though his cookies don't taste especially graham-y. As for the juice label, it depicts a snowboarding Mickey next to the words "25% Less Sugar"—because there's nothing more "Xtreme!" than cutting your sugar intake.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Thiamine Mononitrate."
Worth the price? If you're running a day care, you're in luck.
Raga Muffins Muffin Mix
No, these muffins do not have anything to do with reggae offshoots. Instead, they presumably have something to do with poor, ragged children who can't afford better muffins. Still, the simplistic little cartoon girl on every box looks happy, even if her muffins aren't "blueberry" or "apple cinnamon" so much as generi-muffins "with artificial apple and cinnamon flavored nuggets." Yum. With a pitch that appealing, no wonder their brand mascot is a disheveled street kid.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Tumeric Extracts."
Worth the price? Unlike most dollar-store delectables, these muffins have to be mixed and baked instead of just eaten out of the box. It probably isn't worth it—people who want to put in that much effort buy real grocery-store food.
For a dollar, buyers get two bottles of gummi cola, a gummi hot dog, a gummi hamburger, five slices of gummi pizza, a box of sour gummi fries, and a gummi donut. (Doesn't that last item make it more of a "Gummi Brunch"?) Aside from conflicting opinions on the spelling of "gummi"—some of the items here use the bastardized "y" form—this is an impressive feat of confectionary miniaturization. It almost seems like an affront to gummi artisans to eat these pliable little works of art. So we didn't.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Titanium Dioxide."
Worth the price? If your kids lose the plastic food in their kitchen play-set, here's a way to restock on the cheap.
Mrs. Butterworth's Little Dunkers Syrup Dipping Cups
So it's come to this. Kids who can't get through a school lunch or a backyard picnic without dipping their food in syrup finally have a prepackaged option, in the form of little tubs of transportable syrup. But since the world's few syrup-craving foods, such as waffles and pancakes, don't really package and travel well, did the world need this product? Maybe the kids are expected to skip the pancakes and just do syrup shots.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Sodium Hexametaphosphate."
Worth the price? Six tubs of syrup is a lot for a dollar. But this product won't feel worth the price until someone invents Little Dunkers Crunchy Individually-Wrapped Lunchtime Pancake Sticks.
Too Tarts SmartChoice Gween Apple Sour Blast Spray Candy
For those who want the experience of taking Chloraseptic without actually getting a sore throat, pick up this odd little spray bottle, which contains a slightly acidic apple-flavored water. Squirt it in your mouth. It's like ingesting a fine mist of Capri Sun.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Acesulfame K."
Worth the price? It's worth it for the reading material alone. In the spirit of the candy's overloaded name, the package features a torrent of words, from the banner that lets customers know that this is a "bonus bottle" with "60% more!" to the information that a portion of the proceeds from any sales will go to the American Diabetes Association. It's a rare sweet that makes you think.
Stars & Stripes Play Maker Sports Drink With Electrolytes—Big League Orange
What hath the University Of Florida wrought? Ever since the athletic department developed Gatorade in 1965, rival companies have tried to position their electrolyte-enhanced drinks as more athlete-friendly. Stars & Stripes' dark-orange, suspiciously punchy-looking beverage courts patriots and people with "attitude"—the former via an American flag, and the latter via contradictory buzz phrases like "Bring It!" and "Not In My House!"
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Glycerol Ester Of Wood Rosin."
Worth the price? This may be the heaviest 20-ounce bottle on the market, so that's a plus—unless you're looking for a light, replenishing post-workout drink, in which case this thick, syrupy brew might leave you too sluggish.