Mary Oves
Mary Oves Danny Drake

I'm sitting at my kitchen counter staring at my no-fat, no-salt, no-sugar, no-flavor, no nothing (no kidding!) rice snacks. I'm not sure what to do with them.

A girl was popping them fresh at the supermarket from some tungsten-looking faux popcorn machine. It was popping cakes out every three seconds, and as I stood there watching, something occurred to me: I was the only one there. Who is buying all of these rice cakes, and why do they need to make so many? There must have been 500 bags on the display counter already, why is the machine still going at 1:00 on a Wednesday afternoon? Were they expecting a senior citizen rice cake bus on its way to Atlantic City?

Someone has to put a stop to it, I thought. It was insanity. I thought of complaining to the manager, and pictured a short balding man with a cheap tie clip running out of his little office smelling of stale coffee and bologna.

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"Stop!" he would scream, as he rushes toward the startled Rice Cake Girl. "You must stop making rice cakes! We have enough! No one buys them again once they've tasted them!"

The manager dramatically pulls the plug, eliciting shocked gasps from the crowd (me), filling the rice cake display area with a cavernous silence. Rice Cake Girl dejectedly takes off her rice cake hat and her apron that says "Eat ‘em plain, or eat ‘em with stuff!" and wonders at the meaning of life. She wanders towards the Cheetos and Doritos aisle, to relive better days.

So I bought some. It made Rice Cake Girl happy, and who can resist a snack that touts to have nothing in it?

The bag only weighs only about three ounces. I look at the ingredients. Air. Water. Rice. Despair. But wait - I thought despair had gluten?

The rice cakes have no calories. No fat. No fiber. No sugar. No cholesterol. No calcium. No vitamins. So while they're not harmful, they also don't fulfill your needs. Kind of like men.

The Warning Label! warns eaters to be aware that Cross Contact With peanuts, trss nuts, soy, milk, and eggs may have occurred in product. I found that interesting. Sounds like a joke I know. "So rice, nuts, soy, milk and eggs all walk into a bar ..." I won't ruin the punch line.

The cakes looked plain. Friends say you can spread peanut butter on them. Have them with cheese. Dip them in caramel. Peanut butter, cheese and caramel? Three diet no-no's? I hardly saw the point. The best way has to be plain, I thought.

So I tasted one, and if you've never treated yourself to one, let me describe it.

Go to your local paper, and grab a supermarket circular. Find an ad for rice cakes. With a pair of sharp scissors, cut out that rice cake coupon. Refold the newspaper, and recycle. Fold coupon once, twice, then stuff in mouth. Chew several times. Repeat and enjoy.

When my sons got home from wrestling practice, they were looking for food, and asked me what snacks I brought back.

"Clementines," I answered. "Air-popped popcorn, almonds, non-fat yogurt. Rice cakes."

They all stared at me.

"Stop joking around, Mom. Where are the fruit snacks? The Cheetos? Pop tarts?" They put their hands on their hips in that cool "don't-mess-with-me" boy way they have.

"When you're the one shopping, you can get what you want. This was a healthy trip. Next week I'll get your stuff. Until then, make do."

I watched as they ate Marshmallow Fluff from jars, gagged through a sleeve of spiced wafers, and searched for stray popsicles in the freezer. I handed them each a rice cake, and they bit into them, like they were being forced to eat supermarket coupons. They instantly ran to the trash can, and spit out the remains.

"Yuk!" they said. "What the heck are those things? What's in them?"

Nothing, I said. Absolutely nothing.

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