Note: This column originally appeared in 2010.
I admit they are attractive, in a cheap, floozy, dime-a-dozen sort of way, although they're 69 cents for a five-pack at Safeway. They are a dentist's nightmare, or dream, depending on whether you have a nice, ethical dentist or a rotten, money-grubbing one. They are harbingers of spring and the apocalypse all rolled into adorable little globs of sucrose, monosaccharides, disaccharides and trisaccharides.
They are Peeps, emerging by the millions daily at the Just Born candy company in Bethlehem (the Pennsylvania one) and displayed in their cellophane incubators on grocery and drugstore shelves everywhere. They are basically clumps of marshmallow rolled in colored sugar and formed to resemble small chicks and bunnies in eye-searingly bright Easter pinks, blues and yellows, or molded into other holiday shapes such as orange jack-o-lanterns and white ghosts for Halloween -- although I don't see how they can truly be Peeps if they are anything other than chick-shaped. Bunnies don't "peep." Neither do jack-o-lanterns. Or ghosts, for that matter. Unless they are the ghosts of chicks. And then it would be more of an eerie, unearthly "Peeeeeep! PeeEEEeeep!" sound in a deep Vincent-Price-style voice.
If you are not familiar with the snack, grab the nearest throw pillow, peel back the fabric down to the inner foam form, sprinkle some sugar on a corner and take a nibble. This will mimic the general taste and texture. You see, Peeps are a tasteless anti-food. The pink ones don't taste like strawberry, nor the yellow like banana. They don't even taste like marshmallow. They are merely sugar in sugar, and sugar in and of itself is not a flavor.
Love 'em or hate 'em
Despite and/or because of such detrimental qualities, these wee treats-gone-wrong have an unnatural hold over humans, able to elicit near-fanatical responses of either extreme Peep-ophilia or downright hatred. For some, the twain meet -- people write songs about them, dedicate fan sites to them and make them do strange and sometimes beautiful things in diorama contests. But ingest them? Heaven forbid.
I, too, take a strong stand on Peeps. I dislike them intensely. And they know it, which merely bolsters their resolve. I can see it in their beady little food-colored eyes -- their defiance, their sheer pluck. You can't get just one Peep, you know, and that's no accident. They come in packs. One might even say, battalions.
Do not misunderstand. Marshmallow utilized properly is a delight, as in Rice Krispies treats. Or roasted over an open fire. Or in See's scotchmallows with yummy caramel and dark chocolate. Or even in my great-grandmother's dessert recipe in which you boil orange juice and crushed pineapple and then melt in exactly 42 marshmallows, fold in some whipped cream, pour the fluff over vanilla wafers and top it off with maraschino cherries. It was the style at the time.
But plain, blah marshmallows that have been rolling around in colored sugar like a wet dog in the sand? Simply vile.
They won't die
One time, in a fit of Peeps hatred, I tried to do away with a purple bunny Peep here at work, but it would not die. I microwaved it on a paper plate. It melted and shriveled, stubbornly maintaining its general structural bunny integrity, but bubbling up in a grotesque fashion, becoming warped and distorted and revealing its native evil self. Like when S.F. celebrity attorney Melvin Belli appeared on one of the original "Star Trek" episodes as a jovial "friendly angel" who was actually an evil entity trying to control the Enterprise, and once his cover was blown, he turned all gnarled and warty, chanting "Death to you all!" and finally disappearing into thin air. Probably Melvin Belli's usual courtroom theatrics.
Sadly, the melted Peep did not vanish. It willfully clung to the paper plate, so I wrote "Rest in Peeps" on it as a warning to others and we pinned the malformed blob on the wall where it resided, mocking us, for a few years. I think someone tossed it when we moved to our new building in 2008, but no doubt it lingers in a landfill somewhere. Mocking. Plotting.
Our sports copy editors valiantly tried to thin the general Peeps population back in the late '90s/early '00s, when they had an annual Peep-Off Peep-eating contest. According to a source close to the Peep-Off, each contestant would get 12 minutes to eat as many Peeps as possible. You had to finish a row of the same color before moving on to the next color. One guy kept a memorial Peep from each contest on his computer. They eventually petrified into mini tombstones, capable of serious damage if either digested or utilized as a weapon.
"Too often, contestants complained of upset stomachs. One winner even threw up later in the shift," my source revealed. "Even in victory, I don't ever remember the winner being truly happy."
Contact Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @giveemhill.