March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.
Here on the east coast, March usually starts with cold, windy and rainy weather, and ends mild and pleasant. This year has been no different.
Recently, I came in from an early March night – a very cold, very rainy one. I turned on the TV and as I was peeling off my soggy, wet shoes, I saw that Craig Kilborn was back on TV, as the spokesperson for the new and improved Kraft Mac and Cheese.
I don’t know what kind of food you gravitate to in lion weather. For me, it’s comfort food. This, coupled with hearing that Craig Kilborn has returned, made me not only nostalgic for his days on ESPN and as a late night host, but also for my days of eating mac and cheese as a kid.
You may remember Craig Kilborn for his time as an anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter, his tenure as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (it’s hard to imagine, but true, that someone hosted the show before Jon Stewart), his run as host of the Late Late Show on CBS before handing over that desk to Craig Ferguson, or from the speculation about where he has been since his stint with CBS came to an end.
His return, though, is just part one of the news development from the night. Part two, Kraft’s Mac and Cheese is new and improved. How does one improve on the most comforting of comfort food? This deserves a bit of a deep dive.
My first, second, and third thoughts were that I genuinely hoped they had not tinkered with that wildly bright – fluorescent bright – orange powdered cheese that, even when mixed with milk and butter, does not lose its color. I have such an indelible memory from when I was little, of standing on a chair next to the stove and watching my mom slowly add white milk to the unnaturally bright cheese powder, and seeing the resilient orange color did not fade. (She did not add butter. Ever. Has not, to this day.)
After a few moments of reminiscing, I Googled the Craig Kilborn spot. I started watching. I shrieked. Craig boasts in the first few seconds that the new recipe has no artificial flavors, preservatives, or dyes. No! The dye! They messed with the dye! I was certain my worst fears were confirmed.
I was thisclose to taking to Facebook to vent – I knew my childhood friends would erupt in anger as well. But, I thought to check for more information first. I am glad I did. It turns out Kraft anticipated the backlash and replaced the dye with colorful spices.
In an Eater article titled “Kraft Changed Its Mac and Cheese and Nobody Noticed”, I learned that Kraft “nixed the artificial dyes (yellow 5 and 6) and replaced them with paprika, annatto, and turmeric to maintain the product’s signature, eerily-bright orange color.” Much appreciated by kids big and small, Kraft. Thank you.
Now that Kraft has put a new, cleaner recipe on the market and is sharing this news with consumers, it made me wonder: was it possible that someone – anyone – thought mac and cheese was a healthy option? Had Kraft been marketing it as one? Had they spent years trying to portray it as a solid source of vitamins and minerals? I couldn’t remember, so I took a look at some old spots.
I found out quickly that no, it has not been billed as a healthy option. Rather, it has been considered a happy option. The young girl in this spot from 1996 tells her father “if you want to keep me happy here’s what you need to know” and smiles in front of a big bowl of mac and cheese.
In spots from 2012, it is described as “gooey, creamy and delicious.” In this spot called “Mom’s Betrayal,” a boy catches his mom and her book club friends devouring his mac and cheese.
The gooey, creamy theme continued into 2015 when Estelle Harris, perhaps best known as George’s Mom from Seinfeld, crashes the kids table at a family event to get her hands on some of the deliciousness.
For generations, the spots have closed with the tagline “You Know You Love It.” With Craig Kilborn back on the air and the orange color from childhood beaming back at me, I know I love it. Especially when it is raining and windy outside.