The Ace Hardware diet: apple butter, beef jerky and peanuts

Ben Zimet and Leah Prinz

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Have you ever walked past the Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue to marvel at the Big Green Egg grill or coo at the stuffed animal sitting on a lawnmower?

One thing you may have missed about this local staple is their very limited selection of snacks and drinks. Seeing this, we wondered why they even had them in stock. We never quite answered that question, but we do recognize that the purpose of food in general is to sustain human life.

With that purpose in mind, we decided to spend a week consuming only food and beverages served at Ace Hardware.

This is the story of the week of Feb. 2 and our attempt to figure out what the Ace Hardware snack aisle — and, by extension, life itself — is really about.

Days 1-2: Contains Nuts

Ben Zimet ’23: At the start of our journey, I was actually almost excited. It was like fulfilling a childhood dream of eating exclusively Pop Tarts, but without my mother to chide me for it.

I met Leah at 1 p.m. for our first meal. At that point, we were embarrassed, since we were still kind-of trying to give the impression that we were buying snacks for legitimate purposes. The employees’ questions of whether they could help us were met with a hasty, muttered “just looking around.”

I ate two Snickers bars, a meat stick that tasted like barbequed sawdust and the bottled green tea that would soon become a staple of my diet. We celebrated as soon as we got out of view. It was fun, and our friends and families were clearly just scared of what success might do to our egos.

Reality sunk in later that night. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and I was watching the pregame festivities when Leah texted around 6:30 p.m. and asked when I wanted to get dinner. I replied that I’d probably go at halftime or after the game. Then I got a text that I expected to say, “ok, lmk,” but instead said “No you won’t because it closed at 6 apparently.” The clown emoji that followed was apt, as I realized I had no surplus and wouldn’t be eating until the next day.

Leah Prinz ’23: Monday morning I got food before my 9:40 a.m. work shift. Speeding past the snack section, I looked for something that, while not food, was still technically edible. I settled on industrial beeswax. Then, like it was an afterthought, I selected a KIND Bar at the register. I settled on Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter since all the other varieties contain tree nuts, and I wanted to avoid anaphylaxis. I usually eat granola bars for breakfast, so it seemed like my mornings would remain relatively unchanged.

But no. At work I discovered that the bar had almonds. I was allergic to 100 percent of the available granola bars. I considered eating beeswax in front of my coworkers but ultimately decided against it. Ben was kind enough to bring me teriyaki-flavored beef jerky later, which reminded me that I hate beef jerky.

This was going to be a long week.

Days 3-5: My Achy Breaky Stomach

BZ: Tuesday, the third day, was the first time that we told an Ace Hardware employee what we were doing, mostly so the man in question wouldn’t think we were stealing something. He looked at us quizzically. News apparently spreads quickly by the figurative water cooler, because from that point forward everybody in the store seemed to know us by appearance.

It’s possible we looked tired or were showing symptoms of scurvy. That night I was playing pool in the Loch with my friend, holding a bag of pistachios and a shirley temple. I was feeling dehydrated and a bit sick, which I thought was because of a lack of calories, but the more I ate the worse I felt.

I eventually had to go to my dorm because of painful stomach cramps. Luckily, I quickly recovered — which saved me from seriously questioning the effect of our experiment on my health.

LP: On Wednesday, I considered quitting. The first three days were manageable. But at 6:00 a.m. I awoke to intense pain while my stomach rejected Pringles as a staple food.

Still, I survived the day. I bought pickles and apple butter — much-needed sources of vitamins — which I ate with a fork at my desk. My roommate, thankfully, didn’t ask questions. I Googled the difference between apple butter and applesauce. They’re almost exactly the same, but apple butter cooks for longer. I could almost convince myself that scooping it directly into my mouth wasn’t weird. This gave me the  peace of mind to continue.

I don’t remember Thursday. I know I went to class, and I guess I did my homework. By this point both Ben and I were so miserable, so lacking in nutrients and so relentlessly mocked by the Ace Hardware staff that I think we lost the ability to form memories.

Days 6-7: Made with 100 Percent Real Cheese

BZ: On the first day, we were scouring the store for options, and in the barrens of the glassware aisle something caught my eye. It was a strange plastic contraption manufactured by Jelly Belly that claimed to make shaved ice. I am quite fond of shaved ice, but the idea of spending more money than I had to seemed ill-advised.

By Friday, I was desperate enough to do it. The machine itself was $15, and the assorted flavors were about $8. The joy I felt in my heart was priceless. We bought ice trays, hijacked a friend’s freezer and reconvened that night for a crunchy, sickeningly-sweet frozen delight.

LP: On Saturday, we tried cooking. There weren’t many options, but the prospect of cooked food was so exciting that I was optimistic. We created two dishes: one savory, one sweet.

The dessert was actually decent. We fashioned bowls from Rice Krispies Treats and filled them with shaved ice, Pop Rocks and sour gummy worms. The bowl, soaked in syrup and water, was disgusting. The combination of shaved ice and Pop Rocks, however, was surprisingly delicious.

Our savory dish was far less tolerable. We tore beef jerky and crushed peanuts, then this was heated on a saucepan with barbecue sauce and root beer. While Ben stirred the mixture over medium heat, I separated cheese crackers, crushing half into the pan while leaving the other cracker, with bright-orange cheese, intact. We then spooned the mixture onto the crackers.

No matter how bad you think this was, it was worse. It tasted like a vinegar-soaked car tire. It tasted like calcified roadkill in a puddle. It tasted like Mr. Peanut’s desecrated corpse. I have never eaten anything worse.

What have we learned from our weeklong Ace Hardware cleanse? We learned the names of several Ace employees. We learned that birdseed is not fit for human consumption. We learned that the lines at Cafe Mac aren’t so bad. We learned that it is possible to survive a week of eating only food at Ace Hardware.

We also learned that it definitely isn’t worth it.

I think that, if nothing else — because there really is nothing else — our journey speaks to the fortitude of the human body. We may have had acne not seen since middle school and terrible indigestion, but you can’t say that we’re not alive.

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