It’s hard to think of an aroma with more immediate memories attached to it than the smell of a piece of Juicy Fruit gum. Its sweet fruity smell works like Proust’s infamous madeline cake, flooding the nose with memories. The unmistakable look and fragrance of a stick of this familiar Wrigley’s gum is a classic icon for American culture. One thinks of all those American GIs cracking their gum as they liberated Europe.
I have always loved Juicy Fruit and its cloying sweetness but, for the sake my molars, I have been chewing sugarless gum for the last decade or so. I don’t know why they don’t make sugar-free Juicy Fruit, but they don’t.
I know gum chewing often seems rude or childish, and I could defend the act of chewing it by talking about gum’s long history with the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and the many cultures of Mexico and South America. In fact, it was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana who first brought chicle to the U.S. and inadvertently started the whole gum industry in America.
Of course, the breath freshening qualities of gum have been known for hundreds of years. I should also mention that the U.S. government gives gum to soldiers to increase their concentration.
But the reason I started really pondering the habit of chewing gum is due to a movie on the Turner Classic Movie Channel, “The Gene Krupa Story.” I was enjoying Sal Mineo’s realistic, gum-cracking portrayal of the innovative drummer and in the film, Krupa’s soon-to-be-girlfriend charms him by splitting a stick of gum with him.
It got me to wondering why nobody does that anymore – share a stick of gum, I mean. I don’t believe I’ve ever chewed a whole stick of gum, not even that tasty-for-ten-seconds Adams Fruit Stripe kind.
It has always been a conventional nicety to share a piece of gum with your pals, your siblings, your mom, your grandpa, or whomever. Sharing a stick of gum was a communal rite of friendship, affection, or just plain old courtesy.
But trendy new modern gum isn’t made in long flat stick form. Sure, you can still find the traditional 5-stick pack, but most gum is now made in the smaller Dentyne-like shape or else it’s a candy-coated tablet or a sticky cube of flavored bubblegum.
A stick of gum is big enough to split with one or two people and it used to be that only Trident and Dentyne were in a smaller form – Trident because its size and lack of sugar got ADA approval and Dentyne because the shape warned kids that it was a sucky flavor. I don’t dislike Dentyne now that I’m an adult, but I’d still rather have a stick of Black Jack (the black licorice flavored gum one used to black out a tooth to frighten mom).
It dawned on me that it says something about our culture when we’d rather have a tiny piece of gum of our very own than share a stick with someone. Yes, I know the smaller piece is convenient. It’s just not very friendly.
It would be functionless and insulting to offer a half of a piece of small sized gum to someone. It’s just not very generous.
Sure, you can just give someone their own small, individually wrapped piece, but where’s the communion in that? There’s something casually intimate in splitting a stick of gum that gets lost.
Think of how many pals used to be accommodated with a Bubb’s Daddy! Twenty-five cents used to buy five sticks of gum, which then could be shared into at least ten pieces.
Ah, and there’s the rub. It’s more profitable to sell 15 small pieces of gum for $1.59 than five share-able sticks for a quarter or, even double that, at fifty cents.
The ads for this smaller shape say it’s easier to carry. Yeah, carrying a pack of stick gum sure has been backbreaking work. I don’t know how we’ve handled the strain – it’s a miracle we don’t all have back problems from it. Good grief.
Even the old standard brands are taking on this modern, smaller form. I noticed that Wrigley’s now has a contemporary form for its more popular gums – the new “slim pack.”
Et tu, Juicy Fruit?