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Why We Like Not-So-Great Food

Why We Like Not-So-Great Food
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  • Why We Like Not-So-Great Food

    Post #1 - December 18th, 2017, 6:02 pm
    Post #1 - December 18th, 2017, 6:02 pm Post #1 - December 18th, 2017, 6:02 pm
    When our three daughters were growing up, we’d get a panettone every holiday season; we’d eat it on Christmas Day. The panettone came in a box; it was not expensive nor was it very good; this store-bought panettone was probably made by a machine in some baking factory. Filled with preservatives, this panettone could last for weeks unopened. My children loved it. It was squishy and sweet.

    Last Thanksgiving, friend Ava brought to our house a panettone that she baked at home. It was probably the best panettone I’d ever had: firm, flavorful, and not-too-sweet, made of good quality ingredients, with care and attention. My children were lukewarm to it, I believe, because it wasn’t what they were used to: it wasn’t the usual, traditional, relatively mediocre version of this Italian classic.

    Sometimes we prefer -- even "like" mediocre, not-so-great food.

    Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is a good example of this. Several people have confessed to me that it’s their favorite. Friend Susan told me that she prefers this packaged version to “better” versions, which I totally get. If you grew up with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, as we all did, you may have a certain softness for it, and you may actually prefer this version with powdered “cheese” to homemade versions with four good cheeses and a finer grade of pasta.

    Sometimes, food we’ve had in hard times becomes food we like. Genmaicha tea, green tea “extended” with toasted rice, was consumed by the Japanese during WWII when tea was rationed. It was a sad time, and the food identified with that time is now fondly consumed.

    Fry bread, a beloved snack at pow-wows across the country, was a product of reservation culture when Native Americans were forced into concentration camps and given non-traditional ingredients like white flour and cooking oil. The interred indigenous people improvised and came up with fry bread; this simple snack is now perhaps the most popular food of native peoples, recalling perhaps the saddest period in their histories.

    White Castle sliders, a grotesque food when considered objectively, are fondly remembered by those who perhaps enjoyed it in their youth, either with their family or after a night of boozing with college buddies. No person with a healthy palate and without previous experience with this “food,” would crave anything like it were it not for the fond memories it provokes.

    I’m writing this after waking up from a dream that involved eating my mom’s spare ribs, the kind she made maybe once per month in the 50s and 60s. My mom was an okay cook. Her ribs were dipped in Open Pit sauce and routinely overcooked in the oven until they were hard and leathery. I have had a lot of good ribs in my life, but I guess I prefer my mom’s, which were good in ways that rise above flavor.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #2 - December 18th, 2017, 8:31 pm
    Post #2 - December 18th, 2017, 8:31 pm Post #2 - December 18th, 2017, 8:31 pm
    Funny that you mention the ribs. Whether my mom cooked them in the oven or my dad grilled them into oblivion, I look back on them and describe it as using my teeth to tear jerky off a bone. We also used open pit unless my mom got ambitious and made Berts Superb sauce from the good housekeeping cookbook. Berts is still my favorite homemade bbq sauce as long as you dont add the sugar. Those ribs definitely scratched an itch.

    -Will
  • Post #3 - December 18th, 2017, 9:40 pm
    Post #3 - December 18th, 2017, 9:40 pm Post #3 - December 18th, 2017, 9:40 pm
    I myself am not deeply attached to Kraft macaroni and cheese because we didn't have it much growing up. Even now it seems to me that it would have been considered an indulgence in our nine-person household, as it would have used up milk to make. But I understand the attachment other people have to it. I used to try to make all sort of variations on macaroni and cheese for the stepkids --- all recipes promised to be better than storebought. No matter what I tried, it wasn't the same color and the noodles weren't the same size and the kids wouldn't eat it.
    "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."
  • Post #4 - December 18th, 2017, 10:19 pm
    Post #4 - December 18th, 2017, 10:19 pm Post #4 - December 18th, 2017, 10:19 pm
    Yeah--mac & cheese is definitely one of those where the store-bought is typically better than homemade (and pretty much ANY mac I've ever been served in a restaurant--usually a mushy, bland waste of calories). I split the difference--when I'm making for the men (no longer boys, but still eating like them :)), I use the box but amp it up by adding freshly grated cheese (usually a mix of cheddar and Chihuahua or some other flavorful white cheese). I also make a pretty good version from scratch now, but still use the Kraft pasta--somehow, they seem to stay firmer than regular pasta--I'm sure that's just in my head but I'm sticking with it.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #5 - December 18th, 2017, 11:09 pm
    Post #5 - December 18th, 2017, 11:09 pm Post #5 - December 18th, 2017, 11:09 pm
    I think this dynamic, essentially nostalgia at its core, applies in a number of areas beyond food . . . especially with music, film/tv, etc. There's so much out there that connects us to our pasts. And that's a very powerful draw from an emotional point of view, even if the empirical quality doesn't necessarily match our present-day standards.

    =R=
    I am not interested in how I would evaluate the Springbank in a blind tasting. Every spirit has its story, and I include it in my evaluation, just as I do with human beings. --Thad Vogler

    I'll be the tastiest pork cutlet bowl ever --Yuri Katsuki

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #6 - December 19th, 2017, 7:03 am
    Post #6 - December 19th, 2017, 7:03 am Post #6 - December 19th, 2017, 7:03 am
    Of the things I have spoken of on this board before, Jewel's Thin and Crispy sausage frozen pizza still does it for me and about three times a year I drive back to where I grew up to get Hamburger Heaven in Elmhurst. Neither of which I could actually recommend for a serious eater but both of which tugs at the heartstrings. And Open Pit is better than any of the latter molasses bomb sauces that take up the rest of the shelf in the grocery which are filled with liquid smoke. (Lilly Q excepted, I cannot make a better mustard sauce and have given up trying).
    I'm not Angry, I'm hungry.
  • Post #7 - December 19th, 2017, 7:10 am
    Post #7 - December 19th, 2017, 7:10 am Post #7 - December 19th, 2017, 7:10 am
    AngrySarah wrote:about three times a year I drive back to where I grew up to get Hamburger Heaven in Elmhurst.


    Carolyn and I grew up in Elmhurst, and we went back to Hamburger Heaven earlier this year. I'm pleased to report that the hamburgers are better tasting than in recent memory (they're using a better bun and better beef, and charging more, too). I believe they went into decline for a while and are now improving their product, but (more to the point of this post) I don't believe even these new and enhanced burgers are as good as they were when I had them in high school. They probably could never be.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #8 - December 19th, 2017, 8:01 am
    Post #8 - December 19th, 2017, 8:01 am Post #8 - December 19th, 2017, 8:01 am
    For those like stevez and Dave148 who grew up around Dempster Street's restaurant row in east Skokie in the 1970's, a couple of 'so good but so bad' items:

    Eastern Style Beef Grinder--on toasted garlic bread, this thin, near-footlong monstrosity had my buddies & I salivating at the mere thought of devouring one. Absolutely nothing redeeming at all about this oniony, peppery, red-sauced Italian beef sharded gut-bomb except it was hot, crunchy and laden with salt. The accompanying 32 oz RC cola was necessary to wash it down.

    As an aside, not too many years ago, on the way to my brother's house in Rogers Park, I was very hungry and impulse-stopped at the only Eastern Style left, on Touhy just west of California. The place smelled exactly the same, and I was sure it was time-warp nostalgia time for the ol' tastebuds. Not so much--I couldn't even eat half of it, tossed the rest and felt like crap the rest of the night. And I'm pretty sure the Eastern Style beef construct was much the same as 40 years before.

    Super Taco, Jack In The Box--read the following article entitled 'The Jack In The Box Taco is Disgusting & Perfect':
    https://www.gq.com/story/jack-in-the-box-tacos-forever

    I love the descriptions 'a wet envelope of cat food' and 'vile and amazing'...

    Since the JITB on Dempster was open until at least 3AM, after we'd drop off our Friday or Saturday night dates, the guys would convene to discuss...you know, over greasy, oozing, deep-fried tacos with a filling of decidedly unknown origin. More of a culinary (and I use that term loosely) soundtrack to my latter high school years.
    Last edited by jnm123 on December 19th, 2017, 10:26 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #9 - December 19th, 2017, 9:05 am
    Post #9 - December 19th, 2017, 9:05 am Post #9 - December 19th, 2017, 9:05 am
    When I am in a certain mood I buy a small can of Spam and some cheap cheddar cheese and a loaf of white bread. Cut the Spam into slices, fry it and melt the cheese on top. Put it on plain white bread with mayo.

    So warm, so cheesy, so salty. It really makes me happy, for a while. But I do wake up in the middle of the night needing water because it is so damn salty.
  • Post #10 - December 19th, 2017, 10:25 am
    Post #10 - December 19th, 2017, 10:25 am Post #10 - December 19th, 2017, 10:25 am
    I didn't have panettone as a part of my tradition, but it so clearly is.

    When I was a kid my father adored raisin bread. Even now when I order a sandwich and they ask what kind of toast ( I had egg salad the other day) I will ask for lightly toasted raisin bread. My father liked it with hunks of ham cut straight off of a bone and a piece of cheese, usually Kraft American single. We grew up with cheese toasted raisin bread and hot chocolate for breakfast before school.

    As I ran down this rabbit hole of panettone making ( I am about to start another round) I couldn't help but realize that this bread, particularly when toasted, was nothing more than an Italian version of the raisin bread. Sure it has a bit more fruit in it, + fancy extracts & citrus, but it was made by hand with an Italian sourdough starter. Still, it was a clear part of my childhood and I have now accepted it as an updated food memory that I can appreciate and recall with great fondness of my father.

    Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.
    Ava-"If you get down and out, just get in the kitchen and bake a cake."- Jean Strickland

    Horto In Urbs- Falling in love with Urban Vegetable Gardening
  • Post #11 - December 19th, 2017, 10:38 am
    Post #11 - December 19th, 2017, 10:38 am Post #11 - December 19th, 2017, 10:38 am
    Great topic and very true. We never had prepared food of any kind. Thus, I was never a Krafter. Wife was and I still am not. Mother used to fry pork chops in a cast iron fry pan. Once they were done, she took them out of the pan and added cooked elbow's, ketchup and mixed them up in that pork grease. You could eat them with a straw. Man, they went down nicely and with much flavor.
  • Post #12 - December 19th, 2017, 10:42 am
    Post #12 - December 19th, 2017, 10:42 am Post #12 - December 19th, 2017, 10:42 am
    pairs4life wrote:I didn't have panettone as a part of my tradition, but it so clearly is.

    Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.


    I adapted a recipe to make Mac & cheese bites for a chili cook off that is now my go-to—it’s basically a bechamel base with cheese and spices—and the whole thing is firm, flavorful and delicious—not the mushy mess that soooo many restaurants serve. But I still use the Kraft pasta :)!
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #13 - December 19th, 2017, 2:39 pm
    Post #13 - December 19th, 2017, 2:39 pm Post #13 - December 19th, 2017, 2:39 pm
    boudreaulicious wrote:
    pairs4life wrote:I didn't have panettone as a part of my tradition, but it so clearly is.

    Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.


    I adapted a recipe to make Mac & cheese bites for a chili cook off that is now my go-to—it’s basically a bechamel base with cheese and spices—and the whole thing is firm, flavorful and delicious—not the mushy mess that soooo many restaurants serve. But I still use the Kraft pasta :)!


    Did you just put Kraft and pasta together?! I love you so much it is ridiculous! :mrgreen:
    Ava-"If you get down and out, just get in the kitchen and bake a cake."- Jean Strickland

    Horto In Urbs- Falling in love with Urban Vegetable Gardening
  • Post #14 - December 19th, 2017, 3:28 pm
    Post #14 - December 19th, 2017, 3:28 pm Post #14 - December 19th, 2017, 3:28 pm
    I remember having adored panettone when young. My parents were given gifts of it by business associates, and neither of them were interested, as they did not have that background of fond memories to help them. But my brother and I were delighted to dispose of it for them. Once out on my own, no Christmas passed without panettone in the house. These days, Christmas celebrations have changed, and panettone no longer gets added to my shopping list -- but your post makes me want to go and get some. Because you're right -- those tastes from the past definitely help shape what we can enjoy.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #15 - December 19th, 2017, 3:32 pm
    Post #15 - December 19th, 2017, 3:32 pm Post #15 - December 19th, 2017, 3:32 pm
    Oh -- and egg foo young. My mom still talks about the version she grew up with in Chicago in the '30s and '40s. I take her about every other week to China Buffet, because they have egg foo young that more closely matches her memory than anything else I've found.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #16 - December 19th, 2017, 5:54 pm
    Post #16 - December 19th, 2017, 5:54 pm Post #16 - December 19th, 2017, 5:54 pm
    pairs4life wrote:
    boudreaulicious wrote:
    pairs4life wrote:I didn't have panettone as a part of my tradition, but it so clearly is.

    Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.


    I adapted a recipe to make Mac & cheese bites for a chili cook off that is now my go-to—it’s basically a bechamel base with cheese and spices—and the whole thing is firm, flavorful and delicious—not the mushy mess that soooo many restaurants serve. But I still use the Kraft pasta :)!


    Did you just put Kraft and pasta together?! I love you so much it is ridiculous! :mrgreen:


    :twisted:
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #17 - December 19th, 2017, 5:55 pm
    Post #17 - December 19th, 2017, 5:55 pm Post #17 - December 19th, 2017, 5:55 pm
    pairs4life wrote:
    boudreaulicious wrote:
    pairs4life wrote:I didn't have panettone as a part of my tradition, but it so clearly is.

    Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.


    I adapted a recipe to make Mac & cheese bites for a chili cook off that is now my go-to—it’s basically a bechamel base with cheese and spices—and the whole thing is firm, flavorful and delicious—not the mushy mess that soooo many restaurants serve. But I still use the Kraft pasta :)!


    Did you just put Kraft and pasta together?! I love you so much it is ridiculous! :mrgreen:

    Well it IS their pasta hehehehehe :twisted:
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #18 - December 19th, 2017, 8:41 pm
    Post #18 - December 19th, 2017, 8:41 pm Post #18 - December 19th, 2017, 8:41 pm
    pairs4life wrote:Now that box mac & cheese is a no! I grew up with a casserole style of hand grated cheddar mixed with spices ( only Mueller's elbows would do with the fancified small shells for holidays, Lawry's seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper) + milk or occasionally something richer like half & half or heavy cream, an egg or 2 to bind it, and butter. It was baked in a corningware piece until the edges were dark brown. You could cut it like squares and it held its shape. Hmmm, I may need to make this version before the year ends.


    Preach.
    We cannot be friends if you do not know the difference between Mayo and Miracle Whip.
  • Post #19 - December 20th, 2017, 2:01 am
    Post #19 - December 20th, 2017, 2:01 am Post #19 - December 20th, 2017, 2:01 am
    Your post made me laugh unintendedly...when newly married my wife made the day-glo Kraft offering with supper one night. Something was way off and I was concerned how one might mess up adding milk and powder...till I found out HER Mother considered the milk an unnecessary extravagance. Water was all anyone really needed after all. yikes.
    D.G. Sullivan's, "we're a little bit Irish, and a whole lot of fun"!
  • Post #20 - December 20th, 2017, 9:56 am
    Post #20 - December 20th, 2017, 9:56 am Post #20 - December 20th, 2017, 9:56 am
    Not sure if mentioned here or somewhere else, but Kraft Mac and Cheese was invented in Canada. Known there as Kraft Dinner.
  • Post #21 - December 20th, 2017, 11:24 am
    Post #21 - December 20th, 2017, 11:24 am Post #21 - December 20th, 2017, 11:24 am
    I don't really buy this whole guilty-pleasure, liking "not-so-great"/mediocre food stuff. I think Kraft Mac and Cheese is good on its own merits. I make a slightly different version using cheddar cheese powder I buy myself (mostly because I'm a cheap SOB), but I like this creamy take on mac and cheese versus the baked varieties. When I want to get fancy, I add Velveeta or even Kraft American singles slices to it. I don't think it has much to do with comfort or nostalgia, as I didn't really grow up with Kraft in the house. I just like the textures better. And so do my kids, apparently, as when presented with both as options, they'll take the Kraft every single time vs a Southern style baked macaroni casserole. How much more of a tabula rasa to you need? I'm happy here eating my Stilton and 6-year-old Goudas or 10-year-old cheddars, but for mac and cheese, I like melty, creamy, mild cheeses.

    Fry bread I never thought of as being mediocre in any way, shape or form. It's fantastic stuff when made right!
  • Post #22 - December 20th, 2017, 11:55 am
    Post #22 - December 20th, 2017, 11:55 am Post #22 - December 20th, 2017, 11:55 am
    I never knew genmaicha was born of deprivation, though it now makes perfect sense. I've been drinking it for years and always thought it seemed - like all tea seems to me - sort of fancy. Honestly, those toasty little corn kernels always seemed like luxurious additions to ordinary green tea, and all along they were filler. Good flavor, though.
  • Post #23 - December 20th, 2017, 12:06 pm
    Post #23 - December 20th, 2017, 12:06 pm Post #23 - December 20th, 2017, 12:06 pm
    I know of at least one person who professes to prefer Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Particularly when used to make sandwiches with Oscar Mayer bologna. I think this can only be attributed to nostalgia.
  • Post #24 - December 20th, 2017, 12:17 pm
    Post #24 - December 20th, 2017, 12:17 pm Post #24 - December 20th, 2017, 12:17 pm
    bw77 wrote:I know of at least one person who professes to prefer Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Particularly when used to make sandwiches with Oscar Mayer bologna. I think this can only be attributed to nostalgia.


    OK, maybe I'll draw the line there. :)

    (I love bologna, so I'm not going to complain about that, but I've never been a big sweet-sour kinda guy, so the Miracle Whip is a bit much for me. That said, Miracle Whip actually is pretty damned good for that style of dressing. I've had a few knock-offs, like Centrella brand -- I don't even know why the hell I ended up buying it -- that literally went into the garbage after two spoons of it. Miracle Whip was so much better than whatever this salad dressing was.)
  • Post #25 - December 20th, 2017, 1:26 pm
    Post #25 - December 20th, 2017, 1:26 pm Post #25 - December 20th, 2017, 1:26 pm
    The other day I was talking to my sister about my favorite "bad" food - canned peas. The smaller the better. I put a bunch of butter, salt and pepper on them - yum! Every once in a while, I'll spot them walking down the aisle at a grocery store, and I have to buy a can.
  • Post #26 - December 20th, 2017, 1:34 pm
    Post #26 - December 20th, 2017, 1:34 pm Post #26 - December 20th, 2017, 1:34 pm
    knitgirl wrote:Every once in a while, I'll spot them walking down the aisle . . .

    Now, those are some talented peas! :lol:

    =R=
    I am not interested in how I would evaluate the Springbank in a blind tasting. Every spirit has its story, and I include it in my evaluation, just as I do with human beings. --Thad Vogler

    I'll be the tastiest pork cutlet bowl ever --Yuri Katsuki

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #27 - December 20th, 2017, 1:56 pm
    Post #27 - December 20th, 2017, 1:56 pm Post #27 - December 20th, 2017, 1:56 pm
    I once bought and shipped a carton of 24 boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese to Sweden for a former exchange student who longed for it. I think that stuff is repellent-tried it only once. But Spam is a go- every 10 years or so. And my brother swears by my mother's pork chops with minute rice and a can of tomatoes. Seriously. That is the recipe. Blech!
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #28 - December 20th, 2017, 1:57 pm
    Post #28 - December 20th, 2017, 1:57 pm Post #28 - December 20th, 2017, 1:57 pm
    Knitgirl, how do you feel about canned asparagus?

    Ron, hilarious.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #29 - December 20th, 2017, 2:14 pm
    Post #29 - December 20th, 2017, 2:14 pm Post #29 - December 20th, 2017, 2:14 pm
    David Hammond wrote:Knitgirl, how do you feel about canned asparagus?

    My wife is a fan of canned green beans. She ate them as a kid and unlike a lot of things from her childhood that she didn't like and doesn't remember fondly, for whatever reason, these still scratch an itch for her.

    =R=
    I am not interested in how I would evaluate the Springbank in a blind tasting. Every spirit has its story, and I include it in my evaluation, just as I do with human beings. --Thad Vogler

    I'll be the tastiest pork cutlet bowl ever --Yuri Katsuki

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #30 - December 20th, 2017, 2:19 pm
    Post #30 - December 20th, 2017, 2:19 pm Post #30 - December 20th, 2017, 2:19 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    David Hammond wrote:Knitgirl, how do you feel about canned asparagus?

    My wife is a fan of canned green beans. She ate them as a kid and unlike a lot of things from her childhood that she didn't like and doesn't remember fondly, for whatever reason, these still scratch an itch for her.

    =R=


    ilovecannedbuttonmushrooms--THERE, I said it!
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington

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