The Rise And Fall Of Macaroni And Cheese

Sometimes I like to fantasize that I have some sort of backcountry suaveness and culinary instinct, and that I will someday take a special lady somewhere beautiful and make a nice dinner for her and it will be really romantic. But the reality is that this is pretty much the best (only?) trick in my book:

One box of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese


One packet of Tasty Bite __________



If someone is camping with me, this is enough food for both of us. If I am camping by myself, I just eat the whole goddamn pot, the final third of which requires me to compression breathe between bites.

Then sometimes, I go backpacking and camping with other people, and they’re making all kinds of fancy shit with quinoa, couscous, and peanut sauces, and slicing vegetables and sauteing stuff, and I’m like Yo, check this out, you just pour the Kashmir Spinach over the top of the macaroni and cheese and Voila.

Usually I say “Voila!” twice and smile, and still no one is impressed.

At the grocery store, I feel somewhat ashamed when I’m stacking multiple boxes of macaroni and cheese into a basket, looking over my shoulder because I feel like I’m raising some sort of flag that says “I’m a Bachelor Who Sucks at Cooking” or something like that. But actually, I just really like eating macaroni and cheese.

A few months ago, I met Gord MacArthur, and found out he loves macaroni and cheese just as much as I do. Like one year a bunch of people got him birthday presents, and one of his friends got him a Bubba Keg and a box of macaroni and cheese and he thought that was the best thing ever. After he told me that story, I was like,


Now I hug Gord whenever I see him, and probably at least 60 percent of the reason for that is because he is so stoked on macaroni and cheese. Gord competes in the Ice Climbing World Cup every year, and is at least partly fueled by macaroni and cheese, so, you know, take that.

Macaroni and cheese, made the old-fashioned way (in the oven), has been around since 1824, its recipe gaining mass popularity thanks to its inclusion in the cookbook The Virginia Housewife, called the most influential cookbook of the 19th century. I don’t know how to make that kind. I do know how to boil water, pour some stuff out of a box, stir it, and eat it. That type of macaroni and cheese celebrated its 75th birthday this year, in 2012. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner was born in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, and was likely so successful because that was also the height of people not acting like they were too cool (or wealthy) to eat macaroni and cheese.

There is some part of me that thinks macaroni and cheese is a food for kids who are still in elementary school, and I wonder why I’m still eating it. Like grow up, you have a master’s degree and a real job and all. Then I tell myself it’s just white-trash fettucine alfredo, and I get out a big spoon and heave piles of it into my mouth like I’m shoveling coal into a steam engine to get a freight train up over the mountains.

If I were to draw a graph of my love for macaroni and cheese over the span of my life, it might look like this:

Actually, that’s not what it might look like—that’s what it really looked like when I drew a graph on a napkin the other day. Those data points are of course approximate, and I think I might have drawn the last one a little low.

I suppose people think macaroni and cheese is a little unrefined, maybe because most of the flavor comes from a packet of glowing orange powder? But come on, guys, lots of great things start out as packets of powder: ramen noodle seasoning, grape Kool-Aid, Lik-M-Aid—actually, you know what, never mind.

Maybe what I’m trying to say with all this is if you’re too cool for macaroni and cheese, I am too cool for you. Or perhaps more accurately, you’re too cool for me. But if you’re not too cool for macaroni and cheese, can we go ahead and publicly celebrate it?


Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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  1. It is 6:15 am and i have left over Mac and Cheese in the fridge, still in the pot it was cooked, errrrr boiled in. Too early for left overs? Of course not! Move over Frosted Flakes!

  2. Oh man. I <3 mac & cheese and I'm not ashamed to say it. In my single bachelorette days it was absolutely the go to meal. Nowadays when I know my other more refined half will be late at work, mac and cheese is my meal of choice. =D (I'm also a mashed potato junkie and rice pilaf connoisseur)

    Also, you'll be happy to know a group of female friends and I are planning a girl's night soon with a dinner of chicken nuggets and mac & cheese. I. Can't. Friggin. Wait.

    Does anyone else put sliced up hot dog in their mac & cheese occasionally or am I just weird?

    1. I think a lot of people do that! I’m pickier about my hot dogs than the mac and cheese though. The kosher all beef ones are where it’s at. Unless your not eating beef, and then the smart dogs are best runner up.

      Mashed potatoes are sooooooo good too. It takes some serious will power to get away from them (not that anyone would ever want to do something that stupid).

    2. Unless it’s a side dish I go hotdog about 98% of the time. The other 2% of the time I cut Spam into little cubes (about half the size of your pinky toe) fry it up a little crispy and dump it in the pot.

  3. Mac ‘n cheese is the tits. Period. Worst part of my self-imposed crusade towards only eating farmers market veggies and all that healthy nonsense is the slight twinges of guilt I feel as I sprinkle florescent cheese powder over my freshly boiled noodles in the shape of Nickelodeon characters – but the guilt is only fleeting.

    Mac ‘n cheese FOREVER.

  4. Kielbasa sausage with mac n’ cheese, sprinkle on a little cayenne and a little garlic salt. BEST. MEAL. EVER for backpacking. EVER! And I am jealous of Mick, I want to eat some leftovers for breakfast!

  5. Side bar…

    Apparently Canadians eat way more Mac and Cheese per capita than Americans and we love our radioactive orange-coloured Kraft Dinner.

    The Walrus Magazine (Canada’s equivalent to the New Yorker, Harper’s or the Atlantic) recently ran a feature about how Kraft Dinner became a part of our identity.

    It’s long, but a worthwhile read…say over a bowl of the good stuff?

  6. Mac & The Cheese combined with some hot sauce equals ambrosia.

    To those who would fine Mac & Cheese unrefined because of the glowing orange powder I would say to you that you can get it in white too.

    Problem solved.

  7. Dude- awesome post. You really have your finger on the pulse of dirtbag culture with this one.

    Gotta confess I haven’t tried the Annie’s/Tasty Bite combo yet- it’s coming on my next backcountry climbing trip for sure.

  8. Timely! While backpacking this weekend I kept dreaming of mac and cheese.

    That being said I plan on eating an entire box straight from the pan this evening.

  9. Great story!! I too eat loads of Mac & Cheese mixed with a packet of tuna. It is my go to BACKPACKING meal. Great carbs & sleep lIke a baby.

  10. Annie’s is legit. Shells, elbows, bunnies- I don’t really care. That little bunny on the box is smiling for a reason: because mac & cheese kicks major ass!

  11. Seriously! Love mac & cheese! I brought it camping recently, so easy and delish! Fist bump to you. BTW, random fact, my 8yr old daughter cannot stand it. She’s weird!

  12. Mac & Cheese sandwich, but it’s gotta be a few hours old so it has congealed nicely. My kids, who adore all things Mac, think it’s weird to stick the leftovers between two pieces of white bread, but nope. It’s so awesome.

  13. We purchased a gourmet backpacking cookbook, but in reality, when I get to the campsite I want something really simple that cooks quick.

    Just Googled “packet of Tasty Bite”. Right on! Looks like Whole Foods has them locally. Definitely going to try this out on our next trip. I’m assuming you leave the powdered cheese out when combining the two?

    1. Jeff! Hell no you don’t leave out the cheese powder. I make legit mac and cheese, then pour the Tasty Bite stuff over the top.

  14. When I started my AT thru-hike, all I had with me for dinner was a few packets of shells & cheese (emptied from their boxes into a ziploc for extra gram weenieage!). I eventually settled on this winning combo for most of my dinners, though:

    Lipton Sides Teriyaki Noodles + heaping spoonful of extra crunchy peanut butter + good dose of El Yucateco

  15. On point Brendan, Mac and Cheese is where it’s at. Add a diced Anaheim pepper, one of those easily-backpackable-for-3-days tuna packets and some Taptio or Siricha and your Spicy Tuna Mac & Cheese meal is the envy of the backcountry

  16. I have adored macaroni and cheese of all kinds since I was small. I try to stay away from gluten now, at age 39. I took my very first backpacking trip this past weekend and brought macaroni and cheese and kielbasa sausage for the day we walked to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio, but I was so tired once we got to camp that I just ate a fruit bar and some nuts. When I got home, I cooked it up with my camp stove even though my full kitchen was right there! So satisfying!

  17. All this talk of one of my favorite food groups has inspired a party idea. Mac-n-cheese meet-up, anyone? Really, is there a better excuse for a gathering than the celebration of yellow powdered cheese and noodles? Kind of like the tater tot casserole cook-off, only better. BYOB&P (box and pot, respectively).

  18. If you want to gourmet it up, try gnocchi mac-n-cheese. Yes, that’s right; substitute the regular macaroni shells for doughy, carb-tastic gnocchi, then proceed as normal and smother them in the unctuous sharp-and-smooth goodness of cheese sauce. I can guarantee you will fall to your knees, weeping in gratitude and praise for a universe which is capable of such delights.

  19. When my step daughter was younger I made her Annie’s Mac n Cheese every time she spent the night. I felt like a horrible stepmom. But hey. Stepmom’s have it tough. We can’t be the ones forcing them to eat broccoli and leafy greens. Whenever I turned my back, my husband would shovel spoonfulls of the stuff into his mouth. My step daughter still thinks I’m cool, which I’m 100% positive is entirely due to the unlimited supply of mac n cheese still in the pantry at our house. Whatever it takes.

  20. I love mac and cheese!

    I never had any until I was an adult though, so to me it’s not a kids meal.

    I’ve tried the mac and cheese and tuna combo and liked it. I hear adding hot sauce to regular mac and cheese is good too?

    Besides the tasty bite variation is there anything else I should try?

    1. I recommend pepperoni. Halved or quartered is good, throw it in the pot and give it a good stir. Red pepper flakes, cayenne, or hot sauce for some bite, I’ve even added other cheeses to make myself feel uppity. Although when you eat the fancy mac ‘n cheese it needs to be eaten with your pinky out.

  21. My fancy grandparents made it casserole style, my farm grandparents made kraft style, I always eat with a side if apple sauce. I heart mac n cheese!!!!!!

  22. Psst…Kraft is cheaper and is EXACTLY THE SAME THING.

    Who knows how old the boxes of Annie’s in my pantry are (I was a little disappointed that it was the same old blue box stuff after all), but at least I know what to feed you now.

  23. After riding bikes and trout fishing in the tiny creek across the street my 2year old and I capped off the day with a box of Annie’s mac n cheese exactly like the ones pictured.

    Mrs. was working and the little man loved it.

    Dirtbags for life.

    -bike wrider

  24. Just a righteous variation idea, not that there one damn thing wrong with plain-old…. Add a quarter cup of peanut butter (I heart the chunky) and a tablespoon of fresh-ground chipotle.
    Just sayin.

  25. During a move last years, I was holed up on a vacant house for 6 weeks. A transition period, and I was by myself. At least twice a week, I ate Velveeta shells and cheese with a packet of tuna. And I looked forward to Every. Single. Bite.

  26. The Mac & Cheese graph is bomb. I’m an economist so I drooled. Anyway, I’ve often thought that the graph for Kickball, tag, dodgeball, and Capture the Flag would look just like your Mac & Cheese graph.

  27. Wow! Mac&Cheese is awesome….the North Country version would be Kraft (at 20cents a box) and Hannaford’s Tuna….but that definitely doesn’t beat from scratch M&C!!!

    Thanks! Stay safe out there.

  28. Next time you’re in Joshua Tree, the new version of Crossroads Cafe has baked mac-n-cheese as a choice of side. Burger or a Ruben with mackinchee instead of fries or chips…genius. It’s damn good too, baked in a little crockery dish with real cheese and fine bread crumbs on top, some onion in there. Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ bout.

  29. Late post.., but use the cheese packets to make nacho cheese for special occasions, spread over your favorite chips and enjoy…

  30. Ok. make the the mac & cheese… add a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and a can of tuna(drained). No joke. changed my life.

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Article by: brendan