Jorgensen: What I learned from putting a slice of cheese between two Pop-Tarts

Chris Jorgensen

In short: nothing.

The tweet was a labor of boredom. I had been doing the all-too-familiar walk back and forth between the fridge and cupboard. I eventually came to the realization that I had nothing to eat.

So, naturally, I decided to turn my despair into a Twitter joke.

My roommate and I had seen the format before: “You ain’t from ____ if you’ve never had this” with a picture of some gross food that, quite obviously, nobody eats. The “ain’t” is important to the format of the tweet (as I have taken some criticism for my poor grammar in the tweet). It was decided that I could salvage the situation by making a nice joke in exchange for my hunger.

I started with the item in my cupboard that I was the least likely to eat: a generic strawberry toaster pastry (a type of food that I will refer to by it’s common name, taken from the brand-name version ‘Pop-Tart’).

I thought, ‘what could be paired with the worst flavor of toaster pastry to create something that was truly disgusting?’ I knew it almost instantly.

One slice of individually wrapped, store-brand cheese.

It needed to be slightly melted, so I gave it a quick 10 seconds in the microwave.

I started taking a photo of the monstrosity I had created, but I was quickly stopped by my roommate. He argued that if I was going to make this tweet, I had to take a bite.

I obliged without arguing. It didn’t taste inherently terrible, just unpleasant. I don’t like strawberry flavored Pop-Tarts and there was just a small amount of cheese.

I took one quick photo and then flipped my phone over to portrait mode because as MythBuster Adam Savage once said, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

Tweet sent.

I was only expecting response from within my circle of followers. Initially, that’s what it was. Coworkers and friends chipped in with criticism. It was all good fun.

Emily Blobaum, the Daily’s current managing editor, was among the first to chime in. She also complimented my use of portrait mode, as she was visuals editor last year.

I kept laughing as more and more tweets rolled into my notifications.

Most people quote-tweeted me. If you’re unfamiliar with how Twitter works, there are two ways to retweet people: a traditional retweet, which sends my tweet to the feed of their followers. There is also the ‘quote tweet’, which allows you to add a comment to the tweet, with the original attached.

While the number of standard retweets was relatively low for a viral tweet, the number of quote tweets was ridiculous. By my unofficial count, because Twitter doesn’t directly report the number of quote tweets, there were over 10,000 quote tweets in response to my cheesy Pop-Tart.

What did receive a lot of retweets was the response from the Twitter account for the Iowa State University Police Department. Over 200,000 retweets and over 38,000,000 views of the tweet by unique Twitter users.

The tweet was on the front page of Reddit one day. Twitter and Instagram accounts with millions of followers were screenshotting and reposting the tweet. I’m not bragging, just giving a sense of scale. It was everywhere.

As far as replies, I heard it all. ‘Glad I’m not from Iowa’ or ‘this makes me sick’ or ‘my grandma has those plates too’ or even ‘I hope you die.’

The last one wasn’t a common reply but there were a few. I didn’t take them too seriously. I didn’t take any of the replies seriously. Until I saw a reply from Arby’s.

I saw that tweet two days after it was made. I was getting a lot of notifications and after a certain point I stopped reading them all. I thought I had missed my opportunity, so I replied a few times to show diligence.

Luckily, a member of the Arby’s PR team, Mike Vizza, sent me an email that day. He wanted to make sure that I had seen the tweet and let me know that the offer still stood.

We set a date that worked for both of us and got the flight and hotel booked. Meanwhile, I did interviews and saw my tweet and my face appear on national and even international outlets. I did interviews with almost everybody who asked.

On Dec. 6 I flew to Atlanta. I took my girlfriend Kailey with me, as Arby’s had offered the trip to both me and a friend. They paid for everything: flight, hotel and transportation. A man in a suit was waiting at the airport with my name on a sign, just like in the movies.

The next day we were taken to Arby’s headquarters. We met with both Mike and a few other members of the Arby’s team. They had some famous posts from Arby’s social media on display in one area.

Then we met Neville Craw, the brand executive chef at Arby’s. He was very supportive of my choice to pair cheese with Pop-Tarts. From a chef’s perspective, the cheese should pair nicely with the fruity filling of the Pop-Tart.

I told him that I had no intentions of creating anything involving Pop-Tarts.

I wanted to create something that Iowans would be proud of. Arby’s called it ‘seeking sandwich redemption.’ The Iowa State Fair came to mind. A tradition of huge, messy, heart attack inducing foods.

Brisket, turkey, ham, a few slices of red onion, bacon, smoked cheddar, mozzarella sticks and topped off with parmesan peppercorn ranch. It’s huge, messy and glorious. We settled on the name ‘The Big Iowa.’

If you want to try one, it will be available for one day only this Thursday at the Arby’s on Duff Ave. in Ames.

I want to thank Arby’s for the opportunity and for being all-around cool people.

As the saga of the cheese Pop-Tart comes to a close, I’ve been trying to pick out some kind of life lesson to take from the experience.

I just can’t find one.

It started as a joke that I hoped my followers would get a kick out of. Everything else that has happened has been extra.