The Great Skittle Taste Test, and The World We Want for Our Future

It all began when some British participants brought an enormous bag of Skittles to Sangam. They used it to make gift bags for the children visiting for Community Partner Fun Day, but even after the bags were filled up, there were some Skittles left over in the Programme Room for the volunteers and tare to munch on. This was how I discovered that, in England, the grape Skittle is blackcurrant-flavored.

Whoops. I mean, the purple Skittle is blackcurrant-flavored.

This is the extent to which American marketing and flavoring has brainwashed me: if candy is purple, it is grape. If it is grape, it is purple. There are no other flavors attached to the color purple but grape, and what the hell is blackcurrant anyway? That did not sound like candy to me.

I was trying to figure this all out when Claire, from Australia, announced that she was pretty sure these green ones from England were lime, but in Australia, they were sour apple. Which made me wonder: are they lime or sour apple in the United States? I could not remember!

Thus the Great Skittle Taste Test was born. We sent out a call to incoming interns and tare (and my parents) to bring us or send us Skittles from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. It took a few months for all of these to arrive at Sangam, and then we were in the middle of crazy events and the Centre Team meeting. But a few days ago, for Jen’s housewarming party, we managed to put together the taste test, and it looked like this:

The Skittle nations!

We had our American, Australian and British Skittles carefully arranged in glass bowls with tiny flags. We also found Skittles at Dorabjee’s, the Western imports grocery store, with Arabic writing on them and a tiny label that said “Made in China” on the back; we decided that since Saudi Arabia has a pretty flag, these Skittles were from Saudi Arabia, and stuck them in a bowl, too! Then, amidst great hullabaloo and confusion, since most of the guests at Jen’s housewarming were only just discovering that the Skittles they knew and loved were not the same in other countries, we passed the bowls around, and I asked everyone to report back their findings.The flags turned out to be pretty unnecessary, because the Skittles all looked pretty different–the ones from the UK, made without gelatin were much paler in color than those from the US and Australia, and the shape of the Australian and American Skittles were different from each other. The “Saudi Arabian” Skittles were very lumpy and dull in color and super easy to distinguish. And then, of course, they actually all tasted pretty different!

The taste test in action...

Purple actually turned out to be pretty easy to differentiate. Everyone agreed on blackcurrant for England (“Ribena, to be precise,” according to Nadia from Canada, who has taught in the UK) and most people agreed on grape for the United States, Australia and Saudia Arabia–although some suggested “bubblegum” and insisted the American purple Skittle tasted like some fake sugary substance, and Elly offered “stale coffee” for Saudi Arabian purple. Upon reading the packaging, it turns out Australia is aiming for blackberry–who knew?–but otherwise blackcurrant and grape were correct. YYellow was lemon across the board, regardless of country, and orange was pretty much orange, although someone said the UK orange Skittle was “distinctly orange” compared to the others and someone else pulled a terrible face and said Saudi Arabia’s orange Skittle tasted like a Vitamin C tablet. Green was lime in the UK and the US, but sour apple in Australia and “Saudi Arabia.”

Alison tries them all in one go!

The really contentious color turned out to be red. Priya, one of our Volunteers in Training, suggested that the red American Skittle was mango. Someone else said raspberry; then another person countered with strawberry. The last suggestion was cherry. Red in the UK was definitely strawberry, but “a different strawberry” than the others–this last statement accompanied by a furrowed brow and puckered lips. Red Skittles in Australia were almost unanimously strawberry as well, although Olivia from Canada thought they were “Baby Bottle Pop”-flavored, which set off another discussion of different kinds of candy available in various countries. Somebody suggested “chapstick” for the Saudi Arabian red Skittle, which was a little sad but also kind of true.

As Emily’s boyfriend Phil pointed out to me the next day, this was not a particularly scientific test. Random people shouted out random flavors to go with random colors from random countries and I wrote them down on a piece of paper and made tallies when a flavor was repeated. But it was incredibly fun, and a really silly way to do some cultural sharing–Stacy, from Kenya, had never had Skittles before, and everybody who had grown up with Skittles had never encountered foreign Skittles, and seeing everyone’s natural inclination to name fruits native to them (like Priya’s suggestion of mango for the American red Skittle) was really interesting. For those who want the “real” answers, though, according to the packaging of these Skittles, here they are:

United States:

  • Red: Strawberry
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Purple: Grape
  • Orange: Orange
  • Green: Lime

United Kingdom:

  • Red: Strawberry
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Purple: Blackcurrant
  • Orange: Orange
  • Green: Lime

Australia:

  • Red: Strawberry
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Purple: Blackberry
  • Orange:Orange
  • Green: Green Apple

“Saudi Arabia”

  • Red: Strawberry
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Purple: Grape
  • Orange: Orange
  • Green: Green Apple

Also, upon Googling, I don’t think I am alone in this experiment. So to all those Sangam folks who have been going slowly mad listening to me rant and rave about this extraordinary candy confusion, know that I am not the only one!

We have done some other sharing as well this past week. For starters, the 26th was Republic Day in India, celebrating the creation of India’s Constitution, and we opened the day with a flag ceremony and breakfast with the local Girl Guides and women’s group from Phulenagar across the street. There was singing of the national anthem and puja of the flagpole, as well as haldi kum kum for everyone present. Rose petals flew out of the flag when the Nevidita Guides unfurled it. It was all very cool, and exciting to celebrate an important national holiday of another country. We wore Indian flags pinned to our shirts all day, and got to skip wearing uniform to dress up in Indian colors (green, white, orange, and blue, the colors of the flag) instead!

That afternoon, all of the Sangam Volunteers, interns, and Tare took part in a 2012 WAGGGS Consultation, called “The World We Want for Our Future.” WAGGGS is asking young people what kind of world they want to live in in the future, to “find out what positive changes are needed to ensure that young people and future generations can lead happy, healthy, sustainable lives” and to advocate for that world to become reality, at places like Rio + 20, the upcoming UN conference on sustainable development; in the plans that will follow the Millennium Development Goals, when they end in 2015; and in WAGGGS materials for World Thinking Day, which in 2012 is themed “we can save our planet” and focuses on the environment.

Emily (our Sangam Volunteer, not Emily our Marketing and Communications Intern) ran the first half of the consultation for us on the 26th; it had three parts. The first involved acting out our visions of our planet in which everyone lived entirely sustainably and our planet if nobody did anything sustainable. The skits involved some hilarity (everyone in mine coughed and died in the non-sustainable scenario) but also some really serious and poignant moments–Bec, one of our Tare, sat on the floor and looked up at the sky and said, “I can’t see the stars anymore,” and Olivia held up empty hands and said, “I have no clean water to drink anymore,” and it went down the line like that. In their sustainable skit, they could see stars and drink water and had enough food to eat again, but I couldn’t get my mind off the non-sustainable prediction, because I feel like that’s where we’re heading…

We then had the chance to contribute our thoughts to the best and worst case scenarios for a number of issues and topics: food, health, water, environment, biodiversity, energy consumption, education, solidarity, governance, industries, political leadership, poverty, and disasters. A long, overwhelming list. Emily put posters up around the room, and we wandered around writing our thoughts on what the best case for food could be in the future–and what the worst case would be–and so on. As you can imagine, some of the thoughts were incredibly depressing: medicine will become futile as diseases mutate, governments will compete for power and resources to the detriment of the people, species will die out as the environment is ignored and destroyed, etc. But others were hopeful: universal primary education, an end to world hunger, governments that fight for the needs of the people, and other optimistic ideas shone through. And because those of us participating were from so many countries with such a variety of policies and norms, the answers had a wide range, and will certainly be useful to WAGGGS. At least, I like to think so.

However, perhaps the most thought-provoking part of the Consultation, for me, was the last bit. Emily had us sit and reflect, either in small groups or on paper, on our future selves. She posted these questions:

  1. What education will you have? What will schools look like?
  2. What job will you have? What will be the best jobs to have in the future?
  3. What will you do in your spare time? What will you do with your friends and alone?
  4. What will your family look like? Will you have kids? Will you get married?
  5. How will you get around? What form of transportation will you use?
  6. How will you connect with others who live further away?

I encourage everyone reading this post right now to think about your answers to these questions. They really made me think, in a deep and meaningful way, and I think they had a similarly unsettling but reflective impact on others. Emily (other Emily, our Marketing and Communications intern) went so far as to exclaim that she didn’t know–she didn’t know about kids, about marriage, about her job, and it was all too much to think about right now, at twenty-two, trying to just figure things out in the present. Philippa had a lot to say but some was pretty grim–she foresaw education going Victorian again, segregated by socioeconomic class, with a returned emphasis on vocational training. Funnily enough, the most optimistic of us was Sayali, our Volunteer-in-Training; while we were all predicting downturns in job availability and educational success, Sayali was excited about technology becoming available in Indian classrooms, and using the Internet to connect with others.

And me? Well, one of the first things I wrote down was that I want to have sons, so I can raise male feminists. I’ve had this thought before but I was surprised how quickly it resurfaced when triggered by that question about children. I just feel like men still have the bulk of the power right now–and we will need powerful men who respect women and want to share the power to correct that balance. (As well as powerful women fighting for their rights, obviously.) I wrote that I want to live in a city and rely on public transportation, and that I imagine I’ll have two degrees, but education in general will decline, with an increased privatization of schools (ie: charter schools) that will result in a continued emphasis on testing and results, rather than true learning. I wrote that I think the best jobs will involve working from home, like blogging and communications and Internet-based positions. I wrote that I think entertainment will be based on the Internet and there will be fewer movie theaters, and that the wealthy will increasingly escape the growing urban sprawl for pleasant rural retreats. Politicians will continue to be indifferent. Skype will improve and become more common. As much as I want there to be teleportation (thus eliminating the long-distance relationship!) I don’t think it will come true.

And that was that. It was a really interesting exercise, and I definitely suggest you try it, even if you are not in the 7 to 25 age range of the WAGGGS Consultation. Think about what you want the world to look like. I think so many of us talk about wanting a better world, a better planet, a better future–better governments, better entertainment, better laws and better lives–but we don’t sit down and think, “OK, what will better look like?” Or, even before you tackle “better,” what about just “realistic”? What, realistically, does the future look like? Do we like that vision? If not, can we change it?

These are the things I am learning to do here. These are the things that are changing me as a person. And hopefully, I can use them to change the world, too.