The snacks that weren't in Prince's fridge
Dunkaroos, yak milk, and the long life of an April Fools' Day joke
Hello, Snackers. Let’s take a look at what the most famous Minnesotan of all time liked to eat! Or, fact-check, didn’t eat but was widely reported to have eaten.
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We’re proud of Prince here in Minneapolis. It seems likely that he was the most famous Minnesotan ever, known for his jaw-dropping talent and also his eccentricities—sometimes he seemed to occupy a different realm of existence altogether. That was part of his mystique. “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon,” he once told the actor. But he also felt, in many ways, like one of us. Around here, you always knew there was the possibility of seeing him at the Electric Fetus or a Lynx game or the dinner theater or the movies; if you lived near Paisley Park, there was the outside chance he might knock on your door with a religious pitch.
So when the great Minneapolis-based food website Heavy Table ran a story in 2011 offering a peek inside Prince’s refrigerator, it seemed … well, not altogether implausible. Here’s how it began:
When we first approached the representatives of international rock superstar Prince to see if he’d consent to being the inaugural subject of our What’s In Your Fridge series, we knew it was a long shot.
We weren’t surprised that we didn’t hear anything back for eight long months. We were surprised when the response wasn’t a curt “no.” Instead, it was: “We have some conditions.”
That tracks. It seems Prince-like. So, too, do the conditions, which included stipulations that the man himself would not be present and that no photographs would be allowed, only an illustration of the refrigerator. The list that follows is an absolute grab-bag of foods, including homemade kimchi, microgreens, maple syrup, and half a loaf of challah from a local deli, each accompanied by a short commentary sent by Prince via email. My own favorites:
Dunk-a-roos, about 5 pounds’ worth
“Don’t know what 2 say about Dunk-a-roos. They’re just good! Sometimes you want a food that is comfortable and takes you back. For me, it’s those crazy little kangaroo crackers.”
Yak milk, one quart
“This stuff is TOO AMAZING. It clarifies your skin and your mind. It is given freely by the yak, so U can truly enjoy it. Great with Chex – Rice Chex, Wheat Chex, whatever!!!”
You really should go read the whole thing, and when you do, please note the date of publication: April 1, 2011.
Five years later, in April 2016, Prince died suddenly. The collective mourning and processing soon led to endless rounds of content-creation on the part of every media outlet in sight, including detailed discussions of his favorite foods and more than a few cut-and-pasted recaps of the Heavy Table story. CBS News featured it; so did VICE and The New York Post and Buzzfeed and Delish and The Daily Meal and plenty of others. Dunkaroos and yak milk and challah became part of the Prince mythology.
But the fridge story was fake, an April Fool’s Day joke written by Heavy Table founder and editor (and friend of Snack Stack) James Norton, with suggestions from Becca Dilley, Susan Pagani, and Jill Lewis (who came up with the Dunkaroos, my own favorite item on the list).
* * *
“It seemed transparently ridiculous,” James Norton said when I spoke to him on the phone the other day. Back in 2016, Food & Wine contacted him to see if the story was real, as did The Today Show, which wanted to run a segment, but most outlets just took it at face value. “There’s that old journalism aphorism ‘too good to check out,’ and I think this piece fell neatly into that. It really took on a life of its own on the internet. I’ve been transparent with everyone who reached out—no, this story isn’t true! But people wanted to believe it.”
Heavy Table doesn’t often do full-on joke stories—the only other one James could recall was a piece published on April 1 two years later about Green Bay being a “blue zone,” where people live an unexpectedly long time—but it’s also not at all an overly serious sort of publication. It seems fair to assume that most of its regular readers understood the nature of the Prince story when it ran in 2011, particularly since the vast majority of those readers live in Minnesota and know Heavy Table as a Minnesota-focused publication. A satirical piece about Prince fits well within the confines of a local conversation in these parts.
Five years on, though, the story escaped those bounds. It found a larger audience of people eager to read more more more about the suddenly-deceased pop legend, readers far beyond the Twin Cities cultural landscape and its specific contours and favorite subjects. It was no longer a lighthearted regional conversation; it was strip-mined to become part of a discordant global content-blast related to the latest headline news, and connected directly to the internet’s amplification of parasocial fan relationships with celebrities.
None of this is new, exactly—the desire to see famous people as relatable, “just like us,” goes back ages, as does celebrity gossip and salacious discussions of the inner workings of their everyday lives. But as Chris Hayes observed in The New Yorker last year, all of that has absolutely rocketed upward in the last several years.
The Western intellectual tradition spent millennia maintaining a conceptual boundary between public and private—embedding it in law and politics, norms and etiquette, theorizing and reinscribing it. With the help of a few tech firms, we basically tore it down in about a decade.
Readers want it all—every detail of modern life, even about lives that are not our own, knowable in an instant, just one Google search or Twitter doomscroll away—and publications want the clicks, churning out ever more content to feed that never-ending desire.
Which is to say that the Prince’s Fridge Story is, I think, an interesting reflection of two different truths about our always-online era. The first is that, despite all the noise, you can still find lots of clever, delightful things on the internet—like the original Heavy Table story. Yak milk “is given freely by the yak, so U can truly enjoy it” is a genuinely great Prince-like line.
But there’s also the more problematic side here. This delightful yarn became, in its credulous retelling, an inadvertent cautionary tale of being careful about what you read, and what you repeat, on the internet. It was so ridiculous that it should have pinged more “fact-check needed” sensors, even for journalists on the quick-churn celebrity-news beat. That so few reporters thought to contact James, and that so many of those stories are still up without any sort of correction (looking at you, New York Post!), should be cause for at least a bit of alarm.
So to anyone wondering: no, to the best of my knowledge, Prince was never a fan of Dunkaroos. If you’re looking for his favorite snacks, perhaps it’s best to stick with starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam.
Thanks for reading! Two quick notes!
I’ll be leading a writing workshop (on seeking out small details that tell a big story) at TravelCon on April 28th in Memphis. I’d love to see you there! Conference info here, and my workshop details and registration should go live on Monday.
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