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Packaged, Processed, Artificial Death-Foods: A User's Guide
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
When Frito-Lay announced earlier this year that one of their new "Do Us A Flavor" options for their upcoming line of designer potato chips was going to be a "Chicken and Waffles" flavor, my heart did a little dance. And it wasn't because I'm a huge fan of the whole "Chicken and Waffles" phenomenon. Though there are a number of restaurants that I frequent that offer the Southern U.S. food staple, I've yet to try them. No, I was excited purely because the notion of creating a potato chip with a "Chicken and Waffle" flavoring sounded like such a spectacularly stupid and disgusting idea that I knew I'd have to try a bag as soon as they became available.
The other two flavors, the "Cheesy Garlic Bread" and "Sriracha" chips sounded much safer and didn't seem to have nearly the catastrophic potential that the "Chicken and Waffles" did. I circled the date when the chips were to be released on my calendar, eager to be one of the first to try what had to be one of the most horrible snack foods ever unleashed on the American public.
The initial, pre-sale, "taste-testing" reviews I discovered on the internet sounded extremely promising. While there were a few lunatics who actually liked the C&W chips, most reviewers simply couldn't find adjectives adequate enough to describe how godawful the taste was. "Like burned bits of ice cream cones" sounded like the most accurate description. "Like licking the bottom of a plate that was crammed full of pancakes and sausage" read another. "I see why Lay's went with the more flavorable name than just calling them 'Lay's Sage, Maple, and Grease'." "Hard to believe that the 'Chicken and Waffles' chips could taste worse than it sounds, but it does." All of these reviews were music to my ears.
To show you what kind of a perverse nut-job I am, I actually got on the Frito-Lay website the day before the release date and clicked on the "Where to Buy" banner — the 3 new flavors weren't being sold in every market in the U.S., and I wanted to be sure I knew where I had to go to hunt them down. When I entered my zip code on the site I was informed that the nearest store that carried the line was a Meijer store, about 20 miles away, and so I printed up the directions and mapped out my next day's quest.
Look, I know there's been a massive increase in the number of organic food stores in the U.S., I recognize that the "farm to fork" movement has taken the nation's restaurants by storm, I know there is a new emphasis on returning to simple, natural preparations that don't use man-made preservatives and artificial flavorings and carcinogens. But you know what? To hell with that. Sometimes you just gotta turn your fingers day-glo orange by eating an entire bag of Cheetos. And when some mega-conglomerate has the audacity to release some new food product that has absolutely zero nutritional value and whose very existence is more likely due to the workings of some white-jacketed technician in a cryogenic laboratory that from the nation's farmers, well, I feel it's my patriotic duty to queue up and buy some bags as soon as they reach market.
It's probably something of a surprise to report that Lay's "Chicken and Waffles" chips were not the worst American snack food I've ever tried — that title still belongs to Dorito's "Late Night Cheeseburger" brand, an astonishingly execrable creation that somehow manages to taste like a New York City sidewalk — but it is definitely number two on the list. With a bullet. After eating the whole bag — and yes, I ate the whole bag, I had no choice — I thought my heart was gonna explode from the sheer volume of sodium and triglycerides injected into my system. I didn't really detect any chicken flavor in the chips, or any waffle flavor for that matter; what I could discern was the usual "big 3" of the American fast food diet: salt, sugar, fat. I think there might have been potatoes in the chips as well, though I couldn't positively swear to that.
I know I should be embarrassed to be such a sucker for all these processed monstrosities, but the fact is, I've discovered that it's somewhat exhilarating to indulge in these awful products. Every time there's a new one dumped on the marketplace, I'm usually one of the first in line. You know that disgusting "cappucino" machine at your local gas station, that whirring canister that produces something caramel-colored and foamy that is reputedly a "coffee" product but actually tastes more like cotton candy melted into hot chocolate? Man, I love that machine. I'm a big fan. I've been a gas station "capuccino" aficionado for years. Part of the appeal, I know, is that it grosses out coffee snobs, and coffee snobs should always be grossed out, but it's also a tribute to something, something I'm not quite sure of. A tribute to hyperbole, perhaps, to excess, to ridiculousness. To all the playful stuff, the stuff that never should be undervalued. (Of course, gas station capuccino is not something you can have every day: a few years ago, when I lived at Three Rivers Apartments, I dumped a half-filled cup of "English Toffee" onto the blacktop of the parking lot one morning. It left an immediate smear. A few days later, I noticed that even after some rain, the smear was still evident. A few WEEKS later it was still there, and when I moved out 2 months later I could swear that I could still see the outline of the stain. It reminded me of the Creature's blood in Alien, maybe it burned through the asphalt, all the way to China.)
Other crimes? Well, I've tried Crown Royal "Maple." Disgusting. (Whiskey and maple syrup? Mother of God.) I've tried the 'honey" Bourbon. Yuck. I've breakfasted on "Red Velvet" Pop Tarts. Hideous. (By the way, when will this "Red Velvet" thing stop? It's in fried chicken now, it's in doughnuts.) In the early 2000s, I tried all of Camel's "Exotic Brands" cigarettes, the Mandarin orange, the raspberry, the mint, etc. (The cigarettes, alas, were a lot less interesting that listening to the RJ Reynolds spokesman at the time, who actually said that the company wasn't trying to attract younger smokers with the product.) I've tried all of the 16 flavors of Denali's "Moose Tracks" ice cream, including "Malted Moose Tracks," and I have no idea what was in any of them. But that's okay; I don't need to know the details. As long as it's completely ridiculous, I'll remain a loyal customer.