In search of my childhood potato chips

When i was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend my allowance on a large bag of potato chips. On the way back from the store, I would eat half the bag while walking the mile home. This was happiness: mouth pleasure, salt fantasy, greasy love. And of course my mother did not approve. She had some odd ideas about what food was healthy (white Pepperidge Farm bread, Captain Crunch cereal in place of Lucky Charms, as much lunch meats as we wanted swathed with Miracle Whip in place of Hellman’s mayo.)


In Ithaca, where my love of salted fried potato slices began, Wise potato chips ruled my life. I would do or say most anything to have them. When we moved back to Michigan I made the transition to the lighter and crispier Lays. Jays potato chips carried me into adulthood, although the local Better Made did pretty well also.

When I started eating mostly organic healthy non-processed foods it was hard to justify the potato chip lust. I tried the kettle cooked organic and even baked varieties, and none were really satisfying. I even spent a year carefully restricted to one bag potato chip purchase per month. The anticipation was greater than the enjoyment.

Because the truth is nothing tastes as wonderful as that childhood chip. It satisfied an emotional need, a young lust for bad food, a craving that would re-emerge and then continue to exist long after the last salty crumbs were enjoyed – licking my fingertips still longing for more. When I was young, I wanted more chips. As an adult I want the bag of chips to work one more time. And the sad truth is, it never does.

Most recently the health food stores I buy groceries from carry an overwhelming selection of potato chips. I even mistakenly bought pickle and chili flavored a few months ago thinking they were plain. Most of the flavored types contain yeast extract – a disguise for MSG – which makes my throat feel sore and the roof of my mouth odd. Sometimes I have a headache as well. So that rules out at least 3/4 of the selection. I keep trying a bag of this or that – but I end up feeling ill afterwards. I buy the plain ones and eat them with a homemade onion and hot sauce sour cream dip. The dip is that only part I really like.

The truth is my childhood chip is gone. Junk food does not fill that need, that longing. It never really did and it never really will.

I’ve upgraded the way I fill my longing. To people and events and food that nourishes me. But yet…

But you know what? The reverse is true of chocolate. The chocolate of my childhood was unremarkable and mostly simple sweet stuff. I never craved it. I could pass on all of it. And often did. The chocolate I enjoy now lasts a long time, it is rich and full and deep and mouth and body pleasurable. It varies from hot chocolate to homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies to really dark to partly dark to chocolate cheesecake and flourless cakes. I like having it in the house, and I’m so satisfied with a little that I rarely overindulge. A good chocolate bar can last weeks.

While I was losing weight, I ate as much high quality chocolate as I wanted. There are valuable lessons here.

And the potato chips of my childhood? They were never really real. I have now given up my search. I may need a bit of time to grieve that loss. The fantasy that happiness is possible with salt, oil, and potato slices.

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