In Chicago where I grew up, our local potato chip brand was Jay’s, and its slogan was, “You can’t
eat just one stop eating ’em.” For years, I tried to test it. And I never won. Once you dive into a bag of potato chips, you’re a goner.
In an essay for Heated, Sabrina Medora explores her lifelong addiction to potato chips. “No matter how much I tried to control my potato chip consumption,” she writes, “I never actually stopped buying chips. I would vow not to and invariably my feet would carry me to the snack aisle, like a club I wasn’t supposed to be at but snuck into anyway. Again, I blamed my lack of self-control. What I never thought to blame were the chips themselves.”
What Medora discovered is that big snack food companies have entire departments devoted to studying the exact combinations of salt, sugar, and fat that make potato chips and other snacks completely irresistible to consumers. They work a lot harder at it than we work at resisting them. There are endless focus groups. There are studies of the biology of snacking, how the combination of salt, sugar, and fat makes us happy because it works along the same neurological pathways as narcotics, and how the consumption of calorically dense foods satisfies the biological imperative to eat up because starvation may be just around the corner. There’s the element of nostalgia and our longstanding emotional attachments to certain foods. And finally, there’s the entire diet industry that makes us think way too much about certain foods.
“We’re a nation that knows more about food and the components of food, but I don’t think it’s making us physically or mentally healthier,” dietician Kelly Abramson told Medora. “We’re so obsessed with what’s in our food and whether it’s going to kill us or cure us; it takes away enjoyment and drives us to crave the food more because we’re never really allowing ourselves to have the full enjoyment and experience of it.”
This is all very screwed up and very depressing. We are all being manipulated by forces beyond our control. Maybe the only thing to do is what Medora has done: stop worrying and just enjoy the chips.