chips

Go to any Fourth of July party on Friday and you’ll find bags and bags of chips. Chips are probably my favorite thing about the Fourth — except for maybe acknowledging America’s independence, fireworks, eating grilled food outside, hanging out with friends and family, coolers full of frosty beverages, and badminton in the front yard. But, yeah, chips are right up there.

The best chip isn’t really a chip at all. I don’t know exactly what a Cheeto is, but I know I like it. It may look like a twisted orange byproduct (a byproduct of what I’m not entirely sure), but Cheetos, to grossly and inappropriately paraphrase Ben Franklin, is proof that the Frito-Lay company loves me.

To be clear, I’m talking about the crunchy style of Cheetos. Like an overly-silicon-inflated C-list movie starlet, the puffed Cheeto looks nice from a distance, but as any reasonable picnicker will tell you, there’s substantially more substance and character in the crunchy kind.

Crunchy Cheetos have it all. First, there’s the addictive cheese dust worthy of a 12-step program. Next, you get the superb crunch that reverberates throughout your entire skull. I don’t care how sneaky you are, crunchy Cheetos are so loud your family will hear the crunch from any room in the house.

I also like how Cheetos pieces are segregated in a freshly opened bag. Sitting on top are the prized mega-size pieces that sometimes are so large that you have to show someone else. “Look at the size of this thing! It’s the Loch Ness Cheeto!” And then you eat it. So much for the grandeur of enormity. While the monster-sized pieces are impressive, they account for only about 0.5 percent of any given Cheeto population. The vast majority are of average size. These are the Cheetos workhorses — the pieces we count on to satisfy our yearning for cheesy-crunchy goodness. Finally, at the end of the bag, you come to the teeny pieces that were either created that way or were once part of a larger, prouder Cheeto piece. Don’t discount the value and tastiness of these pieces. They may be small, but they are valid Cheetos. Like Yoda said, “Judge me by my size, do you?” Once they’re in your mouth, size matters not.

Right now you may be thinking about Cheetos’ only flaw, your orange fingers. I, like you, once considered Orange Digit Syndrome to be a failing on Cheetos’ part, but I did not fully comprehend the built-in brilliance. Orange fingers are Frito-Lay’s way of letting you know that maybe you’ve had enough Cheetos for a while. It’s time to roll up the bag, wash your hands, and go check to make sure the kids haven’t found the fireworks you hid in the closet. Your Cheetos will wait.

You see, the Cheetos makers are a benevolent race. Sure, they want you to buy their product, but they don’t want you to go overboard. Too much of a good thing is exactly that — too much. If Orange Digit Syndrome mestatasizes into Orange Cheek Syndrome, Orange Shirt Syndrome or, most horrifyingly of all, Orange Sock Syndrome, call Dr. Phil because you have a serious, serious problem.

I don’t want to harp on Cheetos too much. It’s not as though they’re the only chips on the picnic table. I’m also partial to Doritos. I’ve noticed over the years that every bag of Doritos claims “now with more nacho cheese flavor.” I’m no Stephen Hawking, but I understand the basic concept behind exponential growth. If it’s true that every generation of Doritos has been significantly nacho cheesier than the one before it, we should now have reached a critical mass of cheesiness. There’s only so much nacho flavor you can cram onto the surface of a mass-produced corn chip. It’s just basic science.

In terms of traditional potato-type chips, my two faves are Pringles and Cape Cod Potato Chips. Not only do I enjoy Pringles’ taste, but I think my German ancestry appreciates the uniformity from chip to chip. There’s something admirable about that, but I’m not ready to shave my head and start goose-stepping down the Strasse or anything like that. At the other end of the sociopolitical chip-uniformity spectrum are Cape Cod chips. Not only do they have great flavor and an astonishing crunch, but you never know what you’ll find in the bag. Some are huge and flat, some are small and folded over, some are intertwined and mangled into one another — it’s potato chip anarchy. Beautiful.

On a self-congratulatory note, I want to say that I’m thrilled to have included Ben Franklin, the Loch Ness Monster, Yoda, Dr. Phil and Stephen Hawking in a column about potato chips. It’s wonderful to live in a country where I have the freedom to be such a twit and have orange fingers to boot.

David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday.

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