America: My life in chips

Kaitlin McNabb
7 min readAug 8, 2018
Do they taste like vomit? c/o The Internet.

I have lived in the U.S. for six years — from dawn’s early light of August 2012 to end of day’s fiery wreckage of present day. It’s not an especially momentous anniversary, six years is rarely used to delineate time, however, this year marks my realization of a pattern in my American life: complaining about the dearth of U.S. stat holidays (legit) and finding odd chip flavours.

Together, they seemingly have no connection, but I wonder, just maybe, if America has worked itself beyond the point of exhaustion to fulfill its capitalist nightmare and the horrible chip flavours are its final beckon for help! Are we drowning in a sea of ill-conceived snacks because America cannot admit that the American Dream is a lie and we need to give workers real rights, acknowledge we live in a nation built on genocide and slavery, and provide access to shelter, food, education, and health for all?

Or maybe they’re just chips and it’s America? I can think of no other nation where multiple brands would proudly promote the flavour pimento cheese. Seems like a cry for help, no?

Also fittingly, the Lays Do Us a Flavor contest was birthed a month prior to my arrival — an auspicious and prescient event if there ever was one (check out The Meg opening August 9) — and their annual flavour choices, coupled with unending chip discoveries, have paralleled the ever-increasing questionable decision making of this nation and my place (re: sanity) within it. And PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi stepped down on Tuesday, the parent company to FritoLay.

Happy sixth America anniversary to me! You get no holidays and most of these chips taste like throw up.

2012–2013: Excitement in the air

Lay’s Chicken n’ Waffles, Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread
We are gifted these three brand new flavours (a pretty tame offering in retrospect) — a strange and incredible sight to see from a mainstream brand. In Canada if you want strange chip flavours you have to go to Great Canadian Superstore or Loblaws or No Frills and buy President’s Choice chips which range from poutine to turkey stuffing and are all disgusting.

Things were so shiny and fresh! The trains worked! Obama’s second term! Cheesy Garlic Bread chips seemed like a good idea! Yay!

Utz Crab Chips
I lived in D.C., which borders Maryland and is 40 minutes from Baltimore, for my first American year, thus my early introduction to the crab chip. Much like The Wire, the crab chip is epic and niche — a uniquely Baltimorean treat reminiscent of the Old Bay canisters tied to every table in every restaurant.

Winner: Utz Crab Chips. Baltimore, I will always love you.

2014: A whole new world?

Lay’s Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, Wavy Mango Salsa, and Cappuccino
We can pinpoint the exact moment things began to go off the rails for America and that moment is cappuccino chips. Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger won the popular vote that year, which seems legit, and I can understand the reasoning behind Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese. Wavy Mango Salsa seems a little iffy, but cappuccino though? I gasped in the store and immediately took a photo, beginning my full-fledged career as American Chip Documenter.

Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators, Voodoo, and Cajun Dill Gator-Tators
No lie, my grocery store used to sell full-sized bags of Zapp’s chips, which I called “Zappos” for many years, the best brand of American chip full stop. It was an amazing and exciting time filled with savoury, spicy flavours not drowning in creamy ranch or honey BBQ. Then inexplicably, the grocery store stopped selling them and replaced them with Kettle Chips, which is… utterly disappointing. A bold, fresh chip replaced by a mediocre, mildly satisfying chip. It does the job, but at what cost?

Winner: Zapp’s Voodoo chips. They are the closest to all dressed as you can get, but are legitmately a great standalone chip. Anytime, and I mean anytime, I see this mysterious beast in the wild I buy it as they are now suspiciously hard to come by in New York.
Side note: Zapp’s I’m concerned about this abomination. Don’t bend to the masses.

2015: A lacklustre year

Lay’s Kettle Cooked Greektown Gyro, New York Reuben, Southern Biscuits & Gravy, and Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries.
These are all so boring and honestly all seem disgusting. They’re either predictable (Biscuits & Gravy, Truffle Fries) or asinine (New York Reuben, Greektown Gyro). I have it on good authority that New York Reuben actually taste like throw up. Southern Biscuits & Gravy was crowned the winner in what seemed more a contest of attrition than actual good flavour.

Perhaps throwing a bunch of random flavours in the air to shake things up isn’t a good idea?

McClure’s Bloody Mary and McClure’s Garlic Dill Pickle
The scene: a summer picnic in Prospect Park. Someone pulls out a bag of Bloody Mary and Garlic Dill Pickle chips.
The mood: intense anticipation — will these taste of home? A ketchup chip? A ceasar? A dill pickle chip?
The moment: I tear open the bag; abrasive scratching; a puff of air. A faint tomato aroma dusts the air. Mouth salivates; chip crunches; the tangy, sweet ketchup note dissipates as tasteless red powder cakes my mouth.

Winner: Eating proper ketchup and dill pickle chips at home, and Miss Vickie’s Sweet Chili & Sour Cream.

2016: Chips can be racist

Lay’s Chinese Szechuan Chicken, Greek Tzatziki, Brazilian Picanha, and Indian Tikka Masala
Where do we even start?
The “diverse” flavour conceived as a “Passport to Flavor” to the uber-problematic 2016 Rio Summer Olympics?
The internalized racism of thinking Brazillian Picanha could be a decent, spicy flavour until you learn picanha is actually a cut of beef?
Or the fact that four chips tasting like vomit conceived and produced to market the geopolitical horror show of the Olympics was not even top 1000th of the worst things to happen in 2015?

Lay’s Fire Roasted Habenero, Smoked Gouda and Chive, Korean Barbeque, and Kettle Cooked Olive Oil and Herbs
Lay’s decides to move forward with yet another contest, this time a flavour swap contest offering Americans the chance to vote and potentially swap the “classics” for updated flavours. And in true 2016 fashion, Americans stick with the status quo, making the classics great again (too much?) and the contest is quickly dismissed. I swear, the narrative writes itself.

Winner: there are no winners in 2016.

2017: False identities and failed attempts

Lay’s Crispy Taco, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Popper, Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, and Fried Green Tomato.

Guys, I can’t anymore with this competition. It was fun to mock because we thought something good would come along, or something horrible would finally stop, but then Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese appeared. Remember when cappuccino seemed wild? I saw Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Popper in the store yesterday and wasn’t even that surprised. I hoped they would taste like the smoked bacon flavour I loved as a kid, but instead know they will taste like throw up and I won’t even care. Everything tastes like throw up now.

Ruffles All Dressed “Made in Canada”
I found these in a Duane Reade still hot during the “I’m moving to Canada” post-election haze. And just like that notion, this attempt is both cute and pathetic. All dressed is a great, savoury flavour, but these are no all dressed. They need to get it together, stop fronting like they’re something they’re not and stealing ideas, and get their house in order.

Kettle Chips Spicy Queso and Kettle Chips Pepperochini
Let the record show that status quo as applied to chip flavours works best (ironically, I’m sure there’s a correlation between liking New York Reuben chips and being a white supremacist). So, when I found new Kettle Chips flavours like Maple Bacon, Korean BBQ, and Bourbon BBQ (not to mention Dill Pickle), I stayed the fuck away because I’m smart and instead picked up pepperochini, remembering the countless Safeway California Dreamin’ sandwiches I ate.

However, like a sucker, I also bought spicy queso thinking it could be good — it could have been so good right?! It was not. It both smelled and tasted like throw up and I curse the day I dreamed I could like it. Pepperochini was fine. It tasted like a less interesting Jalapeno and honestly, who has time for that?

Winner: Me. I started eating Munchos again.

2018: A banner year for chips

Lay’s Cajun Spice, Chile Con Queso, Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice, Deep Dish Pizza, Fried Pickles with Ranch, New England Lobster Roll, Pimento Cheese, Thai Sweet Chili.

*shakes head* In what seems like a serious attempt to re-promote America, Lays gives us the worst array of flavours I have seen yet in its “Tastes of America” lineup. Look at how horrible the images are.

I will sum it up as such: could be decent; no. (see: spicy queso); not my crab chip; fuck deep dish, long live New York!; #nocreamychips2018; NO. how is this even a suggestion?; NO DEAR GAWD WHY; racist?

update 8/9: I was very kindly gifted Ketchup chips for my birthday today and they were part of the “Tastes of America” contest. NICE TRY LAYS BUT I THINK NOT.

Utz Nacho Twisters, Lay’s Honey Butter, Ruffles Mozzarella and Marinara, Ruffles Flamin’ Hots, Ruffles Jalapeno Ranch, Lays Limon, Cheetos Sweetos
In the birthday gift to end all birthday gifts I finally got it together and created the weird chip gift box for Ishy poo I had been dreaming of for the last six years. She had been deprived of cappuccino, Greektown Gyro, Fried Green Tomato, but I will not rest until she has eaten Sweetos and Mozzarella and Marinara chips!

Winner: Not me. I ate the Jalapeno Ranch chips because they wouldn’t fit in the box and they were the first bag of chips ever that I did not finish because, you guessed it, they tasted like throw up.

So what have we learned? That chips are mostly gross in America and every six years you should make your friend that gift you’ve been meaning to. Oh, and the fate of America rests in the hands of the Cajun Spice chip.

update #1.
A new development. There is apparently a separate Lays Do Us A Flavour contest in Canada and someone created a cinnamon bun flavour and they are of course from London, Ontario.

update #2.
there are so many terrible Canadian contest flavours. why! I didn’t even know there was a Canadian contest! It’s almost like we ignore all the terrible stuff that happens in Canada because the U.S. just seems so much worse.