How they call to you, call to you. At the gas station, at the supermarket, at the 7-Eleven: Barbecue potato chips. Delicately bristling in their half-inflated bags. Grating, one against another, in their syllables of trapped air. Do you want to eat them? No, it’s more frenzied than that—this desire has the flavor of addiction. You want them all at once, immediately, stuffed into your mouth and shattering gorgeously between the millstones of your molars. You want the entirety of them. And then you want it all over again, until you feel ill.
Why BBQ chips? Why not, say, Sour Cream and Onion? I’m from Britain, land of the gourmet chip: Prawn Cocktail crisps were one of the staples of my young life. Smoky Bacon, Thai Sweet Chili—I’ve had them all. I should be jaded, my palate exhausted. But no. That trashy, voluptuous, salty-sweet synthetic BBQ flavor; that sticky, musky powder—it’s amazing. Utterly denatured, completely divorced from the intense, long-haul culinary process that is actual barbecuing, it miraculously retains a suggestion of charcoaly maturity. Of experience. It tastes like it’s been through something.
You cannot consume them elegantly. There are noises, breathings, gushings of drool. Your mouth must open wide, dentist’s-chair wide. At some point you’re going to have to lick—or suck—your fingers.
And there’s no satiety with BBQ chips, no natural limit. You want them, you want them, and then you never want to see them again. Nausea is their shadow companion. Between writing the second and third paragraphs of this ode I ate half a five-ounce bag, and now my stomach is involved: It’s shifting, rinsing, distending, bulging toward some kind of utterance, as if trying to have an actual thought. Don’t they call it the second brain? What have I done to my second brain?
Their nutritional value is of course nil. Empty calories: what a beautiful phrase. Negligible minerals (other than sodium), negligible vitamins, no virtues, as food, whatsoever. Floating zeros of energy, with the Buddha’s own white light coming through them. These fried and flimsy discs are of no benefit to you. You know it and your body knows it. You’re enjoying them for their own sake, their own taste, their own slant on the cosmos. So congratulate yourself, you powder-stained and gasping BBQ-chip lover. Ars gratia artis. You’re an aesthete.
This article appears in the December 2021 print edition with the headline “Ode to Barbecue Potato Chips.”