I have been thinking about ‘crisp culture’ for some time. Crisp as in ‘potato’ crisps, as opposed to some sharp custom or tribal practice.
We all know that crisps taste of absolutely nothing at all, and are probably made from some burnt piece of leftover spuds that would normally be discarded in a waste bin. It makes it cheap, ‘shut up and eat’ fodder that satisfies an appetite. If you don’t believe me, ask mummy and daddy who used to have to bribe their children to stand outside pubs for three hours in minus 2 degrees (but never got prosecuted by the social services). Or maybe ask the clued up manufacturers who tumbled the fact that their burnt product tasted of bugger all and decided to bung a blue wrap of salt into the bag to dupe the punters. This had a double effect – firstly, entertaining the kids who spent time searching for the blue wrap and, secondly, having consumed so much salt (child abuse in the modern era) the kids experienced an overwhelming thirst that the pissed parents, who had forgotten they’d even had kids, had to manage by buying gallons of lemonade once they realised the small people licking the ice off the windows, were actually their children. The crisp manufacturers then copped on and realised they could not be associated with human abuse, like the cigarette companies were, (and future sugar companies) so they ditched the blue salt wrap and invented completely bogus flavours. A giant laboratory was formed where scientists chucked pools of liquified stale food into a number of large VATS and cooked it, ‘Breaking Bad’ style, to produce gallons of glutinous liquid. They experimented with different concoctions which they then poured over their burnt crispy products. After testing on gangs of monkeys who had been retired from the Tobacco Experiment Laboratory and getting the thumbs up (well, in the cases where the monkeys had lost thumbs due to smoke inhalation they accepted a ‘toes up’) they produced several new flavoured crisp products which they branded ‘Cheese and Onion’, ‘Bovril’, and ‘Smokey Bacon.’ (Smokey Monkey was rejected after much deliberation). The thing was, they still tasted of absolutely nothing at all but the marketeers decided that as long as the branding was good and they stuck them in different coloured packets, the public would lap it up, plus, if they could get the pubs to let kids inside so they would no longer die of hypothermia outside, it was a win win.
It all went swimmingly to plan but then an Aussie factory worker raised a question. Given the job of disposing of all the ‘Breaking Bad’ style cooking waste, he asked, “You know what, cobber, we’re spending a mint on ditching all this fuckin’ pink slurry. I got an idea.” The manufacturers were interested, since waste regulations were beginning to hit them in the pocket. So, they wanted to hear the idea.
“Simple, sport! We pour the pink waste slurry all over the crisps, dry ’em out and sell ’em as Prawn flavour. The punters’ll love it.” The manufacturers were ecstatic. Cut costs and increase profits in one simple manoeuvre. The employee was made ‘Employee of the Century’ and elevated to the board, and ‘Prawn Cocktail’ flavour crisps, which still tasted of bugger all, were introduced to a gullible public. With prawn cocktail having an air of sophistication in the 70’s, the manufacturers upped the game and ploughed money into TV marketing, even persuading ex-footballers to endorse a product that had no definable flavour whatsoever. Soon, the gullible public immersed themselves in ‘crisp culture’ and the children who had stood outside pubs dipping their fingers into a flavourless bag of greasy burnt offerings, grew up and elevated crisps into a shared experience, ripping open bags of the product on pub tables to share with their friends who could dip in and indulge in some sort of tribal ritual. Yet nobody would say, even to this day, “Err... don’t mind me, but I can’t taste anything at all.”