Tracking my fondness for crisps back to my childhood, I can remember eating them from a very early age. One of my earliest memories from when I would have been about three is of the packet of hula hoops my Mum gave me when there was a thunderstorm. When I saw the lightening I should start eating, she said, and then my crunching would obscure the terrifying roll of the thunder.
I didn’t crave much as a kid, not foodwise, anyway. I liked fish fingers with cheddar cheese melted on top, I’d obsess about that sometimes. And I loved tinned Alphabetti Spaghetti and its nerdy counterpart, Numberelli.
Where did my unhealthy enthusiasm for crisps come from? Thinking back, I remember a car journey from Wales to Devon. My Mum had come to my Dad’s sister’s house to collect us after an access visit. My Dad’s new wife was insanely strict, whereas my mother was a real softy. In the back of her single parent’s £200 old banger (in mandatory poor kid cringeworthy colour), were three boxes of crisps from the cash and carry. Three whole boxes of crisps, of the sort you see in newspaper shops and pubs.
Now I already loved crisps, but what happened next was a first for me. My brother and I spent the entire 150-mile journey sat together in the boot [trunk] of her car methodically working our way through packet after packet. I think this was my first experience of bingeing, and it was fun 13-year-old kind of decadence and it felt outrageous. It was not the last time I binged in a life which has seen me use a number of more-or-less enjoyable numbing agents: crisps, booze, fags, the illegal highs.
I hate to bring drugs into it, but it was the crisp equivalent of the famous scene in Scarface when Tony Montana is slumped in front of a mountain of cocaine – although, obviously, we did not go mental with machine guns afterwards and end up bloodied corpses as a consequence; in fact I don’t even remember having a tummy ache.
My friend Liz, when we were students, always stunned me because she would buy a small packet of crisps – and crisp packets were very small back in the eighties, 25 or 30gs max – eat a few and then roll over the packet and ‘save them for later’. I have never saved a small packet of crisps for later. Never. Even those huge, greasy, heavy bags of crisps weighing 150gs rarely get saved for the next day. Sometimes I eat a whole one for lunch. My nieces and nephews sometimes call me Aunty Crisp.
As I have steadied, cut or controlled almost all my other silly appetites, my crisp dependency has actually gone up. Once, a whole 50g Grab Bag of Walkers made me feel guilty. Now, I have been known to do two giant bags of Kettle Chips. That’s skating close to 100gs of fat.
It’s not the fat, though; fatphobia isn’t my thing. I eat butter, cheese, pork belly and nuts with the guiltless thrill of broccoli. No one can punt a healthy angle on the particular unsaturated fat used to make crisps. Heated to high temperatures, sunflower oil produces poisonous substances called aldehydes, which are linked to degeneration of the brain. The truth is, crisps could be hurting me as much as any more apparently toxic vice.
Why am I so hooked on crisps? What is it about deep fried potatoes packed with crunch and salt? Beyond the sensory pleasure of the crunch and the salt; they are an intense hit. An alternative therapist type once told me that crunching helps disperse anger. Could it be connected to my inability to express anger? Is my crisp consumption connected to my fear of expressing myself? Or am I just stuck in a cycle of constant comfort and reward with my small golden crispy friends.
It’s big time, crunch time but no longer with crisps. I have bought a large bag of Granny Smith apples and instead of Dry January I am going to do Crisp Free Feb. I’ll let you know how I get on. If you want to join me, you can Tweet me on @spicerlife.