Monthly Archives: January 2015

Preliminary Discourse on the Potato Chip and Seasonings Thereof

The time has come to settle a seemingly interminable debate: whether the potato chip ought to be seasoned or not (it should be understood that here “not seasoned” refers to completely unseasoned chips, as well as those to which only salt, and the necessary oil for cooking, have been added – such chips will be referred to in the course of this work as “plain”). Years have passed since the subject was first broached in my company and a satisfactory resolution to the dispute has yet to be obtained, nor has even the glimpse of one on a distant and savory horizon been descried. This document will, it is hoped, open debate upon this trying subject.

Antiseasoningist Wysman (2012, personal correspondence with the author) and seasoning-skeptic Schiller (2015, forthcoming) have suggested that the potato chip requires naught but salt for a rewarding gustatory experience, but their reasoning has not been made sufficiently clear. The author awaits their forthcoming works and here undertakes to dispel some of the more commonly held antiseasoningist positions, in order to “clear the ground,” as it were.

A ready first argument in favour of plain chips is the historical one, also called the pre-synthetic argument. It begins by invoking the image of the primal potato, newly drawn from the earth, which clearly is not seasoned. However, the potato must undergo chopping and frying before it constitutes potato chips. Neither chopping nor frying add anything to the potato, it is said. Thus, the plain potato chip has not been synthesized with foreign substances and thus, it remains a true potato chip. The synthesis of potato chip and seasoning produces something that is not a potato chip but rather an entity that may be defined schematically in this way:

Post synthesis “potato chip” (PSPC) = (potato chip+s, where s=anything edible).

This stands opposed to:

True Potato Chip (TPC) = (potato)

While compelling in its parsimony, this argument fails to take into account the minimal quantity of salt that is added to almost all plain chips, and further, to consider the residual oil that is absorbed into the potato during the frying process. For, if salt and oil are accepted as somehow not counting as s, or as being somehow “pre-s,” it can only be so on the basis of a highly ad-hoc rule. It remains unclear how ketchup, for example, could be excluded from the pre-s situation under the same logic.

Second, the content-garnish argument is also worth noting. This argument holds that the content of a potato chip is the potato and that seasoning plays a secondary role as garnish. This a value-theoretical argument in that it holds potato as a primary value and seasoning as valuable only in a secondary or derivative way, which is dependent on the primary value. The seasoning is only valued, such puritans argue, because it accompanies the potato. Alone, the seasoning would be akin to the flavor packets found in instant noodle packages – unappetizing and blatantly carcinogenic.

This position does have an intuitive appeal, as it is certainly true that one does not go about eating Mr. Noodles seasoning packets sans noodles. However, this argument unjustifiably presupposes the primacy of the potato in its valuation schema. Is it not true that there exist chips made of non-potatoes? The exotic corn-based chips known “tortilla” chips attest to this fact. Further, chips fashioned from pita bread are said to exist in the far East. Therefore: not all chips are potato chips. Thus, chips are not eaten because they taste like potato (supplementary: no one has ever eaten an ungarnished potato, except in a survival scenario – the same can be said for bread, which is well-known to be a potato-analogue). One is forced to conclude that, if potato chips are eaten, it is precisely because of some non-potato element in the potato chip complex. As the frying oil seeming a rather unlikely candidate, we are led to conclude that the motivation for eating potato chips lies in the seasoning applied to them. This assertion has the happy corollary of explaining the existence of chip dip, which is merely a sublimated form of direct seasoning. In chip dip, seasoning is delayed and the anticipation is heightened. The chip is left bare until mere microseconds before mastication. It might be asserted that chip dip functions in some way analogous to the Freudian eros, which seeks to prolong the ecstatic process towards release. On the quantitative level of chips consumed with dip, it then seems that dip represents a massive indulgence and simultaneous submission to restriction – a decadent sadomasochism of snacking.

Meditation on the content-garnish argument eventually leads a sincere thinker to an inversion of the model proposed by the historical/pre-synthetic argument. The fact that non-potato chips enjoy great popularity suggests that the potato is arbitrary, despite it being included in the name “potato chip”. If the potato is non-essential, it is merely included in the potato chip as a vehicle for seasoning. The author therefore proposes what he terms the Vehicle Theory Model of the True Potato Chip:

True Potato Chip (TPC) = (seasoning + v, where v= anything edible)

The particularity of the vehicle is shown to be completely arbitrary, in reality. Hence the proliferation of non-potato chips, as well as the propensity for humans to dip non-chips in chip dip. However radical this may sound, the author asks you to prepare yourself for an even more radical additional consequence. If one follows the Vehicle Theory logic to its logical extreme, and leaning outside the realm of Vehicle Theory to draw on developments in theoretical physics, one is forced to admit that the vehicle itself is totally superfluous, as represented in this formula:

True Potato Chip (TPC) = (seasoning)

As Feynman (1999) argues, nothing of what we know about physics makes engineering at the molecular level impossible. Indeed, it seems highly probable that we will eventually invent machines that can work at this level. From then on slipshod macro-level construction of things will be replaced by novel techniques of creating things from the very bottom-up. Molecular assembling technology, as it is called, holds out the opportunity of creating chips solely out of seasoning, using the molecular bonds of the seasoning’s constitutive molecules to craft chips of unheard of shapes and textures – without the interference of the potato. There are a few peaks from which the future appears unexpectedly bright – this may be the brightest.
The third argument continues the topic of texture that the second ended on. Antiseasoningists often point out the ruffled potato chip as evidence of the worthlessness of seasonings. “Why would plain, ruffled chips ever have come into being,” a prominent antiseasoningist was recently overhead slurring in an “exotic” massage parlour lobby, “if not because plain chips have been so evolutionarily successful as to have spawned a sister-species? How could anyone think otherwise?” The argument, as far as the author comprehends it, is that were there no demand for more plain chips, a ruffled format would never have appeared. Indeed, the continued thriving of two species of plain chips suggests that they are considered desirable.

I cannot deign to call this argument appealing, for the facts are diametrically at odds with it. The ridges and valleys of the rippled chip exist only to increase the chip’s function as vehicle for seasoning. One may find evidence for this by looking inside the human body. The human brain, as is well-known, appears wrinkled on its surface – the ridges known as gyri and the valleys known as sulci. This shape increases the surface area of the cortex which is able to fit within the skull cavity, enabling the advanced level of reflexive thought that humans enjoy. Similarly, rippled chips have an increased surface area for improved retention of seasoning, allowing an increased delivery of the payload. It was this technological advancement in potato chip seasoning capacity that produced the plain, rippled chip as epiphenomenon. Indeed, recent studies have shown (Steinhoff 2015, forthcoming) that plain, rippled chips exist only because currently employed seasoning machines inevitably miss many of their targets, due to difficulties in modulating the rippled texture to agree with the vast dimensional fluctuations in post-GMO potatoes, and thus leave many chips unseasoned.

What more can be said? What can the antiseasoningists possibly marshal to counter such a devastating, yet genteel critique?

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