20th October 2000 at 01:00
What's in a packed lunch? Sandwiches, yes; an apple, all right; drink, preferably fizzy. But one thing there must be: crisps - Monster Munch, pickled onion flavour; or Skips, prawn cocktail flavour; Golden Wonder salt and vinegar, or smoky bacon or BBQ sauce, but never cheese 'n' onion (an old person's crisp). Or what about those mini-tubes of Pringles?

Yes, a packed lunch centres on the right kind of crisps, to be shown around, shared (up to a point), the last remnants picked out of the bag with a wet finger.

Dear me, and children can eat up to seven packets a day, you say? All that flavouring and salt and fat can't be good for young bodies. But crisps stand for much more than a cholesterol-inducing food substitute. For a start, where do you eat them? Walking down the street with friends? On a picnic? On the settee watching telly, wrestling with siblings, or with mum and dad in the pub?

Crisps are social glue. They are affordable on a small fixed income (pocket money). They re not too filling and you can eat them on the hoof. The synergy between the salt and the swilling of drinks provides great mouth pleasure.

Shiny packets offer competitions. They give you a feeling of abundance, in their multi-packs as you sling them into mum's trolley. Crisps are not just an early exercise in consumerism, they are also an arena for play.

Crisps can easily be turned to classroom advantage. Crisps bear so little resemblance to the potato that tracing their life history is illuminating.

Then there is the packaging, those outlandish flavours and deliberate misspellings: what a great design technology project.

And science: salt and its behaviour with water and heat provides an introduction to crystals; leaving crisps out to get soggy (against nature, but a very quick experiment) demonstrates the amount of water vapour in the air.

Ban them on health grounds if you like, but only if you want to boost sales and make the corner shopkeeper smile.

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