Let them eat crisps!;Friday's child

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
Victoria Neumark on the young cruncher

High life for Nick, aged 12. A packet of Monster Munch, pickled onion flavour, a packet of Skips, prawn cocktail flavour, a packet of Salt 'n' Lineker crisps, a whole tube of Pringles, salt and vinegar flavour, a packet of The Real McCoy's extra thick crinkle-cut salt 'n' malt vinegar flavour potato chips, a packet of Nik-Naks Nice 'n' Spicy, a packet of Chipsticks reconstituted potato snack, salt and vinegar flavour, of course. To go with them, a can of Sprite, lemonade-flavoured fizzy drink. And the place to eat them? Walking down the street, friends at one's side, life in front. Or on a sofa watching telly, wrestling with siblings, chatting on the phone. Crisps fit in, just right.

High life for Nick's father, aged 41. A tranquil setting, by the sea or woods. A glass or two of nice chilled wine. Some tender morsel of grilled meat or fish, salad, crisp potato. Maybe a little chocolate mousse, a slice of cheese, ripe fruit.

But while Nick is wrestling with his siblings, Nick's father is wrestling with his weight. A diet of crisps, fizzy pop and satsumas with the odd chocolate biscuit bar seems to produce bright eyes, a slim figure and lots of energy at age 12, while conscious attempts at a healthy life (more salad, less mousse) seem only to add to general exhaustion at the age of 41.

These middle-aged folk want proper meals at proper mealtimes. They want to bring their child up to eat real food. Food, like life, needs consideration. Is it good for you? Is it good value? Does it taste good? Better, worse, the same as last time?

Nick prefers crisps. They come only in flavours he likes, unlike, say, curly kale. You can afford them on a small fixed income (pocket money). Each packet represents a small outlay, which he can keep under control. They don't fill him up until he's been eating for a long time - more munch for his lunch. Though they make you thirsty, he likes how the salt puckers up the mouth so you can enjoy your drink. He even likes the packets: they are shiny, offer competitions or free gifts and can be shrunk in the oven to mini-size at a low heat, should you so desire. And everyone else of his age likes crisps, too. There is no social awkwardness with them, besides parents' aversion to finding them down the back of the sofa. They nestle, temptingly in their multi-packs, on shelves and racks, radiating - what?

From the humble Smith's packet with its twist of salt in blue paper, the snack industry has mushroomed till the crisp section takes up a whole aisle in most British supermarkets. It's a taste explosion. There is almost no child who does not like crisps.

To the cruncher, crisps are not potatoes. They are a lifestyle choice. Urban children today have no woods to roam in, tasting berries, mushrooms, nuts. There are not even many apple trees to scrump fruit. But you can get a packet of crisps down the newsagents and feel good. Through his (or her) choice of crisps, an urban child can be creative, experiment with independence, play. Crisps empower children, even if they stick in the throats of adults.

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