Stay Away From Pork Rinds (Or: the Sociology of Snacks)

Nutritionists say, "If you want a snack, how about a piece of fruit?" That's like saying, "If you want to watch television, how about staring at the wall?" It's not the same thing... unless you're watching Snooki & JWoww. I like apples. But apples are not snacks. If it doesn't come in a wrapper, a bag, or a box, then it's not a snack.

There are two basic kinds of snacks: salt and sugar. "Celery sticks" is not a category. I prefer salty snacks. But sugary snacks are good, too. Basically, I just like snacks.

Some people don't enjoy snacks. They don't eat chips or candy or doughnuts because they don't like the taste. My theory is that those people don't have tongues. Snacks are yummy.

I prefer potato chips over pretzels.

When I was a kid, my family had a pet rabbit. Along with his food, we kept a "salt lick" in Duke's cage. Rabbits like to lick salt, apparently. A pretzel is like a salt lick for human beings. Once I lick off the salt, I'm finished; I don't really need the pretzel. They sell pretzels without salt. That's like adopting a baby without flesh.

There used to be a pretzel brand called Mister Salty. I loved Mister Salty pretzels. And it was an honest name. They would never name a snack like that today, though. That would be like "Mrs. High Fructose Corn Syrup's Cookies." But I bet they would be damn tasty cookies.

Potato chips are always good. I've never eaten bad potato chips, unless they're weirdly flavored. Lay's actually has "chicken & waffles" flavored potato chips and "cheesy garlic bread" flavored potato chips. That sounds awful. Why not shoot for even more disgusting with "metal rod" flavored chips? Or "dead skunk" flavored chips? Or "Rush Limbaugh" flavored chips?

But regular-flavored potato chips are always good. Lay's slogan used to be "Bet You Can't Eat Just One." I believe Marlboro had a similar slogan.

Lay's wasn't wrong. You can't eat just one potato chip... although I don't know why you would want to eat just one potato chip. At McDonald's, they don't ask, "Would you like a fry with that?" When I was a teenager, I would hang out at my friend Kris' house. Kris' family had bags and bags of chips, most of them unopened or maybe half-eaten. This confused me. Growing up, my family would come home from the grocery store, and within minutes, one of us would grab the bag of chips and twenty minutes later the bag was empty. In my family, once you started a bag of chips, you finished it. No half-eaten bag was ever put back on a shelf.

I enjoy barbeque-flavored salty snacks: potato chips, Fritos, whatever. I'm not a big fan of "sour cream & onion" flavor. I mean, people barbeque their food because meals taste better that way. You never hear about people coming together for a July 4th family sour cream & onion.

Everyone likes Doritos. However, I recommend some of the cheaper, lesser-known brands of nacho-cheese flavored tortilla chips. Doritos have gotten a bit too bold in taste. And aside from the traditional flavors, now Doritos also come in Blazin' Jalapeno and Sweet Chili Heat and Scorchin' Habanero. Seriously? These are Doritos, not the X Games. Nobody needs jacked up, "in your face" snacks. I mean, just how extreme are our nacho chips going to get? I predict that within a few years, Doritos will ditch the chip and market itself as nacho-cheese flavored Chinese throwing stars.

Potato sticks are a less-popular snack that I enjoy. These are sort of like potato chips, but in stick form. Each individual potato stick looks a little bit like a matchstick. Most big grocery stores carry one or two brands. Potato sticks never really caught on with the general public. Growing up, and even today, on Sunday afternoons, my father and I would share a bag of potato sticks during football season as part of our "watching the NY Jets together" ritual. We're convinced that if we eat potato sticks, the Jets will win. It has been a pretty good system so far... not counting the fact that the Jets don't win.

You can't go wrong with Pringles, now made with 100 percent real potato flavoring. Pringles, of course, are so conveniently stackable. It's a miracle of design. I'm surprised more architects don't design buildings using the Pringles technology. When a town is decimated by a tornado, you never hear about the Pringles being affected.

Trail mix is popular with a lot of people. People tend to eat their trail mix on couches rather than on trails. It should really be called "couch mix."

Trail mix contains nuts, cereal, raisins, M&Ms, etc. But, of course, trail mix is really just an excuse to eat the M&Ms. Sometimes I eat trail mix as I hike back to the store's candy aisle.

I bet if you replaced the nuts and cereal and raisins with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, fun size Milky Way bars, and Smarties, you'd outsell all the other trail mixes.

A Snickers bar always makes for a delicious snack. But Snickers is a snack; it's not a meal replacement. Snickers commercials market the product as a way to satisfy your hunger. Well, yeah, eating something does tend to make you less hungry. But if are lacking energy, you're probably better off eating actual food. I mean, let's get real here. Nobody gives out lasagna for Halloween. And nobody eats Snickers bars for the protein.

I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I bet that there is a direct correlation between the popularity of snack cakes and use of the word scrumptious. Americans don't use the word scrumptious as much as they did back when snack cakes were at peak sales. That's a shame. It's a great word. Snack cakes are scrumptious. And "snack cakes" contain two of my other favorite words: snack and cake. (note: "Carrot Cake" only contains one of my favorite words.)

Amongst my favorites snack cakes are Ding Dongs and Zingers and Ho Ho's. Those are also the names of our local strip clubs.

Cookies make a good snack. But there's too much to write about. Cookies deserve their own separate essay.

Critics argue that snacks are contributing to the nation's obesity problem. Eh, maybe. But they discontinued Twinkies for a little while and during those 6 months the country didn't get any thinner. They don't serve Tostitos at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

If you want to blame America's eating habits for the obesity epidemic, then don't focus on the snacking between meals. Focus on the actual meals. You don't need to top everything with bacon and cheese. Restaurants serve bacon and cheese in the salads now. The salads! Why not just put it in the water?

Well, if the nutritionists want to come home from work and relax in front of the TV with a bowl of pineapple slices, that's certainly their right. But as for me, I stand by snacks. Snacks are as American as apple pie... which, when processed and wrapped in those individual little packages, makes a great snack.