By Steve Ulfelder
More about Pringles: Pringles Tips
See also: Pringles Flavors: The Complete Guide
Hi, my name is Steve and I love Pringles.
There, I said it. And Taquitos.net's Keith Shaw gets the credit. I was emboldened to declare my love when Shaw listed Pringles as one of his Top 10 Chips. Sure, they made only the back-of-the-bus list of "common" chips, just as Olive Garden could land on a list of Top 10 Restaurants if one added the proviso: "Should You Find Yourself Stuck in Lima, Ohio, on a Sales Call with a Godawful Prospect Who Only Eats at Places that Offer Free Salad Refills."
Still, a list is a list. Shaw's selection has freed me to go public and declare before God and everyone that Pringles are my favorite potato chips.
(Oops. Make that potato crisps. Something about the way Pringles are extruded compelled Procter & Gamble's legal department to strike chips from the name.)
Yes, it's true: Though I live in an urbane area in which the lowliest office vending machine offers Arlene's All-Natural Kettle-Cooked Microbatch Blue Mestizo Wafers, my all-time favorite chip (dang: crisp) is the assembly-line-produced, overpackaged, vaguely fascistic Pringle.
Pringles were anachronistic even when they were introduced in 1968. I was seven years old at the time. But in the next few years, as both Pringles and a child's intuitive marketing savvy filtered into my consciousness, I thought I sensed a colossal blunder. After all, '60s counterculture sensibilities had filtered into the mainstream, had they not? Even the stodgiest businessman's hair crept over his collar. Every kid in my school wore bellbottoms. My brother and I opted for popular "shag" haircuts. (These would later prompt us to spend much of our adult lives tracking down and burning photographs of ourselves from that era. But like Tang, the Chevrolet Vega, and Jonathon Livingston Seagull, the Shag seemed like a good idea at the time.)
What I mean to say is that by the early 1970s, when my siblings and I really swooned over Pringles, the mass-marketing zeitgeist was embracing hippy ideals: freedom, individuality, kooky uniqueness. That the actual hippies had moved on after Altamont and were living in squalid communes in Northern California, where they neglected their love children, failed as farmers and cooked up speed in tar-paper shacks, simply proves the point; popular adoption of what was once hip must, by definition, lag true hipness.
Into this newly zany environment, Procter & Gamble had released Pringles. Anybody could see these were not regular old potato chips. (They weren't, of course; they were crisps.) How did they make them identical, we wondered? More important, why? Weren't all God's creatures even spuds beautiful? Didn't the world need more individuality, not less? Weren't burned chips, greasy bag-bottoms and crumbs all part of Mother Nature's plan?
A helpful Procter & Gamble employee tells me "it took 10 years to develop Pringles," which supports my argument. The idea for a lock-step chip was hatched during the Eisenhower years. Conformity was good. Science was our friend. A container shaped like a missile silo was comforting. Through flavoring breakthroughs and brute-force engineering, we would build a better snack product and render broken chips a thing of the past!
But even 30 years ago, 10 years was a long time. By the time they were rolled out, Pringles fit the national mood like a Soviet military parade through Golden Gate Park. Young though I was, I thought I smelled an Edsel.
But man, I loved the crisps. Start with the saddle shape. Clearly designed to be placed lovingly on the tongue. (Ever notice that if you placed a chocolate-covered cherry atop a Pringle, it would look just like a little ten-gallon hat?)
Speaking of hats, mine's off to P&G's food engineers for the Pringle's ever-perfect flavor dusting. Salt dominates this flavor, as well it should (I confess I've never tried a souped-up Pringle variant such as barbecue why mess with perfection?)
No snacker ever suffered a corner-of-the-mouth cut while ambitiously angling an oversized Pringle into his mouth. Nobody ever pulled a green-brown flub from a Pringles can, pondered it momentarily, and then popped it in his mouth only to curse himself for falling for that one again. (Like second marriages, eating a green-brown chip signals the triumph of hope over experience.)
Despite my love for Pringles, I am perpetually surprised that a snack product that appears to run counter to the spirit of the times continues to hang around, and even prosper in, the marketplace. For Pringles are massively politically incorrect. In a world that markets to increasingly smaller niches, they are barbecue flavor notwithstanding a one-size-fits-all product. In a world in which corporate giants create minibrands in order to masquerade as mom-and-pops (one word: Fruitopia), Pringles proudly wear the P&G imprimatur. In a world that hires squadrons of marketers to mass-produce the trappings of singular quirkiness, Pringles are just plain mass produced.
So there is a Silent Majority triumph in the fact that the crisps are in their thirty-third year of production. In a microbatch world, few are willing to admit they love Pringles. But one hell of a lot of people must buy them, or Procter & Gamble would have long since pulled the plug.
Interestingly, social life in the U.S. may have pendulumed back in favor of Pringles. Call it "cocooning," perhaps, or call it the Bowling Alone factor in honor of Robert D. Putnam's acclaimed book on U.S. culture. A major difference between Pringles and bagged chips is that while the consumption of besacked snacks constitutes a group activity ("Hey, bring over a bag of chips and let's watch the game!" "Honey, open another bag of chips we're running low!"), eating Pringles is, like most guilty pleasures, best enjoyed by one's self. The reason is simple: the tube.
Ah, the tube. The can. The snack silo. The tower of taste. The seven-ounce stack of salty sin. The bazooka to make you puke-a. Industrial designers know that some items are simply a joy to hold a tennis ball, a pack of smokes, a hunting knife. I'm convinced that the pleasing shape of the Pringle's can contributes mightily to my devotion.
I will now pause while readers craft clever Freud jokes.
There. The point is that the narrow-mouthed tube, combined with the inadvisability of dumping Pringles into a bowl, renders eating the crisps a solo, not a group, activity. Thus we find another possible reason that Pringles, while widely popular, have failed to register as a pop-culture fave: While the idea of munching a bag of chips with a bunch of buddies meshes perfectly with Americans' sense of themselves as fun-loving social animals, the idea of sitting on a sofa alone, methodically working one's way through a sterile tube of identical crisps produced in the hundreds of millions by one of the world's largest corporations, clearly does not.
And yet that's what we do here in Pringles Nation. Millions of us, for a third of a century. Jeez, I get depressed just thinking about it.
I do love the chips, though.
The crisps, that is.