A knack for snacks

I'm twisted pretzel T-shirt

Read by Brenda

Europeans took many things with them when they emigrated to the U.S. – their language, customs, and food. But along the way, these things morphed into something different. Somewhere on a ship crossing the Atlantic, for example, German beer festivals evolved into a snack fair

I suppose it was inevitable. If there were a snack food capital in the world, it would have to be in the U.S. Snacks have existed since the first mammoth hunter embarked on a day trip, but Americans have taken them to new heights.

My hunch that they consume more than anyone else was confirmed: at 22 kg per capita annually, they eat twice as much snack food as the next country, which is, surprisingly, the Netherlands (and you thought the Dutch were cool, calculating intellectuals. That may be true, but now we know that they are fueled by potato chips). It’s like finding out your English teacher is the lead competitive Red Bull drinker of the county – not completely crazy, but still surprising.

On a visit to the States when my kids were still kids, my brother offered them some pop tarts for breakfast. His offer met with unknowing stares.

“What are those?” they asked.

He was aghast.

“Your kids have never had pop tarts – and you call yourself a mother?!”

The situation was quickly remedied.

On other trips, my kids were also served lunches consisting of sandwiches and potato chips. It’s not that Germans don’t eat potato chips; they do. But they haven’t yet succumbed to the idea that they can be classified as “food.”

In New York, Bavarians are surprised and pleased to find big, soft pretzels being sold on the streets, a sign that their countrymen have preceded them. But their pleasure evaporates at the first bite of a strangely dusty, mealy pretzel, which is perhaps why New Yorkers smother them in mustard.

But it goes far beyond New York. All the way to Hanover, Pennsylvania.

We took a tour of the Utz snack factory there, a traditional family-owned company that has a corner on the local market for potato chips and other snacks. “Utz” seemed like a German name to me. I asked the friendly lady behind the counter if it could maybe, perhaps, possibly be a German name?

She threw up her hands and laughed at such a silly question.

“Oh, we’re all German here!”

My feeling of cleverness vanished.

Windows along the hallway provided a bird’s eye view into the production hall where machines washed, peeled, chopped, and fried potatoes. At the very end of the hallway, workers loaded bags of chips into boxes and sorted them for delivery.

Hanover’s annual Snack Food Festival features every kind of snack imaginable, reflecting the diverse heritage of its population. The Italians are selling pasta and cannoli brought over by Sicilian immigrants and Mexican-Americans are selling nachos. There is also a kind of hamster wheel where you can step inside and run for a minute to shave ice to make your own snowcone.

That Americans should be in love with snacks should come as no surprise. After all, it was an American who invented the potato chip, the Native American/African American restaurant chef George Crum. He sliced the potatoes ultra-thin in response to a complaint from a customer that the fried potatoes weren’t thin enough. “I’ll show them,” he thought, and voilà! The greatest snack of all time was invented, and its popularity was immortalized by singer Slim Gaillard, who would even rather go without lunch in this iconic song.

Bon appétit!

Brenda Arnold

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