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Breaking up is hard to do

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A few months back (I like to think before the rest of the world caught on) I wrote in this blog about the new biodegradable packaging for Sun-Chips.

At the time, I said "the new bags for Sun-Chips practically scream out that they are compostable. It's not the large-sized type that says, "World's First 100% Compostable Chip Package" ... it's the actual sound of the package, whether you are opening it or digging into it for some chips, and that sound is REALLY loud."

Sun-Chips (made by Frito-Lay) was aware of the noise their eco-friendly bags made, and explained that their traditional packaging, while extremely efficient (in both cost and performance), was made of multiple layers of polyolefin materials, which are derived from petroleum by-products. The company wanted to find new packaging film, which was more eco-friendly, and they thought they had it with polylactic acid, or polylactide, aka PLA.

Unlike the traditional petroleum-based packaging PLA is made from plants, and the chip bags reportedly would break down on about 14 weeks, the company said.

But the ecologically-friendly packaging came with a price, which customers just could not put up with. The company said, "although this version (of their packaging) is a little bit louder, we hope you'll appreciate the change and the positive environmental impact it will have."

Unfortunately, the only thing louder than the Sun-Chips bags was the reaction of those who thought they just could not deal with the sound of the bags crinkling every time they reached inside for some chips (heaven forbid people should maybe not reach into the chip bags so often, but that's another problem).

After an outcry from offended chip-eaters, including the inevitable Facebook campaign, Sun-Chips has retreated, and will go back to the old, petroleum-based bags for five of its six chip varieties.

It's not as though our nation's dependence on foreign oil would have been lifted by Americans putting up with some noisy chip bags, but at least it was a step in the right direction by Frito-Lay. And those little steps add up, except when you give in and step back. The company does say that they are working on other, quieter, environmentally-friendly bags.

I'm Compostable!

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The new bags for Sun-Chips practically scream out that they are compostable, really.

It's not the large-sized type that says, "World's First 100% Compostable Chip Package" that I refer to, it's the actual sound of the package, whether you are opening it or digging into it for some chips, and that sound is REALLY loud.

On its website, Sun-Chips (made by Frito-Lay) explains that over the past five years they've reduced by more than 5 million pounds the amount of packaging they use. After that, the company changed the material used to make its packaging films. "Our traditional package is constructed of multiple layers of polyolefin materials, which are derived from petroleum by-products. While these materials are extremely efficient (in both cost and performance), we challenged ourselves to find new, emerging packaging film technologies. After 4 years of research and field trials, we have found a packaging film that meets our performance expectations. That material is known as PLA.

PLA stands for polylactic acid, or polylactide, a versatile polymer made from plants. PLA is made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form)."

Sun-Chips says these fully-compostable bags will break down (in hot compost piles) in about 14 weeks. OK, so the bags are made from plant material and not petroleum? Great! But about that noise ...

They know. "Truth be told, our new bag sounds a bit different than our previous bags," according to the Sun-Chips website. "That's because plant-based materials have different sound properties than the materials used to create our old bags. So although this version is a little bit louder, we hope you'll appreciate the change and the positive environmental impact it will have."

Sure, that makes me feel so much better about my snack choices. But so much for trying to furtively chow down on a few handfuls of chips at home, when everyone else in my building is asleep; or at work, when half of your office will know you've got the Sun-Chips bag.

I hope this doesn't give Ben and Jerry any ideas.

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Happy Birthday, Twinkie.

The iconic snack cake is 80 today, which means we can run these bits of useless but charming trivia:

The original Twinkie was filled with banana cream, but the recipe was tweaked in the '40s because of a banana shortage.

James Dewar, a manager at Continental Baking Company's Hostess bakery in Schiller Park, invented the Twinkie. He called it that after seeing a billboard advertising Twinkle Toes Shoes.

Back in Dewar's day, Twinkies were two for a nickel.

Also, this gives us an excuse to run arguably the finest piece of Twinkie journalism by our own Zay N. Smith, whose prose was largely what drew us to want to work at this paper lo so many years ago. (Smith left the Sun-Times last year.)

Smith's column, after the jump, ran on April 4, 1996 under the headline, "Twinkie Experiment Goes up in Smoke."

Consider this the first in an occasional feature on Digging In that we'll call Edible Mailbox Swag: a quick review of a new food product that's found its way into our inbox and just begs for a bite.

Just arrived: Doritos Late Night All-Nighter Cheeseburger.

That's right. A Dorito that's supposed to taste "just like an authentic cheeseburger you'd get from your favorite after-hours drive-thru."

It tastes, amazingly, just like the onion bits, pickle slices, ketchup and soft bun of a certain cheeseburger from a certain leading burger chain that may or may not start with an 'M', all mish-mashed together. And crunchy.

There are no pickles in the ingredient list (or perhaps, they are in there, under "natural flavors" -- but we'll never know for sure). Ingredients do include, however, modified corn starch, Cheddar and Swiss cheese, MSG and mustard seed powder and "artificial flavors." Naturally.

Eat a bag of these and you bet you'll be up all night.

Are Americans, as a whole, emotional eaters? In a bear market, do we binge? Marketers sure are doing an excellent job of convincing us we should.

On the heels of Food Detective Lisa Donovan's look at the oversized ballpark grub trend comes news that Frito-Lay is pumping up the volume of snacks in its bags. It's true -- you're now getting 20 percent more Doritos and Cheetos, and it's not costing you (well, not dollars, at least). This reverses the company's previous practice of reducing the amount of food in each package.

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Snacks category.

Seafood is the previous category.

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