Potato chips, or crisps, come in a fantastic panoply of artificial flavors. BBQ, Ketchup, or “regular” are standards the world over. Then there are also what we might call “regional” chip flavors, such as wasabe in Japan, Dijon mustard in France, or cured ham in Spain. Recently, two very interesting new chip flavors came on the market in Spain: “FC Barcelona” and “Real Madrid”.

The rivalry between these teams is legendary, of course, extending well beyond the football pitch and into just about every other aspect of life in Spain, especially politics: FCB is a symbol of Catalan nationalism while RM symbolizes Castilian centrism.

Yet, lo and behold, both of these potato chips taste exactly the same. Their saltiness, texture, color, and even the sound they make when consumed are identical. At least, I would think, one of these might taste like “calçots” and the other “cocido madrileño”. No such luck though.

But then, maybe these chips are not about chips at all. In fact, all this really has nothing whatsoever to do with junk food gastronomy. No, this is entirely about merchandising and product tie-in; a perfect example of form over content. The chips are just a pretext for us to “freely” choose and buy a banner through which to assert a “personal” identity.

The scary thing is that sameness cynically and manipulatively disguised as democratic choice–this pseudo-choice–is not just happening in the world of potato chips, but in politics, cities, architecture, product design… wherever things are tarted up on the outside to appeal to a different identity, but in reality contain nothing but more-of-the-same on the inside.

We are what we are sold, not what we eat.

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