Earlier this month, 7-Eleven introduced America to the Doritos Loaded, a snack food made rich with amber waves of sodium.
Like the unseen hand itself, Doritos has asserted its dominance in the national snackscape in recent years with such hits as the Doritos Locos Taco, which sold one billion units in less than one year, and Doritos Jacked, which are chips whose true flavors are a secret...by which I mean, consumers buy them without knowing what they taste like.
Meanwhile, up in Canada, Doritos has offered its stoners the chance to burn their mouths off with Doritos Roulette, a bag of Doritos with a few extra spicy chips mixed in that are indistinguishable from the others by the naked eye. You trust and you consume. It's like the beginning of a Paul Celan poem.
But let's ponder all this for a moment. First, before its creation, the Doritos Loco Taco was always an unuttered dream and, as Alexis Madrigal pointed out, might have existed 20 years ago were it not for some egos and corporate red tape. So triumphant was the Doritos Loco Taco that Doritos actually reverse engineered a chip to taste exactly like the taco shells used in the Doritos Locos Tacos. They're sold by the bagful now; in essence, Taco Bell-flavored chips. Despite the brand name involved, the glory had seemingly gone to Taco Bell.
Between the Doritos Locos Taco, the Doritos Jacked, and the Doritos Roulette, there is a pattern here of subterfuge. The gimmick is that the Doritos taste is either buried within something else (a taco), unknown to you, or a trap of spice waiting to be sprung upon your unsuspecting maw.
But that has all changed with the Doritos Loaded, a snack so overt and attention-seeking, it could used to guide jetliners down tarmacs. The concept behind it is simple-yet-confounding. A neon nacho turned inside out. The outside is Doritos crust, the inside is nacho cheese.
It awaits you exclusively at 7-Eleven, waving from the warming tray in a pocket-shaped compartment that promises adventure and companionship. The 21st-century analogue to Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. An object unhidden among the garbage and the flowers.
There is more flagrance to be noted yet. From the USA Today report:
One food guru, who thinks they could be a hit, isn't exactly thrilled about it. The snack comes stuffed with 1,070 milligrams of sodium. There's such a national "anxiety" for eating healthier — which can't always be met — that some folks are simply throwing up their hands and opting to eat unhealthy, says Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica, a journal about food and culture. "Anything that promises quick pleasure and doesn't take a lot of fussing over will find a market," she says.
With all due respect to Ms. Goldstein and the readers of Gastronomica, consuming something with 1,100 milligrams of sodium isn't a capitulation, it's a warning salvo. People choose to eat these things because they can, not because they've left the priory of healthy living after offering up one too many Kale Marys.
I had two experiences with the Doritos Loaded, one week apart. The first was on the 4th of July in Brooklyn, New York, just after the product debut. Like most national product launches, the New York version lagged in quality. Everything fast and good in the Big Apple is also a little bit rundown. The crisp outer shell gave way to congealed cheesy innards. For something decadent and artificial by design, it only tasted of the latter. A disappointing stunt, a nod to Ms. Goldstein.
However, yesterday, I found myself in 7-Eleven to capture a free Slurpee as part of the store's annual 7/11 (July 11) holiday. Like most Americans, I'm a believer in second chances. At a 7-Eleven outside of our nation's capital, where I was visiting family, I tried again. The store was jammed and the clerk told me that the Doritos Loaded had been flying off the shelves. And so, I tried again and the promise (a medley of American, Romano, and cheddar) was fulfilled.
Walking back to the car, my mother asked what else, beyond a Slurpee, I could had possibly bothered to pick up. I explained the Doritos Loaded and offered her half of one. Ambivalently, she took it.
"This is the ultimate junk food," she said after eating it.
"Do you want another one?" I asked, expecting a swift rejection.
"Maybe half of another one."
There you have it. Kid-tested. Mother-approved.