John Carlson: Advancements In Snack Science

Can anything be as lovely as pork rinds tumbling enticingly into a bowl? Photo by Nancy CarlsonCan anything be as lovely as pork rinds tumbling enticingly into a bowl? Photo by Nancy Carlson

By John Carlson—

So I’m making one of my rare visits to The Fickle Peach when my pal Willow tosses me what looks like a pack of microwaveable popcorn.

“Thanks,” I say.

I don’t say it very sincerely, though, wishing he’d tossed me a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken instead.

But then I glance at the package a second time, my eyes locking on the word “chicharrones,” and say “Thanks!” again. This time, however, tears of gratitude are cascading down my face and off my chin, and I sound more like a drowning man addressing somebody who just tossed him a life ring as he was going under for the third time.

Better yet, it’s like the life ring has a bunch of pork rinds duct taped to it, because that’s what is inside this microwaveable pack.

I love pork rinds. And admit it, you love pork rinds, too. Everybody loves pork rinds. This is for reasons including their exquisite taste, the aura of worldly sophistication that chewing a mouthful of pork rinds imparts to a person, and their proven nutritional value, which explains why pork rinds are found on the training tables of so many Olympians.

Now the fact is, I ate some microwaveable pork rinds a few years ago, supplied by another buddy, Jimmy Hayes. They were fine, and fun to watch pop, but they never really seemed to explode onto the marketplace.

But these new ones – inexplicably called Hot & Spicy Lowrey’s Bacon Curls – are attractively packaged to catch the consumer’s eye and imagination. It almost makes one believe that at long last, microwaveable pork rinds have become the beneficiaries of a corporate mindset intent on making them the frontline snacks they deserve to be.

At last, the second generation of microwave pork rinds has arrived. Photo by Nancy Carlson

At last, the second generation of microwave pork rinds has arrived. Photo by Nancy Carlson

One imagines microwaveable pork rinds crowding the store snack shelves and sneering, “Scoot your butt over, Cheez Doodles!”

A quick glance at the package and you can see why. It notes there is less than ONE GRAM of a carb per serving! What does this mean to the modern consumer who, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is taking a renewed interest in protecting his or her health? Beats me. I majored in sociology. But with nutritionists constantly warning that everything we eat except bugs and bulgur will kill us, less than one gram of a carb just has to be good for you. Better yet, these pork rinds are made with a significant amount of maltodextrin in them, malto being the key ingredient in the winning taste of, um, malted milk balls.

Hey, would I lie?

So pretty soon Willow gives Peach a package of these new microwaveable pork rinds, too. Peach sticks his in the microwave, then carries them down to share with us, his devoted patrons, not even grabbing any for himself.

“C’mon and try some, Peach,” someone urges. “There’s plenty!”

“Nah,” he answers, “I don’t like pork rinds.”

A sudden hush falls over the bar. From the corners of our eyes, we regulars cast suspicious sideways glances at each other, then Peach. He doesn’t like pork rinds? Then, as if right on cue, we all move down a stool or two to put some distance between Peach and ourselves.

Of course, then we realize this means there are more pork rinds for the rest of us to split and move on back.

And these babies are tasty!

While the pack describes them as “Hot & Spicy,” they aren’t, particularly, but they are quite flavorful. A word to the wise, however: If you are some persnickety French guy who happily sits around smacking his lips while snacking on handfuls of squirmy escargot, you probably WON’T like these microwaveable pork rinds because they don’t taste anything like snails.

However, if you’re a normal, right-thinking American who knows it’s perfectly appropriate to eat a sloppy mess of delicious chicken gizzards, you will love these pork rinds on general principles. It’s as if that old potato chip adage is meant for microwaveable pork rinds, too: Nobody can eat just one. Word is Lowrey’s Bacon Curls also come in a regular unseasoned variety, wholesome little chunks of boiled, dried and then deep-fried pigskin goodness just begging you to baptize them with a few quick shakes of Frank’s Hot Sauce.

But back to The Fickle Peach …

As we pass the tray of microwaveable pork rinds up and down the bar, we are all lost in our own thoughts.

Some of the guys are thinking about which craft beer they wish to drink next. Some of the guys are thinking how terribly they miss their families, and how good it will be to see them again once they leave the bar in another four or five hours. Some of the guys are staring at television sets discussing how healthy the ladies competing in an LPGA golf tournament look in their skimpy golf skirts, and wondering if a guy has to know the difference between a putter and a ping-pong paddle to get work as a caddie.

Me? I’m still thinking about the miracle of microwaveable pork rinds.

That’s because microwaveable pork rinds are less a snack than they are a metaphor for everything that is good and right and true about America.

If we can microwave pork rinds, after all, we can do anything.


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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.