Something to chew on

I know this guy who said he started taking ginkgo biloba to improve his memory. "The problem was," he said, "I kept forgetting to take it."

; ;

I believed him. You'd need three or four memories to store information on all the herbal elixirs suddenly available to jack up everything from your metabolism to your spirits. Not long ago when your mood began to sag like a cheap bra, you might pop a few M&Ms to stiffen your morale, if only temporarily. Now, between the Ginseng gum, PMS tea and bottles of St. John's Wort all promising healthful vigor with one swipe over the scanner, it's a wonder we're not all in a very centered road company of "Up With People."

But stop and look at all these products that sound like either Brazilian dance bands or something that should be next to "Mummy Dust" on Merlin's shelf. You may decide that if you do buy into yet another supposed remedy that actually does nothing for you, you'll still feel depressed, and stupid to boot, and there's no cure for that. It's enough to make you reach again for the M&Ms and forget it. Comfort food is simple, and usually much cheaper.

Crunch time

Eating makes most of us feel better and most of us don't forget to do it. (Well, some people say they forget, but as someone who has often forgotten to stop, I pretend these people don't exist.) At any rate, eating, especially eating potato chips, is comfort in itself. But now there's a guy who wants not only to comfort you, but also to make you serene, smarter and have a longer life through chip bingeing.

The guy is Robert Ehrlich and, with the help of a shrink, a Zen master and a focus group, he's marketing "Robert's American Gourmet" snacks that contain healing herbs. Kava Corn Chips are already on the market, and Cardio Chips, to improve your overall health so you can live to buy lots more of them, are on the way. Then there are Personality Puffs. Packed with the rich, tasty goodness of St. John's Wort and gingko biloba, they are shaped like little people, and eating people is bound to make you feel better. Especially if you bite their little heads off.

If eating potato chips gave you personality, I'd have had my own one-woman show on Broadway by now. And according to an Associated Press article, many in the medical field are dubious of sanity through snacking, with one professor comparing the chips to "penicillin pie." Also, in order to ingest the equivalent of one recommended daily dose of St. John's Wort via potato chip, you'd have to eat six bags' worth, which would come to 5,040 calories a day. To work off all that happiness you'd have to be on the Stairmaster 10 hours a day, which means you'd lose your job, which is bound to depress you all over again, not to mention hinder your ability to buy chips. And if you didn't do that workout, well, I don't care if you marinate yourself in St. John's Wort (or anything else belonging to St. John), earning the nickname "lard-ass" isn't going to help, either.

We got one of the few remaining bags of Ehrlich's Ginkgo Biloba Rings in Chamberlin's Market and tested them at the perfect time, when we were ravenous. The onion-y taste was like a low-fat version of Funyans (in other words, just like Funyans if Funyans weren't that good). After about an hour my editor asked if I felt any smarter. "I said something really good to a friend in the car," I replied -- but no matter how hard I squinted I couldn't recall this glistening pearl of wisdom. It took me three hours to remember what I had thought was so damn witty, which seemed, if anything, a little poorer recall than usual. So the gingko biloba rings didn't seem to help much. Then, too, I'm more the kind of person who would like to dull the day's events with a couple of beers, not the kind to want to bring them into sharper focus with salty, reedy, herb-dusted snack foods.

Unsteady diet

Having your brain chemistry altered by potato chips seems a little weird, but chemically enhancing things we consume goes on all the time. Water is fluoridated. Cows are shot up with growth hormones so you can get a bigger steak at Outback. As long as they're cramming meds into our food like you do when you have to get the dog to take a pill, though, why not put some real pharmaceuticals in there instead of dusting a few potato chips with some dippy new-age herbs?

Why not some Prozac Pop-Tarts, so that those who begin their day staring into the dull, meaningless void of a godless existence can cheer the hell up while enjoying a bright frosting shellac? Why not Darvocet Ding-Dongs, packed full of wholesome tranquilizers, not to mention a slight chocolate high? How about King Ritalin cereal, because what do hyperactive kids need with vitamins anyway?

And if they really want us to get a potato chip glow, there's already a perfect brand to season with some roofies and Viagra. It's called Lay's.


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