Oh, what has George Crum wrought?

Crum is the man credited, if credited is the word, with inventing potato chips. In 1853, so the story goes, a patron dining at the Moon Lake Lodge sent back to the kitchen his plate of thinly fried potatoes, a popular dish at the time that was eaten with a fork. The customer felt the potatoes weren't crunchy enough. Crum was the chef. Legend has it that he was an irascible man. He was given, they say, to deliberately wreaking mayhem on dishes returned to the kitchen just to delight in the startled reactions of the diners. In this particular instance, Crum is said to have sliced the potatoes impossibly thin, plunged them in boiling oil, vigorously salted them, then sent them back to the complaining patron as a "sarcastic reply."

The patron loved them.

And so was born the foodstuff that launched a gazillion snack foods.

What began as a harmless prank became a culinary monster. Who could have foreseen nacho cheese corn chips and pizzeria pretzels and honey-dipped peanuts? Worse are the snacks masquerading as health food. Chocolate-chip granola bars? Naturally baked potato crisps?

As I say, though, what makes this country great is that its citizenry is free to eat any disgusting thing it wants. I just don't understand why anyone would want to eat ketchup-flavored potato chips.

Sure, some folks believe that the snack industry has us as hooked on their stuff as the tobacco companies have us on theirs. But while critics might deride the enjoyment of laboratory-synthesized, niche-flavored, fat-inducing pseudo-foodstuffs as a sick addiction, I prefer to think of it as the love whose name dares not be spoken.

Of course, there are those who are not so discreet. They shout the object of our desires as if to shame it: JUNK FOOD.

Not me, though.