On Friday March 29, the Spinoff published a ranking of every chip flavour in New Zealand. Everyone promptly lost the plot. Chip ranker Madeleine Chapman wonders where she went wrong.
I didn’t have anything else to write about. That’s why I ranked all 122 chip flavours in New Zealand from best to worst. Not because fried starch is my passion. Not because I wanted to piss off the whole country at once. I wrote about chips because I showed up to work on Monday and had nothing else to write about.
There was no formal process. I’ve eaten a lot of chips in my life. More than the average person, which I realised after flatting with six people who seemingly don’t snack and working with 20 people who snack only at work. Over the years I’ve formed opinions about different chip brands and flavours which have influenced my shopping habits but have not influenced a single other person. Sure, I can rank all the chips.
By Tuesday I hated everyone and everything. Finding and typing out all the flavours took so long. I didn’t even know where to begin so I decided to work from each end. Notoriously terrible flavours were chucked at the bottom and popular flavours were chucked at the top. As far as crowning an actual winner? I just… picked one that felt inoffensive. Everyone eats salt and vinegar chips and Bluebird’s been around forever. Who would complain about it being crowned the best chip in New Zealand? Literally thousands of people, that’s who.
Was it a cop out? Absolutely. Was it an effective cop out? Absolutely not. For what it’s worth, my entirely subjective, biased, personal top three are:
1) Delisio Sweet Chilli Relish
2) Doritos BBQ
3) Delisio Caramelised Onion and Balsamic Vinegar
In actual fact, the best chips available in New Zealand are the taro chips your aunty brings back from her thrice-yearly trips to Samoa. But I digress. The important thing is that 30 flavours in, I wanted to throw the whole thing in the bin and didn’t care about making a stupid arbitrary ranking that no one would read.
At 12:07am on Wednesday, I sent the top 11 “in no particular order” to a colleague. I was looking for any strong thoughts on flavours and I knew she was awake. She replied with just “Burger Rings not a chip imo”.
I told her I disagreed and, instead of both going to bed like regular, healthy people, we debated at length the structure and integrity of a barbecue-flavoured chip/corn snack. The next day, because I’m petty, I started a poll on Twitter asking “Are Burger Rings chips?” I figured five people would vote because surely no one cared, especially not at this point in time. The hundreds of votes and dozens of angry responses suggested that actually people cared a lot. When my colleague saw the reaction to the poll she said “Imagine the heat you’re gonna get from the story.” I laughed, a naive fool.
I flew to Wellington on Thursday night and met up with the same colleague who, to my genuine surprise, was still passionate about the Burger Rings issue. I had never seen her so worked up about anything, let alone something so frivolous. But that was exactly it. It’s because it’s so inconsequential, she told me. Sometimes when everything is bleak and you’re super stressed out, you just need a break from your brain. Arguing for 48 hours about the categorisation of Burger Rings had given her a perfect break from her brain.
Turns out, the whole of New Zealand needed a break from its brain. The list was published at 8:30am on Friday. I had well and truly detached myself emotionally from it, so threw out a provocative Facebook caption. “Ready salted is trash and we all know it.”
By 8:45 there were 100 comments. By lunchtime, there were a thousand. As of writing, there are 3.7k comments on the Facebook post of the story, more than any story in Spinoff history. New Zealanders weren’t happy. Comments varied but the sentiment is well represented in this small sampling.
“I’m outraged. I’m actually fuming… This person is sick in the head… I’m really mad…”
“Ashamed to say that I read this whole article…”
“This is bullshit”
“Who the fuck made this shit list”
“#boycottspinoff until this list is amended and cruncheese are put at least in the top 10”
The last commenter will be missed.
I had the day off on Friday and was mostly offline. I saw the comments pouring in and didn’t bother reading any of them. After tweeting out the story, I went about my day. I had a lovely lunch among the people of Wellington and overheard a woman trying to explain to her friend why every sport where men naturally outperform women should be banned. Oh, Wellington. When I opened Twitter for some relief I found that, despite my best efforts to live a life of honour, I had managed to anger every New Zealand voter while garnering praise from National Party MPs.
“Give her a Pulitzer already,” said Chris Bishop, apparently my biggest fan.
“One of the Spinoff’s better contributions,” said Judith Collins. A tremendous self-own considering she herself is a Spinoff contributor.
“Exhausting!” said Paula Bennett. “Start at number one!!! I don’t give a frick about the other 121.” Historians take note, this marks the first time the word “frick” has ever been said unironically by a non-Mormon.
National MPs were all over the chip content. What about it had attracted only the opposition and not the government? Nothing. Labour MPs were simply discussing it privately, like weirdos.
“@madmanchap there is a lot of chat going on in the @nzlabour leader’s office tonight about your chip categorisation. Totally agree with salt and vinegar and burger rings, but mate, no. 112 for bluebird thinly cut sour cream and chives?! Did you factor in the pairing w onion dip?”
Kiritapu Allan chimed in late. Was she speaking on behalf of the entire Labour Party or just as herself? If it was the whole party… there’s an election next year, Kiri, you can’t be throwing out controversial opinions at this time.
Meanwhile, Twitter users pointed to me as the person responsible for starting the “NZ Chip Wars”. Arguments were happening everywhere I turned and I couldn’t mute people fast enough. But Twitter and Facebook could be ignored. My inbox could not.
I had jokingly encouraged readers to email me at two points in the middle of the rankings, genuinely believing that everyone would skim past on their way to the top 10. The two prompts were:
“Has anyone ever bought this flavour? With all the barbecue kettle chips available, who’s buying this? If you’ve ever bought a packet of ETA Thick Cut Kiwi BBQ chips, please email email@example.com for a personal intervention.”
“How would you like your body to be disposed of? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I received 87 emails from readers detailing how they’d like their corpses to be disposed of (lots of tree planting). I received exactly zero emails from readers who have bought a packet of ETA Thick Cut Kiwi BBQ chips. Nice to know I got at least one thing right.
On Monday a poll was started in behemoth community Facebook group Vic Deals. “I am of the strong view that there needs to be a people’s choice vote to follow the controversial chippie rankings published in The Spinoff,” said the pollster. With nearly 3000 votes cast, Bluebird Original Salt and Vinegar holds a comfortable lead.
I knew there would be no way to please everyone. And a part of me, deep down, knew that I would probably do the exact opposite. But I was surprised at the sheer aggression and time put into people’s disagreements. How could people care enough about their favourite chip flavour to comment on it? Yes, I wrote 3000 words commenting on it but that’s different. Surely there were better things to be concerned about?
And there were. We had debated in the office whether or not we should even publish the list that Friday because of the Christchurch memorial service. Would it seem silly, or inappropriate? In the end, that’s exactly why people got so invested. Like my colleague said, sometimes when everything is bleak and dark and important, you just want to waste some energy on something that means absolutely nothing.
I tried to tell New Zealand what chips they should be eating, and New Zealand (through the medium of one particular Facebook commenter) calmly replied, “shut the fuck up.”
Chips are dumb and anybody who really cares about them is dumb. I don’t think anybody really cared. It was a nice, national performance of faux outrage and disappointment. A temporary respite from the very real and very necessary outrage and disappointment. But regardless of its triviality and insignificance, some facts still remain.
Ready salted is trash. Sour cream and chives is trash. And Burger Rings are chips.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.