The Better Binge

Dec 2, 1998 at 12:00 am

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

I believe it. You'd need three or four memories to recall and take all the herbal elixirs suddenly available to jack up everything from your metabolism to your spirits. Not long ago, if your mood began to sag like a cheap bra you might impulse pop a few M&Ms and your morale would stiffen. Now, between the ginseng gum, PMS tea and bottles of St. John's wort promising more healthful vigor, it's a wonder we're not all in a very centered road company of Up With People.

But after looking at products that sound like they 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 get the M&M's and forget it.

Comfort food is simple and much cheaper. Eating makes most of us feel better and most of us don't forget to do it.

Eating, especially eating potato chips, is comfort in itself, but now there's a guy who wants not only to comfort you, but to make you serene, smarter and have a longer life through chip bingeing.

The guy is Robert Ehrlich and, with the help 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 available. 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 heads off. But if eating potato chips gave you personality, I'd have a one-woman show on Broadway running from now till the end of the world.

According to an Associated Press story, many in the medical field are dubious of sanity through snacking, with one professor comparing the chips to "penicillin pie."

Also, in order to get one daily dose of St. John's wort, you'd have to eat six bags, which would come to 5,040 calories a day in chips alone. To work off all that happiness, you'd have to be on the StairMaster 10 hours a day. You'd probably lose your job, which is bound to depress you all over again, not to mention thwart 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 for that matter, the nickname "lardass" is going to bring you right back down again.

We got one of the few remaining bags of Ehrlich's Gingko Biloba Rings at a local health food store.

The onion-y taste was like a low-fat version of Funyans (in other words, like Funyans if they weren't that good). After about an hour I was asked if I felt any smarter.

"I said something really good to a friend in the car," I replied, but it took me three hours to remember what I had thought was so damn witty. That seemed, if anything, a little poorer recall than usual.

So the gingko rings didn't hurt, but they didn't seem to help much either. And then, too, I'm more the kind of person who would prefer to dull the day's events with a couple of beers, rather than bring them into sharper focus with salty, reedy herb-dusted snack foods.

Having your brain chemistry altered by potato chips seems a little weird, but things we consume are chemically enhanced all the time. Water is fluoridated. Cows are shot up with growth hormones so you can get a bigger steak.

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 in some real pharmaceuticals instead of dusting potato chips with dippy herbs?

Why not some Prozac Pop-Tarts, so those who begin the day staring into the dull meaningless void of a godless existence can cheer the hell up while enjoying a brightly decorated frosting shellac? Or maybe Darvocet Ding-Dongs, packed full of wholesome tranquilizers, not to mention a slight chocolate high? How about some 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 lace with Rufinol and Viagra. Lay's.