Food Policy

Flamin' Hot Cheetos Are the American Dream

I disapprove of what you eat, but I'll defend to the death your right to eat it.


The story of Flamin' Hot Cheetos is the story of America. The illegitimate offspring of a cheese puff and a Dorito, the snacks are a triumph of food science. With their finger-staining red pigment, infinite shelf life, sui generis squiggly shape, and well-calibrated esophageal burn, Flamin' Hots flaunt qualities impossible to find in nature, brought into existence by applying advanced technology to frivolous goals.

The creation story of this irresistible snack is quintessentially American, too. Richard Montanez, a longtime janitor at the Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, California, was watching someone cook corn with butter and chile when inspiration struck: Why not add Mexican spices to the famous corn-based puff? Montanez—who spoke no English—whipped up a test batch, designed some mock packaging, and soon found himself convincing the top brass at the $11 billion subsidiary of PepsiCo to give his idea a shot. It would go on to become the company's top-selling product line.

But this inspiring tale of culinary innovation has an ending that's all too common in America as well. Flamin' Hot Cheetos—especially popular with teenagers—ran afoul of federal nutrition guidelines for foods sold in schools. The delicious snack was eliminated from vending machines in the gigantic Los Angeles Unified School District, as well as in other schools across the country. Pasadena's Jackson Elementary even confiscated the bright orange bags when kids brought them from home. (See "Food Freedom in 2015," page 46.) This miracle of culinary chemistry became a symbol of unhealthy eating—and a target for food nannies everywhere.

People love to fight over food. Anything human beings can digest comes pre-loaded with cultural, biological, and emotional significance, making it perfect fodder for politicians and other scolds who want to start squabbles. From former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's bans on large fountain sodas to the Los Angeles City Council's attempts to zone fast food joints out of low-income neighborhoods, the powerful especially love to dictate the diets of the poor. The results are condescending, with a certain tone-deafness not just to the difficulties of feeding a family on a limited budget, but to cultural differences as well.

As Gustavo Arellano describes in "Drop That Snack!" (page 18), food scolds in Los Angeles are working overtime to take away choices they don't adequately comprehend or appreciate. The targets of their ire make for a varied smorgasbord, from the industrial delights of packaged snack food to the homegrown deliciousness of quesillo cheese and small-batch chorizo sausage.

The snooty are far from immune, as demonstrated by crackdowns on raw milk, superchef Alice Waters' beloved Point Reyes oysters ("Oysters vs. the State," page 66), and wine aged at the bottom of Charleston Harbor ("Illegal Underwater Wine," page 80).

Want to grow your own organic produce on your own land for your own consumption? Too bad, hipster. If you live in Miami Shores Village, Florida, or Ferguson, Missouri, the authorities might make you tear your zucchini and berries out of the ground with threats of daily fines or even imprisonment ("Turf War," page 26).

Still, political skirmishes over snacks shouldn't distract us from the amazing variety on our dinner plates these days. Science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Jack's fast-growing beanstalk, Snow White's shiny apple, even Cinderella's pumpkin coach are magical manifestations of humanity's abiding obsession with flawless, abundant produce.

Yet when technological advances make those fictional fruits into a reality—dozens of apples perfect enough to tempt any girl with poison at every American grocery store—somehow we do not celebrate. We should. On average, Americans now spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, compared with 40 percent 100 years ago and closer to 30 percent just 50 years ago.

And even the cheapest food is far more delicious than it used to be. There are important packaged snack innovations, of course. But fresh food is constantly being freighted and flown (flown!) around the world to become the staples of the American diet: asparagus in mid-winter, fresh salmon 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, strawberries the size of a baby's fist.

Let's not forget those cream-filled cakes that can wait patiently in your cupboard for a year, sliced meats that stay fresh in vacuum-sealed packages for weeks, and grains that are too cheap to meter. The prospect of such a diet would seem like a fairy story to most eaters even a few decades ago, and it still does in much of the world.

Newt Gingrich likes to tell a story of one of the highest-profile Cold War defections. A Soviet official, under heavy guard, is being ferried from his hotel to the United Nations building when he looks out the window of his car and sees a sidewalk produce stand. The sight of the glistening fruit and vegetables sitting on the street—and no one with a gun anywhere in sight to protect the amazing bounty—convinces him that America is a place of such prosperity, domestic peace, and power that it will certainly triumph in any conflict with hungry, angry Russia. He was right.

With copiousness comes corpulence. The waistlines of Americans—especially poor Americans—often serve as politicians' excuse to meddle with our meals. But legislative and bureaucratic solutions nearly always lag or duplicate existing commercial slimming solutions. If you think government is likely to stumble on the right diet advice, just check out "70 Years of Dubious Federal Food Rules" (page 11).

Where elites once dreamed of unblemished abundance, we now fetishize the flawed, the limited, and the local. Today, there are many who find scalability suspect—alarm bells ring at the prospect that something can be mass produced, shipped in bulk, or stored for long periods. Eaters demand to know the geographical and genetic origins of their apples, even if they aren't being brandished by a suspicious-looking old witch.

The idea of eschewing watermelon in all but the last weeks of summer seems questionable, while skipping the carefully bred seedless varieties in favor of the classic seeded option is clearly downright insane. And New Zealand lamb, shipped over on a slow boat with a low-carbon footprint, is one of life's great delights. But if you want to eat local or eschew the bacteria-destroying power of pasteurization, you're in luck, because there are hundreds of companies out there who want to cater to you. I fail to understand why anyone would want to eliminate genetically modified organisms from their diets, since there is no scientific backing for such a decision (page 16). But enjoy your Chipotle, Luddites! My limit for Flamin' Hot Cheetos is probably one bag per year, but if you want to eat a McDonald's sausage burrito every morning, as columnist Veronique de Rugy does (page 14), carry on!

I may turn up my nose at your raw milk and seriously consider a boycott of Chipotle for catering to anti-science nonsense (if only the guacamole wasn't so good!) but luckily, I don't have to like what you're having for dinner.

Politicians will never be able to resist the siren song of food nannyism, and their meddling will certainly cause inconvenience. But even those Flamin' Hot Cheetos have made their way back into schools, slightly reformulated and repackaged to thwart the politicians' intent. As Iron Chef's Geoffrey Zakarian tells reason's Nick Gillespie on page 38, Americans make great food because "we have the ability here to go into business, go out of business, make mistakes, get back up, and just make it happen. Sometimes we fail marvelously, but failure is part of winning." Never mind the nannies—tastiness will triumph in the end.

NEXT: New Mexico Cops Worry That Forfeiture Reform Will Hurt the Drug War

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  1. When I was in high school they carried Jolt Cola (all the sugar and twice the caffeine) in the drink machines. How times have changed.

    1. Jolt was good, but Kick(the hardcore, psycho, nitro, soft drink in a can!) was it.

    2. Ah, good old Jolt, in all its fine flavor varieties. The cola was definitely my favorite, though. Tasted more or less like Pepsi, but with a much better mouthfeel.

      1. we referred to a Moonpie and a Jolt cola as a “Skater Lunch”, in highschool…it was the 80’s

  2. Hot is good. We got some habanero Pringles this weekend, and they weren’t bad for potted potato product.

  3. If they’re the dream, what does that make the hot lava diarrhea they produce in my colon?

    1. An extra feature.

      1. +1. Some people think it is a bug. But I am quite sure that it was designed that way.
        Whatever it takes to keep things moving along………

    2. I’ve never had that happen. Ever. And I don’t consider food to be spicy unless I need to mop the top of my head. Maybe you’re got something wrong with your digestive tract that isn’t processing the capsaicin.

      1. In all seriousness I do agree. I love spicy shit but it doesn’t really do anything to my colon. Oh but double the PPI for my esophagus though.

        1. No ring of fire?

          1. Used to happen to me when I first started eating spicy food, but I now regularly put scorpion pepper on my food, and I just don’t notice it anymore. Acquired immunity, I suppose.

    3. A shame that you didn’t get to taste it a second time coming up the way it came in.

    4. A colonic without the violation? For better results, wash your Flamin’ Hots down with coffee.

  4. “Olestra- You’re sitting in it!”

    We really need more of that.

    1. I chuckled.

  5. I hate those things, The corner Liquor store near my house will quickly sell out every other little snack bag, leaving the flamin’ hots as the only selection until they restock- which they won’t do as long as there is a giant pile of unsold flamin’ hots.

    #It’s hard out here for a pothead
    #first world problems

  6. Am I the only person who attended a high school completely without any vending machines? The things people complain about today, I swear….

    1. My high school had one soda vending machine that raised money for student government (not surprising, right, that they’d ban anyone else from having a soda machine but the student government was allowed to have a monopoly). It didn’t have any good soda in it, though, only the non-caffeine garbage like grape or orange soda.

      1. I’m sure they made the selections based on “health” reasons but aren’t those sodas more sugary than the caffeinated ones? Sort of ironic considering caffeine isn’t bad for you in moderate doses while it is pretty much agreed upon everywhere — except probably in the board rooms of ADM and C&H — that there is too much processed carbohydrates in our diets.

        But I’m assuming you went to high school some time ago. They probably solved the problem by getting rid of the vending machine altogether. Progress!

    2. I…I honestly can’t remember. It’s been over 30 years since I was in high school.

  7. As a crunchy type libertarian, I will pass on from this article without comment. Ain’t my business if you and your family eat that stuff.

    1. I will pass on from this article without comment.

      Except that one, which was enough to convey your disapproval.

      1. I thought it was Sandi who “passed on” everything around here?

  8. “The sight of the glistening fruit and vegetables sitting on the street?and no one with a gun anywhere in sight to protect the amazing bounty?convinces him that America is a place of such prosperity, domestic peace, and power that it will certainly triumph in any conflict with hungry, angry Russia. ”

    Hah… Right. And then if he was in average American city he could have gone down the street and watched people gun other people down in the street. What I like about libertarians is their smug insistence that despite this america’s ridiculously high infant mortality rate and appallingly high gun violence rates–among other things– things are just super great. Of course, they’d get even more super dandy if we just turn the whole thing over to 20-something Apple app makers and the other glitterati in Silicon Valley.

    “Domestic peace”

    I read this as parody. Since the story– and given that it comes from newt Gingrich i take it as fiction– is about the Soviet Union maybe we should take a minute and compare crime rates in the Soviet Union versus the United States. What happened when the Soviet Union collapsed? Things got better, I assume.

    1. Wait, are you seriously going to say that the mass-murdering Soviets had a good thing going on? Fuck you, you evil piece of shit.

      1. S/He has a point. Violence by a police state isn’t a “crime” per se. And when all the little people are afraid of the gulag or Siberian prison or disappearing, they tend not to commit crimes. The answer to crime is to criminalize everything, of course.

        1. What percentage of the population was in prison in the United steps vs. The Soviet Union in 1985?

          1. Does that hurt?

      2. A lot of people in the commentariat seem to be obsessed with how great IT professionals are so maybe I’ll put it in terms they can understand instead of, you know, plain English

        Dim a as string
        Dim b as string
        A=”I think the Soviet Union was great”
        B=”I don’t think the USA is that great”
        If a=b then range.a1=1

        When I type that into excel the little box gives me a zero. Does it do the same on computers at CATO, I wonder.

        1. “Since the story– and given that it comes from newt Gingrich i take it as fiction– is about the Soviet Union maybe we should take a minute and compare crime rates in the Soviet Union versus the United States. What happened when the Soviet Union collapsed? Things got better, I assume.”

          That is a clear implication that the Soviet Union compared favorably to the US in terms of crime rate. And of course your entire rant is a negative response to an anecdote that was discussing how much better the US is compared to the Soviet Union. Therefore the US doesn’t compare favorably to the Soviet Union. So while this doesn’t necessarily the same as US=bad, USSR=good, it doesn’t mean that US is just as bad as USSR. And that is simply a laughable proposition and is demonstrably false. How many folks tried to leave Warsaw Pact countries? So many that they put up walls (i.e. Berlin wall) and have KGB handlers with groups who traveled from the USSR. How many folks were clamoring to get to Warsaw Pact countries from the west?

          1. Fuck, I went and fed the troll. Now he will never leave.

            1. It *was* a trap! 😉

    2. You ever visit the Worker’s Paradise?

      I did in 1984.

      I wish you had been along.

    3. Huh, okay autokrat.

      Your logic is purely Marxian, in that there is no logic.

      Somehow, it’s better to be sent to a labor camp for owning a book or watching a movie or listening to music or saving cash in your home than it is to buy a wide variety of groceries in an open market. Your example of the violent neighborhood is a red herring, especially since crime like that in the US peaked in the 1970s, arguably as a result of socialized housing and redistricting.

      Really, your worldview is that it’s better to have Orwell’s “1984” than to have, oh, I don’t know, “Goodnight Moon” or something. I’m glad you posted this as it shows the kind of autocratic monster you are.

      You got a Stalin tattoo or something?

    4. My guess is that Gingrich was referring to Viktor Belenko author of “MiG Pilot”. I think he was amazed at a grocery store not a fruit stand.

    5. AmSo, you ignorant slut. Our high infant mortality rate is due to the manner of reporting of such deaths. Most countries, even developed ones, do not report an infant fatality as a death unless the child survived outside the womb for 24 hours. (Those that die before that are deemed miscarriages or other categories not called “infant mortality.”) We pretty much save pre-term babies more than all other countries combined because we’re America and we give a shit about them.

      We also have waaaaaaay more guns than other countries. So while we have more gun-related fatalities than other countries, our population is larger than most and we have more guns than all the rest. We also have gun-free zones where the vast majority of gun deaths occur. In areas where guns are not contraband, the gun-related deaths are more in line with the rest of the developed world.

      You probably don’t care about reality as long as your narrative is spewed. GFY.

      1. Bones – Don’t sully his narrative with facts and logic! Utopia demands the Iron Hand of Power to rule the fates of billions (or hundreds of millions after the appropriate cullings of the impure).

        Socialism: The New Kings that have power god-emperors of the past could only dream of.


    6. AmSoc:…..-168.shtml

      “Writing in the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, on March 17, 1973, the Minister for Internal Affairs, N. Shchelokov, declared that “under Socialism crime is not a form of protest against the existing conditions of life [i.e. as it is in the West] but above all the result of moral deformation of the personality, intellectual retardedness and low culture”. Yet the large numbers of persons apparently convicted in the USSR suggest that other factors might also
      be involved. A recent Western report concluded:

      “At present, if we estimate a rough but conservative total of 1,200,000 Soviet prisoners in camps, prisons and mental hospitals (i.e. leaving aside those in exile), then we see that 0.5 percent of the whole population is in captivity. This compares with 0.07 per cent in Britain, 0.16 per cent in France and 0.2 per cent in the USA. The Soviet figure is much lower than in Stalin’s day, but it appears to be growing, and it is 2 1/2 to 7 times higher than the figures for the advanced Western, countries quoted”.”

    7. A guy I fly with once visited Russia. Ended up marrying girl from there. They returned a few times to visit family…during the thawing Yeltsin years. Even then it sucked. Shortly after Putin took over and drove the country deeper into communsim, they returned just once more. Long story short is they will likely NEVER return–its that bad. If you think Russia/communism “is where its at,” then GO! Be there! No one is holding a gun to your head to stay in the US. Don’t impose your utopian foolishness here. OK, since we all you socialists just talk trash here’s an easier deal- go get all your socialist pals, buy some land, and live in your own commune. You can impose all the equality, dictatorial rules ya want! I’m sure you’ll figure out soon enough what Stossel’s “Tragedy of the Commons” episode really means.

    8. America’s ridiculously high infant mortality rate –

      Don’t let facts get in your way…..1rank.html

    9. I’ve lived in several average and large American cities and I’ve never seen anyone gunned down. I’ve gone to bars for 30 years and have never even seen a bar fight. Want to reduce gun violence, end the War on Drugs.

    10. if he was in average American city he could have gone down the street and watched people gun other people down in the street

      Preposterous. How many times have you personally witnessed this?

      Anyone else?

  9. I worked at a low-skill labor type job in Chicago, and one of my coworkers, a big black guy who grew up in Cabrini Green, would eat the shittiest breakfasts. One I remember in particular was a bag of flaming hot cheetos and a candy apple (he said it was healthy because apple). I loved that guy.

  10. People who’ve never gone to bed hungry complaining about other people’s food choices.


    1. Whenever I hear of these aristocrats complaining about the peasants, I picture Mel Brooks’s Louis XVI in “History of the World.”

      Sometimes I think of dandies gasping at hearing that the peasants eat radishes or fainting at the mention of the word “shake” or somesuch.

      Our betters – those who run away from butterflies and puke when eating a bacon.

      1. Its good to be da king!

  11. Definitely gonna get me some more Flamin’ Hot Cheetos!!

  12. You know who else restricted other people’s food choices?

  13. Once again, another controversy that completely melts away if you get rid of all public schools. So many.

  14. Flamin’ Hots flaunt qualities impossible to find in nature

    How DARE you spurn GAIA!!!

  15. 1) I am disinterested in what other people eat (or should be if it weren’t for transfers by Force).
    2) As such, I don’t stand in a position to approve or disapprove as I can barely get myself through this absurdity called life without worrying about what “you” do (that is until socialists put a gun to my head Forcing me to pay into the central treasury and I suddenly become responsible for every pre-Diabetic throwing themselves across the insulin-depletion finish line).
    3) So being disinterested, and don’t feel I need to approve or disapprove, I don’ feel the need to defend you (but now that I have a gun to my head, and I am not able to defend myself against such aggressive Force without either being dead or in a concrete and metal cage, put that shit down you fat fucking pile of monkey spunk and eat some damn celery).

    Ain’t Socialism the bestest ever!?!?!?!?

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  17. The author of this article is a sloppy researcher. Lazy journalism is what has destroyed the America we knew and loved.

    ” I fail to understand why anyone would want to eliminate genetically modified organisms from their diets, since there is no scientific backing for such a decision”

    The wheat that is grown in America was genetically modified in the 1960’s.

    I invite the author to eat a dish of pasta produced in Italy. Record your reaction to the food: length of time to digest, feeling of bloat, etc.. Then do the same thing with a equivalent quantity of pasta made in the USA. I promise you there is a difference, and the Italian pasta digest more quickly and does not make you feel bloated. The culprit is the wheat flour.

    I pray that the author eats all the GMO food she can. She will deserve her suffering.

  18. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,

  19. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  20. Interesting article. There is indeed a Flamin’ Hot product that Frito-Lay has calibrated to meet school standards. It’s actually not half bad. I reviewed all of the Flamin’ Hot products with a bunch of friends at…..ken-wings/

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