Katherine Mangu-Ward on Why Flamin' Hot Cheetos Are the American Dream


The story of Flamin' Hot Cheetos is the story of America, writes Katherine Mangu-Ward. 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. They would go on to become Frito-Lay'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.