Snacks Around the World, in Your Inbox

If you’d like to read some Greatest Hits, scroll to the bottom of this post or click the little footnote link at the end of this sentence.1

Snack Stack is a bite-sized newsletter about the cultural history of snacks from around the world. Each email focuses on the intriguing tale of one specific snack, celebrating it on its own terms but also considering it as a lens into larger and more complicated stories like:

Fresh snacks drop every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon (for most USA time zones).

Wednesday posts are free for everyone; to get all three snacks every week and access to the full pantry/archives, it’s just $5 per month (or $52 per year), which is a lot less than you spend on actual snacks.

You can read the archives right here or explore this map of all the featured snacks.

Why snacks?

  1. Snacks are joy. Everyone loves them and everyone snacks in different ways and that’s pretty cool. They’re the ultimate comfort food, something you turn to again and again to get you through the day, essential not because they provide sustenance but because they offer familiarity and satisfaction. 

  2. Snacks are a low-key wonder. You probably don’t think about them too much, but if you do stop and look a little deeper, there’s usually a riveting tale. I mean, at this very moment, Hollywood is working on a movie about the origin of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which turns out to be a whole complicated, contentious thing.

  3. Snacks are highly specific to places and cultures, building on beloved flavors and ingredients—they’re localized populism in a ready-to-eat format. Right now, around the world, there are countless people munching on chapulines, prawn crisps, cokodok, poffertjes, Little Debbie Mini Panda Donuts, and a thousand other things crispy and gooey and sweet and savory and curiously tangy. Snack Stack is your introduction and a teeny-tiny window into places and cultures you might not know much about—and, for the snacks you do know and eat regularly, it offers a fresh perspective by way of the deep-dive backstory.

  4. Snacks provide a break from the bustle of life, and I want this newsletter to serve the same function.

Is it all ~weird~ snacks?

There are definitely some snacks you might not know or might find … not your personal style. But you will not see the words “weird,” “bizarre,” “exotic” (ugh), or anything like that here. What’s odd to one person is usually a normal fact of life to other people—it’s all subjective and dependent on what you’re used to, and that variation is good and delightful and worth understanding and appreciating.

Which is to say: you’ll find some snacks you’ve eaten in the last week and some you’ve never heard of at all, and either way you’ll learn something new and interesting and maybe get a bit hungry. 

What do you consider a “snack,” exactly?

We take a broad view of here, including packaged corporate products (potato chips, Australian food-tubes, potato candies), things you prepare yourself at home (brownies, ants on a log, pakora), and foods you buy from a street vendor (a cotton-candy crepe, a sandwich made with udder meat, Zanzibar pizza). Every now and then, we even have drinks (milkshake-like concoctions from India and Colombia; mauby from the Caribbean islands).

Basically, if it’s something that you might eat between meals (or even as a small standalone meal) or when you’re on the go, it’s a snack. It’s less about the serving size or format than an informal vibe—snacks are typically finger food made with just a few ingredients, and they represent a pause in your day rather a more planned, formalized meal.

Are these long posts? I don’t have time for that.

Nope! Each post is full of deeply researched and fascinating information but it’s usually short, something to read and savor in just a minute or two⁠. It’s a bite-sized break, a quick escape from whatever’s happening in the world or your own life.

I have so many tabs open when I’m working on a post—everything from academic research databases to goofy YouTube videos—but I condense the best stuff into a small package just for you.

Edit, six months in: Some of the posts are getting long, like 2,000 words plus images, but that’s only because some of these topics have never been fully investigated before and YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT THEM.

Why should I pay?

Here’s the value: Snack Stack is a thrice-weekly break from your busy life, cutting through the noise of the world to provide you with wonder, intrigue, and delight.

My goal is to make you—even the cynics—think, “Wow, that’s super interesting!” over and over again. This is one email you’ll want to read every single time (Snack Stack open rates are consistently in the 45%-55% range, way higher than most newsletters). And $5 per month is an amazing deal for all that, no?

Paid subscriptions support the work and allow me to continue offering you snacks—these posts take time and effort and it needs to be worth it for me, too! I enjoy writing this newsletter, but it also helps me pay my bills.

If you want to start with a free subscription—or if that’s what works for your bank account in the long term—it’s all good. Thanks for being here. I want as many people as possible to share the joy (and occasional heartbreak) of these snacks and their stories, which is why I offer one free post every single week. But if you’re able to pay, please do. I’d be so grateful and I know you’ll savor the extra helpings of snacks.

Who’s behind this?

A journalist who wanted a place to write about snacks instead of the somewhat more serious things I usually cover.

I’ve been a travel and food writer for almost twenty years and Snack Stack is a continuation of my love of learning about the world.

You may have read some of my work here and there, but I’m not putting my name on this right now because I’d like to keep the focus on the snack stories—I want this newsletter to stand by itself. It’s more fun and less stressful that way. 

If you really want to know, here’s my real website, here’s my Twitter, and here’s my most recent book, which Smithsonian named one of the Top 10 Travel Books of the Year. More recently, this essay I wrote for Literary Hub, about representing the USA at a book fair in Belarus, was a notable selection for The Best American Travel Writing 2021.

Email me at hello@snackstack.net (or doug@douglasmack.net). I’d love to hear your snack tips, burning questions, etc. Click here for the complaints department.

Is any of this sponsored content?

Absolutely not. I do not accept money or products or any other compensation from the makers of the snacks I write about. It’s seriously just whatever I think is interesting on a given day. 

What’s your favorite snack?

Tortilla chips and maybe a good salsa, something with a real kick.

Sounds great!

Cool. I think you’ll like it. Hit that subscribe button and let’s enjoy some snacks.

1

Greatest Hits

These are some of my own favorites and a good place to start if you’re new here.

Carob

A cultural history and a consideration of the stories we tell ourselves about food—and why it’s important to realize that we sometimes get those stories wrong.

Chinese Chicken Fingers

A reader asked me to look into the history of an obscure Boston-area regional specialty. It turned out to be a tangled tale of colonialism, assimilation, appropriation, and the origins of Chinese-Polynesian food in midcentury America.

Chikki

In Lonavala, India, amidst the celebrity wax museums and water parks, one tourist treat is ubiquitous: a type of peanut brittle called chikki.

Rarebit

How one Welsh snack led to the invention of many much more popular foods in the USA.

Gummi Worms

In the early 1980s, gummi bears and gummi worms arrived in the USA at the same time—and the latter changed candy as we know it, in ways that haven’t been pieced together before.

A Random Snack Bar in Sierra Leone

As an experiment, I tried spinning the globe and finding a snack bar at random, to see if the foods for sale told a deeper story. They sure did, in ways I never expected.

The Six-Foot Hero

For decades, a mystery has persisted in the world of sandwiches: Which of two competing brothers invented the six-foot-long party hero? It’s an issue that tore their family apart, leading to lawsuits and endless acrimony. I dug deep in the archives and found the answer.

Easy Cheese

What can sprayable cheese tell us about the overlap between gender politics and food in the USA? A lot, it turns out.

Hematogen

There’s a Russian candy bar made with blood. The Russians would like you to stop being weird about it.

Chelsea Soda

In the late 1970s, Anheuser-Busch made a soda with a small alcohol content. A moral panic ensued.