A delightful combination of salt and vinegar, barbecue, garlic, onion, and other flavors, The Whole Shabang potato chips live up to their name. The "super-seasoned snacks" -- as proclaimed on the bag -- are indeed full of flavor and are bound to draw any chip connoisseur into its legion of loyal fans. In short, they're some of the best potato chips in existence. But why is it that you've probably never even heard of them?
That's because up until a few years ago they were only available for people with ties to the U.S. correctional system. Those who worked in jails and prisons, the incarcerated, and the people that visited them were the only ones with access.
The Whole Shabang chips are manufactured in Canada and started as one of the offerings from Moon Lodge, a private label brand under the Keefe Group umbrella. The Moon Lodge label is gone, but its parent company is going strong as "the nation’s leading supplier of food products, personal care products, electronics, clothing, technology, telecommunications and software solutions to the correctional market." In terms of flavor, many compare them to the slightly more easily available Ruffles All Dressed, Zapp's Voodoo, or UTZ Carolina Style Barbeque chips. But Whole Shebang chips have been such a huge hit that the formerly incarcerated have created Facebook groups dedicated to their love of the product, and a few entrepreneurial devotees even sold them on eBay to cash in on the supply-demand discrepancy. Some have even joked that they "wanna go back for a couple hours" just to get their hands on a bag or two.
In 2016, the company finally caved to demand and launched an online store to prevent a rise in chip-fueled crime, which led to a series of articles and videos alerting the broader population to the notoriously tasty snacks.
I discovered them through word of mouth. Over the summer, two of my friends hosted "Summer Fridays" at their apartment to take advantage of the relaxed work life many New Yorkers enjoy during the season. The afternoon-turned-evening hangouts often included enjoying a few drinks, having some snacks, catching up about our lives, and partaking in a certain decriminalized substance (and by that I mean cannabis -- sorry mom). It was on one of these occasions that I was first introduced to "prison chips," as they've been called. My friend, who as far as I know has never done any time, had heard of them from yet another.