VEGIPS

Brand: Calbee

Cost: 148 yen

Found At: Lawsons

 

When I first came to Japan, I imagined the convenience store was some sort of bastion of egalitarianism. Rich or poor, young or old, powerful or powerless, I assumed that everyone shopped at the same convenience stores and ate the same snacks and sweets. Partially fueled by the midterm elections and partially fueled by a glass after-work wine, I daydreamed about cultural unity across the economic divide. If only America had a Japanese Lawsons, I thought. Then maybe we could see that we are not so different. At 3am, we’re all buying the same tampons and cheese cubes.

But as with all utopias, this dream was too idealistic to be real. In truth, not all convenience stores are created equal.  Or more specifically, not all Lawsons are created equal. There is, of course, the Lawson proper, with the bright blue milk jug logo and no-nonsense logo beckoning you in from the cold to buy rice balls and canned coffee. This is the everyman’s convenience store. But it’s not alone. Around the end of the month, just before the paycheck arrives, there is also the Lawsons 100, with its jolly, green logo and dollar store prices and a rotating selection of reasonably-priced fare. The food here is a little less fresh, the brands a little less familiar, and the portions a little smaller. It is the Lawsons of the scrimper and the saver and the budgeter who did not follow her own rules this month. But for the beginning of the month – for the paydays and birthdays and Fridays – or for the denizens of the upper tax brackets with their generous paid leave, there is a Lawson’s, too. The rare and beautiful Lawson’s Natural.

The Lawsons Natural is what happens when hipsters get money. The bold Lawson blue is replaced with a more sedated red and brown logo next to the image of a sun-ripened grain. The metal cases are replaced with wood paneling, the harsh fluorescent lights are replaced with warm LEDs, and the cheap and cheerful food is replaced by healthy, organic, minimalist fare. It’s the Whole Foods of the convenience store world, but despite its classist overtones, I’d probably shop there if I knew that I could afford it.

Out here in the suburbs, there are no Lawson’s Naturals, but in recognition of our plight, our local convenience store stocks a few choice Lawson’s Natural products to appease the more affluent residents of Mizuho ward. And that’s where I found these vegips – a snack named by means of a portmanteau of vegetable and chips. Leaving off the unfortunate associations of the name, these chips are amazing! I expected these freeze-dried slices of pumpkin and sweet potato and carrot to be foul, mealy, tasteless chunks of former vegetable. This has certainly been my experience in the past with dried autumn vegetables. But when I finally worked up the courage to try one, I discovered that they were crunchy and flavorful and that I genuinely wanted to eat more. I can only sit and marvel again at the wonders of the Natural Lawsons – a place where the chips are healthy and the health food is tasty. What a time to be alive.

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