A Place for Junk Food?

On my last road trip, although we managed to avoid fast food restaurants,we didn't manage to avoid all junk food. And, in fact we didn't even try that hard. We made a gas station stop on our way home, and ended up with some barbecue Pringles and some Cheetos Puffs.

As we ate them, a flood of sensations came over me--one part nostalgia at eating these sorts of foods at slumber parties throughout my youth, one part pleasure in those evolutionary roots (or whatever it is) that make us crave fats and salts, one part feeling gross at the build-up of artificial flavors in my mouth, and, yes, one part guilt that this food didn't meet any of my standards for what I put into my body.

In trying to reconcile all these varying feelings, I thought of a picnic earlier this year, where a friend of mine (and a sometimes-reader of this blog) reached for some chips (cheetos, I think) and then looked at me apologetically and said, "I'm sorry, Anna."

That she felt like she needed to apologize to me for eating this processed food product really struck me. On the one hand, I was glad that those who know me saw me as a healthy and conscious eater. On the other hand, I wondered what sort of judgmental behavior I had previously displayed that had made her feel she had to ask my forgiveness in order to eat this sort of indulgence. 

Because it's certainly not that I think there is no place for junk food in our lives.  I mean, I suppose I'd prefer that there be no junk food (and by this term, I mean especially the highly-processed, unpronounceable-ingredient-filled junk that is sold at gas stations; not necessarily sugary or salty treats prepared from whole foods at home or in high-quality bakeries). But, given that so many of us grew up with junk food as a central treat in our lives, I understand the emotional comfort and nostalgic pleasure associated with these foods. And often, when they are on offer, they are hard to resist.

I get that.

And yet, I still wonder what place this junk food really should have? How to deal, for example, with the issue of junk food in the lives of my future potential children? Do I let them have it only rarely, such that it is seen as a treat? Or do I say no to junk altogether? What are the possible repercussions to this latter approach?

What do you all think? What is the place of junk food in the lives of conscious eaters?


  1. I often find myself faced with a similar dilemma.* I never buy "that sort of stuff" for myself, but usually can't help but eat it when it's on offer, either because it's so addictive or because I don't want to be seen turning up my nose at yet another thing that everyone else does. The question of children really complicates the issue - being an environmentalist seems to me to require that I remove myself from the dominant culture in so many ways, from food to commerce to entertainment. Could I impose these preferences and standards on my kids as well? Can I imagine my own childhood without bowls of CoolWhip and hours of Nintendo?

    The good thing is, the preceding questions assume that I would even have a spouse interested in similar things, which is an unlikely proposition in itself, from the look of things.

    Anyway, now that stuff has a taken a turn towards the personal, I'll tell you what non-fast-food snacks I've been enjoying over the past few weeks: dried jujubes and sliced, dried shiitake mushrooms. The jujubes are sweet and almost maple-y, and the 'shrooms are really
    rich and nutty. Two of the flavors we're looking for in snacks, minus the additives. Plus, dried stuff like that takes a while to munch on, meaning that even if it costs more, it lasts longer. And it doesn't leave you feeling gross and regreftul, just hip.

    *While you avoided that word to escape JH's logical wrath, I hereby openly invite it...

  2. You are indeed hip! ...And don't be so quick to assume "the look of things" will continue unchanged. Just pass around some dried jujubes and dried shitake mushrooms,and the future like-minded spouses will come running! Surely!


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