Garbage in, garbage out: the joys of junk food
The following paean to junk food is sure to wreck some of my haute cuisine credibility. So be it. Lots of food bloggers, this one included, spill a lot of digital ink waxing poetic about their various culinary exploits. On occasion, we explore the upside of a "low" food like doughnuts or fish and chips, but we never come clean and admit a fondness for unmitigated crap. And for good reason.
Over the past forty-odd years, there's been a revolution in the importance North Americans place on food. We dine at the finest restaurants, demand ethical, local and seasonal ingredients, and spread the message of The Omnivore's Dilemma with almost evangelical zeal. Mea culpa. But here's the rub: it's just not cool anymore to confess a love for processed snack foods.
It may come as a shock, but back in my high school I was extremely overweight. So heavy, in fact, that I failed my first medical examination as a seventeen year old trying to enlist in the naval reserve. "Lose five pounds in ten days," they said, "and we'll let you join." And I did. Actually, I lost ten pounds in ten days, enlisted, then kept the weight off by enduring two basic training courses -- one for junior ranks and one for officers -- in three years. All those push ups helped me drop a lot of excess pounds, and a serious adjustment in my outlook towards junk food has helped me keep them off for more than fifteen years.
But old passions die hard. Underneath my devilishly handsome exterior lies the soul of the fat kid I used to be. And that fat kid loves high fat, overly processed junk food, especially while indulging in other guilty pleasures like watching reality television or reading John Grisham novels. Take President's Choice Chocolate Fudge Crackle vanilla ice cream, for example. This was a love at first bite relationship for me, and lo these many years I still eat every bowl the same way: I try to eat my least favourite, but still delicious part first, the actual sweet vanilla cream. This delicate evolution involves maneuvering my spoon around the shards of fudge crackle, my favourite element, which I try and save till the end. When successful, my final few spoonfuls are little more than bundles of fudge crackle with melting dollops of ice cream throughout. I love the exterior crunch and rich interior texture of the frozen fudge.
It comes at a price, however. A quick glance at the ingredient list reveals that the main ingredient in the fudge -- which is probably more accurately described as "fudge" -- is modified palm oil, a saturated fat that adds taste and contributes to that glorious texture, but not without sacrifice. Put plainly, this treat is horribly unhealthy, though a little research reveals it to be a paragon of virtue when compared to frozen delights from Haagen-Dazs and the Birkenstocked assassins, Ben and Jerry.
If only my vices stopped there. A good cookie is a delight almost beyond measure, and few please me as much as chocolate mint Girl Guide cookies. Frozen of course. There's nothing like popping three or four of them into your mouth in quick succession, feeling the ice cold disk chill your tongue, then biting down and letting a brisk wave of mint hurtle over the palate. We tried creating some homemade ones as Christmas gifts last year, but the originals proved to be inimitable. Much like the "fudge" in my favourite ice cream, these cookies contain an ingredient that only modern food science could love: "chocolatey coating."
The one aspect of my dieting days that I've never been able to shake is a penchant for diet pop, especially Diet Dr. Pepper. Of my many regrettable food passions, this may be the one that troubles Rachel most. She shuns diet colas for their chemical taste and drinks very little pop in general. But I've now become so accustomed to their taste that I find regular, sugar-laden pop cloying in comparison. Besides, there's nothing like an ice cold cola accompanied by a salty snack like buffalo wing and blue cheese-flavoured potato chips, a recent addition to my trashy food hall of fame.
I'm not trying to denigrate anyone's eating habits, nor do I disagree with the broader message of writers like Michael Pollan, who insist that we put a little thought into the food we put in our mouths. I just think that a love el Bulli shouldn't have to preclude trying and loving different kinds of foods. Foods like my latest accidental discovery at Sanko, my local Japanese food store, and it's sure to be my next junk food addiction: Japanese vanilla bean Kit Kat bars.