By Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
I’ve never considered myself a snacker. I eat two and a half to three solid meals a day, and it’s usually enough. Sometimes, I have the occasional sweet tooth in the afternoon when I grab one of my mom’s home baked cookies, or get a bag of peanut M&Ms from the vending machine, and because it’s so rare when I do this, I never share. I don’t eat half and put the other half away. I eat the whole bag, guilt-free.
I’ve never been one to ignore my desire to indulge on foods I “shouldn’t” eat. When I go to the movies, regardless if I just had dinner, I will order an extra buttery popcorn. Sometimes right before bed, if the mood strikes me, I’ll hop in the car in my PJ’s and build me a frozen yogurt—vanilla with crushed Oreos on top.
I do consider these indulgents as “treats.” Not that I’m rewarding myself for being “mostly good,” because don’t worry—Monday night I ate an entire box of mac and cheese, Tuesday I had two too many tacos, Wednesday I went for pizza buffet and Thursday I gorged myself on fried chicken. I seriously just haven’t ever felt the need to eat between meals. However, I did marry a man who does and this posed problems when he moved in.
Wanting to make him feel at home, I tried to keep all his favorites in the house. But what do snackers enjoy? Wandering up and down the aisles at the grocery store didn’t give me a whole bunch of direction. There are entire rows devoted to snack foods. Chips, cookies, pretzels, candy, donuts, Little Debbie snack cakes, even chips, pretzels and candy combos all packed together in the same bag! Did he want salty? Did he want sweet? What would I choose if I snacked? I got Doritos—always a winner—and the Little Debbie brownies I have fond childhood memories of. Turns out those were both good choices, but he needed and wanted more.
I quickly learned that sweet tarts and sour candies are his favorite, powered donuts, canned nuts, pork rinds, Munchos, Bugles, pretzels, all Little Debbie cakes, sliced cheese, SpaghettiOs and sugary cereals were to become a “staple” in our house. My pantry quickly looked like I was providing food for a teenage boys’ baseball team, and a dentist bill that would make you weep. However, he’s a grown man who makes his own choices and I’m not one to judge. Besides that, I regained a fondness for Captain Crunch Berries and a bowl of them swimming in full fat milk right before bedtime is sickeningly satisfying no matter how old you are.
No one would tell you these foods are good for you. That’s what snacking is—enjoying sweet, savory or overly salty foods that offer no nutritional value to your diet, while certainly adding on plenty of calories. How many times have you ever heard someone shortly after dinner say, “Boy! I sure could use some celery sticks right now!” Yeah, like never, right?
Snack foods are typically junk foods and that’s what makes them so delicious. I’m sure there are plenty of theories of why we love these “bad for us” foods, but really… who wants to psychoanalyze a Moon Pie? If it tastes good and you feel happy after eating it, then I rest my case.
Junk food is defined as “food that has low nutritional value, typically produced in the form of packaged snacks needing little or no preparation.” Junk foods are chock full of all the yummy things dietitians tell us are bad for you. We need vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in real food that we need to keep our bodies going.
Junk food lists consist of chocolate, candy, cookies, cake, donuts, muffins, pastries, white bread, chips, peanut butter, ice cream and fast food. Nutritionists would suggest we stay away from these foods all together, except when you absolutely need to curb a craving. They suggest things like eating a very small amount of high-end dark chocolate or “splurge on a half-pint of fresh raspberries swimming in fresh cream.”
I’m not sure how either of those would be considered junk foods. Dark chocolate has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food, as well as containing high amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. If all of these things are good, then why is junk food bad? And if the only type of junk food we should indulge in is actually good for us, then it isn’t junk food at all and what’s the point?
This leads me to conclude that labeling junk food as “low nutritional value” is a bit unfair. After all, iceberg lettuce rates very low on the nutritional value scale. While, pizza—which some say is a junk food—even though the best slices are high in calories, provides your body with fats—and not just the bad ones—carbs, fiber, Vitamin A, Calcium, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Iron, Vitamin B-6 and Magnesium. I feel just the slightest bit offended that my favorite food gets picked on, if you couldn’t already tell.
Vincent Marks, co-editor of the book, “Panic Nation: Unpicking the Myths We’re Told About Food and Health,” says, “To label food as ‘junk’ is just another way of saying, ‘I disapprove of it.’ There are bad diets-that is, bad mixtures and quantities of food—but there is no ‘bad foods’ except those that have become bad through contamination or deterioration.” (I could make a bad joke about Blue Bell ice cream right here, but I’m not going to. I dearly miss my beloved Homemade Vanilla. Blue Bell, come back soon. Texas misses you.)
Wikipedia says the term “junk food” probably originated in the early 1950s in an Ohio newspaper with the headline, “Candy, Cake, ‘Junk Foods’ Cause Serious Malnutrition,” where a doctor said “junk foods” are anything made with white flour or refined white sugar or syrup.
In the early 1970s, these “junk foods” were reiterated as unhealthy from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It kind of took awhile for Americans to believe this, after all the average American eats nearly 25 pounds of candy a year, but we all know at least one person who has sworn off white flour, don’t we?
Regardless of what exactly is a junk food, or the history of the term, junk food is darn tasty and for whatever reason, July 21 has been unofficially deemed, “National Junk Food Day.” Who cares really why or how National Junk Food Day came to be, because only grumpy people say it’s a lame excuse for lobbyist and food industry folks to encourage Americans to buy more food. Because, hey, guess what? I’m an American and I certainly don’t need any convincing to buy or eat more good food!
So, to all you snackers out there, all you junk food junkies, today is your day! Embrace your love of Twinkies, Doritos, cheese puffs, donuts, French fries, chips, cookie and Snickers. Mix your M&M’s with your popcorn. Take a handful of gummy bears, honey-roasted nuts and Hershey’s Kisses all at once in your mouth, because today we celebrate all those foods that may not hold much nutritional value, but do hold a heck of a lot of happiness.
Red Cross workers know that during a crisis people need that release of “feel good” feelings to help sustain and carry them through the incident. By definition, a majority of the snacks on the Red Cross trucks are processed foods, but they offer some nutritional and emotional filling for the disaster victims.
What is your favorite junk food? Tell us in the comment section.