in praise of junk food man repeller
If Loving Junk Food is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right
11.16.18

I

 got halfway through a chocolate milkshake by 11 a.m. yesterday morning. Milkshakes — those made with actual ice cream — are not my typical breakfast beverages, but that’s because I don’t have a typical breakfast anything, beverage or otherwise. If I did, though, it would probably consist of a sweet pastry and a sweet hot beverage that is not exactly a milkshake but milkshake-esque. Can you tell yet that I like sweet things — food and drink and the like? I do. But I also like salty food, and fatty food, so maybe my typical breakfast would be bacon-heavy. Ditto buttery food, so maybe a croissant would do, although a Cinnabon would probably be more fun. A waffle of any variety could work, as I love them all from fresh Belgian to frozen Eggo. One thing I will not stand for, however, is artificial maple syrup. (I’ve got standards.)

Those standards obviously do not extend to banning what many might consider food that is “bad” for me. A cursory search for the term “junk food” in a Google browser and the internet tells me that “junk food is a pejorative term for food containing a large number of calories from sugar or fat with little dietary fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals.” Reading the definition I’m reminded of the Chinese food I ordered last week — I’m very into those little boneless spare ribs right now, the ones that are slightly sweet and always sticky and have a sheen reminiscent of candy apples. I call them meat candy. “The term [junk food] can also refer to high protein food like meat prepared with saturated fat,” Google says.

in praise of junk food man repeller

Of course meat candy is a junk food; everything good and holy is. Herr’s hot cheese curls? Yes — very rare, very bad for you (I assume). Classic Coca-Cola? Sure. Take-out of any variety that has been dredged and deep fried? Duh. Milkshakes and other ice cream-based beverages (old-fashioned sodas, ice cream floats, the less-popular Orange Julius) certainly count, too. And not only do I unabashedly like all these fatty foodstuffs, I consume them.

I admit these truths because confession is healing, and so that others may feel less alone. This is not to say that my eating life is just a loop of late-in-the-week Very Hungry Caterpillar. Besides the occasional milkshake for breakfast, I drink mostly water. I can get down with green juice and will fuck a kale salad up. Broccoli better stay out of my way because I am a fiend for the best member of the cabbage family. But I refuse to police my eating habits to the point of denial, and that means there will always be candy in my bag — even on days when I have sushi for lunch.

I went to dinner the other night at a pretty fancy restaurant in Boerum Hill. My date and I hadn’t made a reservation, so we hugged each other in the cold while we waited for a two top to open in the busy dining room. This was a place to go, a place to be, and the Brooklynites were out in full force looking to enjoy farm-to-table Northern Italian fare in a compact, lumber-lined space. Homemade pasta and fresh truffles have that effect on people. You know what else has that effect on people? Sunchoke fritters. Described as “deep fried balls of goodness served with a sour cream and onion ‘ranch’ dipping sauce” (yes — “ranch,” with air quotes and all), this special was the only menu item that sounded like it was inspired by summers pouring funnel cake/battering corn dogs at the county fair, and the only menu item my date and I agreed upon unequivocally with just a silent glance. (Things are going well.)

Still, I know that if I follow a path lined with golden arches the chances are very high I’ll find my health in harm’s way. I listened to half of The Omnivore’s Dilemma on audiotape a few summers ago, only stopping after it became clear to me that corn is just one genetic modification away from rising up and killing us all as we sleep. I believed Michael Pollan after that too, when he wrote “the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food,” in In Defense of Food. But I have to wonder: What isn’t making me sick? (TL;DR: Everything is.)

in praise of junk food man repeller

Not this bag of Funyuns I’m eating right now, though. I was actually feeling pretty crappy and sluggish before I popped these bad boys open. After eating only a few I am rejuvenated enough to say that whoever made it so that the masses could enjoy onion rings without requiring a deep fryer is genius and deserves a reward of some kind, beyond the riches I’m sure this person has accrued peddling snacks to people like me. And by people like me I mean people who order banana pudding from Crown Fried Chicken at midnight because it’s hard to go to bed without dessert.

I guess what I’m ultimately trying to say is that I enjoy small pleasures. Life is tough, man, and sometimes going HAM on a pizza pie or a Mr. Softee truck makes me forget about all the bad shit for a minute. So I eat what I want. Sometimes that’s a whole pack if Hi-Chews. Sometimes it’s a beet salad. At the end of the day, sugar is an ancient craving! It’s science: Junk food was made to cater to our most cardinal culinary desires. I don’t feel bad for indulging; there is plenty in today’s world making people feel bad for one reason or another. Maybe I’m a hedonist, or maybe I’m just someone who knows the value of a milkshake for breakfast every once in a while.

Photos by Heidi’s Bridge.

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