February 6, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

Junk Food

Bananas are a waste of time. After you skin them and throw the bone away, there's nothing left to eat.

Charley Weaver (Cliff Arquette)

What is "Junk Food?" I haven't the faintest idea. I have heard the term applied to any food that some adults don't approve of. The term has also been applied to fast foods like those sold by McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell etc.

Are Tournedos Bearnaise served in a fine French restaurant junk food? Of course not! Any food that costs a lot of money couldn't be junk food. Junk, by definition, is worth very little.

It might be easier to define what isn't junk food. Fresh fruits are not junk food, nor are fresh vegetables. Bread or pasta are considered okay. After that, it's anyone's guess.

Milk is not considered junk food, while carbonated soft drinks are. However, water is not considered junk food, which is what those beverages mostly consist of. Of course, none of them, except perhaps milk and drinks made with it, are really food, they are drink. Coffee has no food value, which is why I drink it. I haven't heard Starbucks coffee verbally assassinated, although their prices are ridiculous. I don't even get the benefit of the stimulant caffeine since I use decaffeinated coffee. If you drink Diet Coke, you don't even get the benefit, or harm, of the large amount of sugar in the regular stuff.

Every time that I have dinner with my grandson, I am shocked at the amount of food that he puts away. I don't remember how much I ate when I was his age, but I would guess that it was about the same. I do recall that when we were feeding four kids, our grocery bill was shocking. A teenager can put away a large pizza, while I make a meal out of a 1/8 slice of a medium pizza.

Many of the things labeled "junk food" are nutritious. A Whopper or Whopper Junior contains meat, fresh tomato and lettuce and bread. Potatoes in any form are nutritious. Top it off with a piece of fruit and you have an adequate lunch. Add a cookie for the soul and you have a good lunch. The same can be said of pizza. For a growing child, a glass of milk would be a good addition, while a soft drink is just sugared water, sometimes with caffeine added.

When my kids were going to nursery school, Kool Aid was the beverage served. It is just flavored and colored sugared water in contrast to real fruit juice, which has some food value.

People can develop a taste for just about anything. The British in the tropics had to take quinine daily to prevent malaria. Quinine is very bitter, so some genius discovered that quinine water laced with gin was a tasty drink and it made you feel good; hence Gin and Tonic or, as they called it, Gin and It.

Hospital food is prepared by a registered dietitian and is therefore, by definition, nutritious. When I spent time in a hospital, the food was almost inedible. When I say that it tasted worse than army field rations, I am paying it a complement.

In short, what is called "junk food," is something that someone doesn't think is good for you. They, like my late mother, think that they know what is good and bad for you and you had better listen. Therefore, they demonize food that they think is bad. Junk food to a vegetarian is different from junk food to a carnivore.

Children are starving in North Korea, so we should be thankful for all of the junk food that we have here.

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