This is heartening. In the succinctly-titled “Final Version of Junk Food Essay,” a 19-year-old Malaysian woman, who goes by the pseudonym “ngfeiwen,” speaks of her belief that junk-food sales in school canteens should be banned. Childhood obesity and other health problems aside, junk-food packaging creates a lot of ugly and cost-incurring litter. If young people on the other side of the world are worried about the effects of junk food, including litter, there is hope. The author also notes,
Junk foods are often loaded with chemical addictives, many of which can trigger behavior problems, such as hyperactivity and poor concentration.
What is junk food, anyway? According to one widely-used definition, it is “any food that is perceived to be unhealthy and of low nutritional value.” However, “perceived” is quite the loaded word. Perceived by whom? The subjectivity quotient there can only lead to lawsuits. In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow puts it like this:
Junk food is typically defined as highly pleasurable, processed foods, like candy, chips, and ice cream and may include sugar-sweetened beverages and fast food.
People in Haiti are eating mud cookies, dried clay, basically, they’re eating dirt. What wouldn’t these famished folks give for a square meal! And here we are in this land of plenty, where fresh vegetables and fruits may not be available to everybody, but a very large percentage of our population can get them. The mind-boggling paradox is how many of our kids are malnourished. They’re eating stuff with the nutritional value of kitty litter.
To quote a very popular literary work, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Junk is as junk does. To define junk food, we might start with the effects, and then work backwords. Here are a few possible criteria:
1. Is it tarted up in shiny, metallic, brightly multicolored packaging as gaudy as a Mardi Gras parade?
2. Is it delivered with a prize, premium, toy, or other extraneous, inedible object?
3. Can it be found amongst the pricey assemblage of “deluxe junk food” in a fancy basket, offered by a gift service?
4. Are cartoon characters visible on or around the allegedly edible substance?
5. Is it sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, deep-fried, or extruded from a machine?
6. Is it totally without any redeeming nutritional value?
7. Does it contain molecules that not only fail to nourish, but actually cause harm?
The ingredients of fast foods and snack foods have been found to exacerbate or cause such problems as tooth decay, hyperactivity, acne, calcaneal apophysitis, asthma, cancer, acid reflux, pediatric hypertension, bone fractures, premature aging, reduced life-expentancy and, of course, morbid obesity.
8. Is this food necessary to sustain life? Dr. Pretlow’s research has found that, of the foods that cause our kids the biggest “can’t-quit” problems, none are necessary for life, and some are barely compatible with it.
The author of Overweight: What Kids Say then poses a question:
Imagine if a new junk food were developed, which was so pleasurable that no one could resist it, the ‘ultimate junk food.’ Would we want to give that to kids? How close are we to the ultimate junk food?
The ultimate junk food might even meet all eight of the criteria listed above. Until it comes along, here are a few candidates. The fried dumpling, or gyouza, is named as such by Steve Nagata, who took the picture on this page. Fried mac-and-cheese, available at one of the standard fast-food chains, is a strong contender.
Online and in print, thousands of gourmands rhapsodize over their favorite treats stuffed with questionable content. One astute trend-watcher nominates a dish purported to be served at the Google cafeteria: the bacon cheeseburger, bunned by a very popular brand of doughnut. You may view a picture of these astounding concoctions, but we cannot be responsible for the consequences.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Final Version of Junk Food Essay,” Flying Kiss, 05/10/10
Source: “Haiti’s poor resort to eating mud as prices rise,” MSNBC, 01/29/08
Source: “The Ultimate Junk Food,” Blogoncherry, 08/31/08
Image by Steve Nagata, used under its Creative Commons license.