"Garbage Food" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary

NOTE: You can hear this on MP3 HERE.

Garbage Food
By Heather Curlee Novak

Today I sat down to a nice pile of garbage for lunch. I  didn’t eat with Oscar the Grouch.  I’m not talking tin cans and banana peels goat-eating-garbage scenario, I’m talking about the drive through.  The golden arches, the bell made of tacos, the redheaded square burger stepchild or the laughable king.  Fast Food is garbage food:  why do I delight in it so?

I never cared much about what I ate as a single girl.  Popcorn for dinner, McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries far too often.  Now that I am older I have read too much, learned too much and aged too much to eat garbage food without thought.  I still eat it, but not as often and not without various levels of regret.   It started with the movie “Supersize Me” by Morgan Spurlock and the disgusting fact that a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries today will look the same in one month or longer.

Now I have two children and that journey from pregnancy to being 100% responsible for feeding other people has again reshaped my view of food.  My husband and I listened to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food as a book on audio on our way out to Colorado last year.  You need thirty hours in the car to get through that sucker but it is worth it.  His newer book Food Rules  is more direct and even comes in an illustrated version. He talks about “real food” versus “fake food”.  Pollan says eat all the junk food you want, just make it yourself!  He suggests we avoid any food product that has more than five ingredients because it is more likely to be a “food like” food item rather than an actual food.

This book changed my husband and I, and thankfully at the same time.  We still eat garbage food, but we know that is what we are doing and so choose it less often.  He takes his lunch to work most days and I bring snacks with me everywhere lest hunger should give me an excuse to “drive thru”.

Yet I do still Drive Thru.  When I should keep right on “driving past” I don’t.  We don’t go inside to eat either.  A fast food restaurant is more a side note as we drive somewhere; it is never the destination.  It is food designed to eat easily in a car.  Food designed to eat in a hurry.  To eat guiltily?  I feel guilty feeding my two year old daughter McDonald’s.  It’s marginally ok if I put it into my body but she has little choice.  What I put in front of her is what she eats. 

As we drive home eating steaming hot French fries, I think of our full fridge at home.  It contains whole grain mac & cheese, leftover from scratch split pea soup, scalloped taters and ham.  I could quickly produce almond butter sandwiches, cheese and crackers and fruit.  Healthy lunch was easily had in our home, yet I cruised through the good ‘ol drive thru.  I have a lusty desire for the sugar-salt-fat trifecta and only a few bucks could easily buy us a fast food lunch.  What is it about the pleasure and ease of garbage food that drags me into the gutter of “food like” food?  How can I drag my  growing daughter in with me?  When I am careless about our food she becomes my scapegoat, eating garbage beside me in a thin veil of comraderie.  I seem to have lost my appetite.

On the up side, there is a growing public awareness and desire for better food.  The website “100 Days of Real Food” offers a variety of challenges, recipes and forums for  people interested in improving  their food choices.  I have pulled recipes from there, shared posts on Facebook and have even tweeted their messages to my followers.  We have begun juicing to increase our intake of the good stuff.  I have actually ordered salad or grilled chicken from the drive through.  I plan what we are eating at home before we leave the house so I am better prepared against quick, easy and greasy choices. 

We keep making better choices and changing our habits.  More and more we keep the car on the road and drive past blinking neon signs.  As Sesame Street‘s Elmo tells my daughter, cookies are  a “sometimes food”.   I have been telling both of us that fast food is a “sometimes food” too.  We will leave the garbage for Oscar, OK my Dear?

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