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Okay, So How Do You Define "Junk Food"

pinehurst Sep 5, 2012 05:08 PM

Most of us would describe the usual suspects as "junk food": Doritos, M&M's, BigMacs, and so on, right?

But how about when it gets personal?

Due to a health issue this summer, DH and (by natural extension, she-who-cooks) I have been cooking and eating more mindfully, and it got me thinking.

Your favorite burger joint's fries are junk food. Are your homemade latkes junk food?

The Cadbury Creme egg I ate last April is junk food. Is your sister's homemade fudge?

Twinkies are junk food. How about your auntie's honey cake?

How about that bacon burger made on your neighbor's grill?

In other words, do you define junk food by its ingredients (i.e, it has HFCS), how it's prepared, or by the nutritional value or lack thereof, or by what it does to your body? All of the above, or none of the above?

Pinehurst

  1. tim irvine Sep 6, 2012 05:10 PM

    I think I am with jmcarthur. It's the fake ingredients that tip the scale IMHO from bad for you to just plain bad, ergo junk. I lump anything made with canned cream of whatever soup into this category, along with instant cocoa, low fat or fat free anything ( unless it was meant to be fat free, like broccoli), and most cookies that come with pictures of elves on the bag. There is plenty of stuff that might be unhealthy as a regular diet, like pastrami on sour rye with hot mustard, but it is not junk. Fast food restaurants serve a lot of junk, like Burger King's fries, but they also serve some tasty, cheap, more or less real fast food, like Taco Bell burritos with green sauce or Whataburgers. There are a few curious food items that have a lot of fake attributes but a unique and wonderful flavor that lifts them to real food status, not junk, mainly those involving the use of American or Velveeta cheese. I don't think I'd like quest dip made with Rotel and sharp cheddar. It needs Velveeta.

    1. j
      John Francis Sep 6, 2012 03:52 PM

      I know it when I see it. :-)

      1. s
        StringerBell Sep 6, 2012 11:39 AM

        I would definitely classify all of the above as junk food, except for the latkes. They're not exactly the best food but not junk food if you cook them in a good oil. To me the presence of the any of the following in significant amounts (a tbsp of flour or sugar in a sauce or soup to thicken or round out doesn't count) makes something junk food: trans fats, refined flour, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives, interesterfied oils, dough conditioners, etc.

        3 Replies
        1. re: StringerBell
          Motosport Sep 6, 2012 11:45 AM

          An Idris Elba fan I guess!!

          1. re: StringerBell
            jmcarthur8 Sep 6, 2012 02:41 PM

            Agree completely.
            To me, it's the quantity of fake ingredients that make it junk food. A container of natural sour cream is fattening and not necessarily good for you, but it's real food.
            A container of fat free sour cream has this gum and that thickener and artificial this and added that. It's junk food.

            1. re: jmcarthur8
              pinehurst Sep 7, 2012 08:45 AM

              That's a really good answer.

          2. Motosport Sep 6, 2012 05:24 AM

            Tastes great!
            Makes you want to finish it all off!
            Turns you into a junk food junkie!!

            1. bagelman01 Sep 6, 2012 05:11 AM

              as an attorney I view this question as the US Supreme Court viewed Pornography.............

              'I can't define it, but I know it when I see it'

              'No social (in this case nutritional) redeeming features'

              and in the words of my mother: 'Junk food is just empty calories, but gives an emotional uplift'

              A little junk food is a good thing, and like a little pornography, it may add a little zest to your life.

              Disclaimer: I am NOT advocating the viewing or disemination of pornography to minors or that material which may me illegal in your jurisdiction. On the otherhand, I do advocate giving your kids a Twinkie occasionally.

              5 Replies
              1. re: bagelman01
                c
                cresyd Sep 6, 2012 06:00 AM

                I think the idea of "no social or nutritional redeeming features" is a great way to think of junk food.

                Eating french fries/fried potatoes has very little nutritional value - however eating latkes during a Hanukkah meal, or trying your new in-laws hashbrowns at a welcome brunch has lots of social value. Not to the point of eating unhealthy food in excess, but sharing unhealthy food in a social context can have high value. Therefore, if I'm having a bad week and just want fries (or a latke/hashbrown/tater tots) - I see that as junk food. But if my mom is serving latkes at a family meal, then it's part of my relationship with her/my family and I judge it in the whole context.

                1. re: cresyd
                  bagelman01 Sep 6, 2012 06:05 AM

                  You really understand my position.

                  Growing up we never ordered or ate ordinary French Fried potatoes, but in 1969 my parents took us to France and it was very important to experience Pomme Frites....

                  after that we couldn't be bothered with ordinary American fries. That's not to say that if someone makes hand cut homemade fries I wouldn't have some.

                  As for Latkes, hand grated on the box grater and fried, absolutely. Frozen from the supermarket case = junk food.

                  1. re: bagelman01
                    c
                    cresyd Sep 6, 2012 06:19 AM

                    I had a boyfriend, where most Sundays his family would invite us to Sunday brunch at Denny's. There's very little remotely healthy food on that menu and requires a lot of "When Harry Met Sally" ordering to make things more healthy. However, it was important to my boyfriend, important to his family, so I found a way to eat there in a pleasant way. When my grandmother did frozen supermarket latkes - there was value to them - even if it just meant she wouldn't scream at you.

                    The value food has can go beyond the nutrients - however unhealthy food with no social/cultural/religious/other context to it - that's when it becomes junk food to me.

                    1. re: cresyd
                      pinehurst Sep 6, 2012 07:13 AM

                      Yes, I think you verbalized something I've been trying to say...the idea that the food you mention doesn't exist in a vacuum...it has some substance, whether it is simply cultural (rather than nutritional).

                      1. re: cresyd
                        bagelman01 Sep 6, 2012 07:41 AM

                        I am of the opinion that there is a differnce between 'junk food' and fattening/greasy food such as served at Denny's.
                        It is possible to make selections at Denny's (and I'm not defending Denny's) that are not as bad as others. One can get non-fried eggs, fruit (may be canned, not fresh), salad, etc.
                        But that bag of sour cream and onion potato chips screams 'junk food' unless served with your great aunt's onion dip as the family gathers for a get together.

                2. ipsedixit Sep 5, 2012 07:55 PM

                  For me, there is no food that is "junk".

                  It's all good, just a matter of degrees.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    Tripeler Sep 5, 2012 11:24 PM

                    This is a lot like I feel about beer.
                    There is no such thing as a bad beer. It's just that some are better than others.

                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      c
                      Clams047 Sep 7, 2012 09:42 AM

                      never ate at Subway, eh?

                    2. pamf Sep 5, 2012 07:45 PM

                      IMHO, the basic definition of junk food means that the food does not provide enough necessary nutritional elements for the amount of calories that you are ingesting.

                      Therefore, both french fries and home made latkes are about the same. They can both be OK in proportion to the rest of your diet.

                      Same thing for commercial sweets vs. home made. Neither really provides necessary nutrition, but we all love our treats.

                      Same thing for home made burger vs. fast food burger.

                      Then we get into the issue of additives, preservatives, highly processed ingredients that you usually don't get in home made food. Also, the commercial food likely has higher amounts of fat, salt and/or sugar than a home made product.

                      Then there is the issue of how cheap/convenient fast food and prepared foods allow you to consume a lot more of these "junk" calories than you would if you made all of these things at home.

                      1. g
                        GH1618 Sep 5, 2012 07:27 PM

                        A Big Mac (and other similar things) is "fast food" rather than "junk food." Junk food is nothing but carbs and salt (potato chips) or carbs and sugar (more carbs) (glazed donuts).

                        1. mrbigshotno.1 Sep 5, 2012 07:20 PM

                          Nice picture Pine, I find myself longing for days gone by.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1
                            pinehurst Sep 6, 2012 06:50 AM

                            I am with you, obv. Not just for the food, but the culture.

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