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Sep 5, 2012 05:08 PM

Okay, So How Do You Define "Junk Food"

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?


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

    1 Reply
    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

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

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

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

          2 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            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. 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

                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

                  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

                    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

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

                      1. re: cresyd

                        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.