Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How Evil is Fast Food? Oh...I dunno.

I have a love/love relationship with junk food. I love eating it, and that's about it. I don't hate it, because it's not the food's fault that it makes me get thunderthighs or clogs my arteries. That's my fault for eating it. That's like saying it's the dog's fault when a kid gets mauled by a pit bull - its only doing its job. It's the owners and the breeder's fault. Do you see? I take responsibility for my health in the same way that I take responsibility for my work; if I don't act responsibly the only loser is going to be me. As a result, yeah, I eat far too much junk food, but I also do a helluva lot of exercise, drink ridiculous amounts of water and eat green veg every day. I'm not a fatty, though not through lack of enthusiasm. My mum says one day I'll realise just how disgusting MacDonald's is. I doubt it - I'm 24 now for goodness sake, and I still haven't learned.

Alright, so I think that the cheapness of junk frozen food is an absolute disgrace (given the low income and long working hours of the majority of the people living in the UK today, it's often the only real option for families) and that there should be an age limit on buying fast food (ie. if you're under 12, you should be with an adult - I see so many kids walking home from school eating fried chicken every day and it makes me worry) it is still a viable food option, and I can't deny that. I've been extremely poor for the past few months now, and what I've learned is that although yes, in theory you could grow your own veg, head down to the farmer's market, buy straight from the producers and create healthy cheap meals for pennies, in-between working two jobs and living in the city without my own transport has meant it's bloody HARD WORK and often I just straight can't be bothered. Does this make me lazy? Hugh F-W (my hero) would probably say so.

The thing is though, three pieces of chicken and chips, and a can of juice (and sometimes a bread roll, if the guy at Maxin's is feeling generous/particularly sorry for me) is £1.99. How? I don't know. I often wonder if they are a money laundering operation, but on days where my tips have been scarce, this has been a bit of a lifesaver. Now multiply this by the amount of people living under or on the official poverty line in the UK, and you can see how this poses a problem.

Scrumptious or Shameful? DECIDE, GO ON

Again, I'd like to stress that this is not the fault of fast food shops - they are providing a service people are willing to pay for. The problem here lies with low wages/unemployment and the high cost of healthier foods in supermarkets. In an ideal world, everyone would skip gaily to their local Saturday market to pick up root vegetables still rustically smattered with dirt and pop them into their wicker bicycle baskets, but this is not Trumpton, ladies and gents. Knackered and skint, it is far more likely that  the breadwinner's hunt for food will be done begrudgingly on a Saturday morning in Morrissons (or Tesco, or wherever you usually go for convenience rather than quality) where the striplights and queues dispel any lingering notions of food excitement that were dreamed up on the bus on the way there. You can buy 24 chicken nuggets for £1, because it's buy one get one free on a bag of 12. You can get a head of broccoli for £1. How many meals can you make from each? It really is as simple as that.

I don't have a family to provide for, so a lot of the time I (admittedly foolishly) sacrifice quantity for quality. In layman's terms, I often eat less in order to eat better, which makes me hungry, but makes me feel less guilty. Is this a healthy way to live? Probably not. (By the way, this guilt is often totally nutritionally unfounded, and has a lot to do with my own snobbery - chorizo is ridiculously unhealthy, yet I'll happily choose that over processed low-fat ham.) Our relationships with food are twisted and formed by how we eat as children, what we learn as we grow, what we like, and what we can afford. It's dangerous to tell people what they can and can't eat, because it makes food out to be evil when it isn't. It's irresponsible for the government to push the 5 a Day campaign when there's no real ramifications if you "only" eat two or three portions of fruit and veg each day. Do we need to feel guilty about eating food? Can't we just eat the right amount of whatever we want and do exercise, and not have to sit and listen to thousands of people telling us that fast food should be banned? Doesn't that make you feel patronised? Don't you feel like you know what you're doing by now when it comes to eating your dinner?

I've finished ranting now, but as a sort of side note I'd like to point you towards this experiment that got me to write this blog post. It's about the 12 year old Big Mac and how demonising junk food isn't really doing anything apart from making well-meaning healthy eating campaigners look a bit mental.


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