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There Are No Bad Foods

September 20, 2018

The title of today’s post may sound funny coming from a guy who has railed against almost all of the food found in a conventional supermarket.

It’s true. I can wander the aisles of an American grocery store which are stocked to the rafters with an almost endless variety of culinary diversity and be hard pressed to find a basket full of goods I consider to be food that I would want to take home.

But I need to make an important point of clarification.

We have a terrible way of looking at food, and I blame the Food Pyramid. Sure, that symbol is long gone, but its impact remains. As a society, regardless of which dietary approach you’ve taken to navigate our food landscape, foods tend to fall into two categories: good and bad.

It’s a problem, largely because it’s stupid and it doesn’t work. Bad food becomes the forbidden fruit, and you and I both know how delightfully sweet that can be. Good food becomes the panacea to all our problems and can never hurt us, regardless of how much of it jam down our pie holes trying to fill the void left by skipping out on all that delicious delicious bad stuff.

Don’t believe me? Let’s get naughty.

These days there are so many different diets out there, I can barely keep track of them. Please don’t try to explain to me the difference between Keto, Whole 30, Paleo, and Atkins. You’ll tell me, and I’ll forget in five minutes. None of it has any meaning to my life. Just suffice it to say that I’m going to leave out some of the current “bad” foods. So feel free to add them to the comments.

Let’s start off easy.

Sugar. You want to vilify sugar? Do you hate smiling? Because that’s what sugar does. It makes us smile. It’s a baked in reaction to human physiology. Put a drop on a baby’s tongue and see what happens. So it causes diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and whatever. Sure. But breathing causes dying. A little bit isn’t going to kill you. That can of soda isn’t going to make you blind.

Drinking soda like it was water, and using it as your primary form of hydration? Sure, that’s a problem. But sugar is getting a bad rap here. It’s not the bad guy. Blame the companies that put too much if it in their food. Choose wisely. Consider it the precious treat it is, and enjoy it in small quantities.

Fat. Heck, fat’s too easy. Let’s take the most reviled form of fat on the planet right now. Partially hydrogenated oils. The medical community said there could be no safe minimum consumption of these fats, and now trans fats are all but gone from packaged foods. You can tell because the nutritional labels will tell you everything has zero trans fat.

For the most part, I’m okay with that. Partially hydrogenated fat didn’t need to be in everything. It was a cheap way for companies to extend the shelf life of packaged goods. But is it bad?

Not if you love pie and fried foods. Man, that stuff made some otherwise impossibly flaky crusts. And the way the old Crisco would fry chicken? It was legendary. And regardless what a doctor or nutritionist may have told you, one slice of pie or a plate of fried chicken wasn’t going to send you to the hospital for bypass surgery.

Carbohydrates. Carbs? Don’t think you can come for my carbs. Refined white flour is amazing stuff. Some of the best things in the world are made from it. Pizza. Donuts. Croissants. Pasta. Baguettes. Bagels. I could go on and on for days. In fact, I think I have in years past on some eve of Passover, as I anticipate a week without pasta.

Is it as nutritionally dense as whole wheat flour? Nope. Does it spike your blood sugar, and do god-know-what to your gut biome? You got me there. But we as a species have been eating these foods for a long long time. They aren’t just foods, they are a part of our culture. And something that tastes as good as a properly fermented baguette just can’t be wrong.

Look. I could do this all day.

However, this is the guy who is both currently reducing his calorie intake and also occasionally enjoys deep fried morsels of animal fat, skin, and connective tissue cooked in their own fat. For real. As part of avoiding food waste, I’ll occasionally render down fatty meat scraps. The best part is pressing the liquid fat out of the remaining bits using a strainer, then salting what remains and eating it as a snack.

Healthy? No. Delicious? Oh man.

But I’ll also go days where I may only eat a few small meals of mostly vegetables and whole grains to bring things into balance.

There are crappy versions of foods, like the things they call donuts at the store called Dunkin. There are misleading food items that don’t quite live up to their marketing, like sandwich bread. There are overprocessed food products that might include some ingredients you don’t want to make them sell better, like the carrageenan in chocolate milk or the yellow dye in pickles. There are overly salted and sweetened consumer packaged goods that are jockeying with human physiology for a competitive advantage.

For years I’ve had the same mantra on my Yelp profile. It reads, “Fear No Food” and it still holds true today. If it’s food, I will eat it.

Give me a soda packed full of high fructose corn syrup, and if it’s good, I’ll enjoy it. This isn’t theoretical. It happens. Maybe once or twice a year with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray and more recently with Moxie. Will I buy a six pack of these sweet drinks? Probably not. But that’s a choice not because HFCS is “bad”, it’s just that I’d prefer my sugary treats to be made with a sweetener that I could buy at a grocery store. Plus, I think as a country we grow way too much corn and could benefit from a bit more biodiversity. This is me voting with my wallet.

I’m also an adult, and I drink so little soda that a six pack could be a year’s supply.

Hopefully you get the point. But I’m happy to keep on going. So if you think you have a “bad” food that I couldn’t possibly defend, go ahead and drop it in the comments below.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ewan permalink
    September 20, 2018 10:20 am

    Something that you “couldn’t possibly defend”? Palm oil, given that its use directly causes Amazon deforestation? Elephant steak? Burritos containing the last known African white rhino?

    But on health and availability grounds, I think you do your readers a disservice defending HFCS. [Also, pastry is even better when made with actual lard, and that’s still available.]

  2. Ryan H permalink
    September 20, 2018 11:21 am

    I agree completely. I get annoyed with my friends who are militantly this or that, eliminating whole swathes of food from their diet. To what end? It’s not necessary to reduce consumption of a thing to zero. Down to a level where a nice bagel or fried chicken is a huge treat is good enough. And the fact that I can feel the jittery buzz of a can of soda now that I never drink it is probably a good thing, since it reminds me of how bad it is. I’m into moderation, not deprivation.

  3. September 20, 2018 11:44 am

    Shark fin soup.

  4. Michelle permalink
    September 20, 2018 2:07 pm

    Amen!

  5. albanylandlord permalink
    September 21, 2018 1:53 pm

    I disagree with your premise.

    There ARE a lot of bad foods, even though it won’t kill you to eat them a few times a year. The fact that drinking 6 HFCS sodas over the course of a year isn’t a big deal in the scheme of your overall health doesn’t mean it is not a bad food – it is a bad food but the harm it will cause your body to process the bad stuff with infrequent use is insignificant and you will fully recover.

    The list of bad foods is pretty long, but they almost all fall in the highly processed category with most having lots of HFCS and preservatives. They are engineered by food scientists to hit the pleasure centers of our brain so we don’t even notice if they are all that good. They often have freakishly long shelf lives.

    Wide categories of foods are not bad. Not all carbs are bad. There are sweet things that aren’t bad. Fat certainly isn’t bad.

    What is bad? Soda with HFCS, Soda with sugar too. Boxed donuts, candy bars, That stuff that passes for white bread but can last weeks in your drawer. Gatorade. And yes – Shark fin soup.

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