Perhaps the term “food” deserves a redefinition for this particular case. It could be better defined as “substances” which we put into our bodies for various reasons: hunger, emotion, taste and flavor. These 15 things we love to eat number among the most consumed foods in America and when you really think about it, boy, are they gross.
It clings to child-proof glass and long-necked plastic bottles, comes in single-serve packets, label-wrapped jars, hermetically sealed plastic bags, and spews from pump-powered ketchup houses into tiny waxed paper cups. This sugary red sauce-like substance is ketchup. And we put it on almost anything every single day. French fries get dunked, macaroni and cheese gets plastered, burgers get slathered. It goes on hot dogs, with eggs, in sandwiches and they even flavor potato chips with its essence! It is literally tomato pulp flavored high fructose corn syrup. So why do we love it? Why does it compliment the salty decadence of a crispy french fry the way it does? Why is it perfect on a flame-grilled burger spotted with pickles and onions? Why doesn’t plain vinegar give the same effect so we could skip all the artificial dyes and processed sugar syrup? If there were an answer, there would be something out there better than ketchup. Simply put, there is no tastier substitute. Its lack of competitors and strangely satisfying taste makes it a most-loved food and due to our over-consumption of this unhealthy substance each day, one of the grossest.
We know these paper-cupped portions of beef-fat flavored salt water swimming with mysteriously quick-cooking noodles as Ramen. This instant success was born in 1958 and only continues to grow. It can be breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner. It can last for longer than anyone’s ever kept it around. Its convenience of preparation and ease on the wallet has kept this nutritionally unsound salty noodle soup as a staple in kitchen cupboards of anyone with a tight schedule or budget. Salt, dehydrated vegetables, sugar, MSG and hydrolyzed corn are merely the beginnings of the flavor powder which accompanies every block of dried noodles. A single serving of Ramen noodles provides a whopping 82% of your daily allowance of sodium. Why sacrifice hard-earned money and time when we can just put all that stress on our bodies and personal health with a packet of Ramen?
Okay, maybe we don’t love to eat diet foods, but we like to tell ourselves we love to eat them. It’s difficult to think of a standard food that doesn’t come with a lower calorie, fat, sugar and/or carbohydrate counterpart these days, but harder still is thinking of one that might be less gross than its original seed. Splenda, Sorbitol, and Olestra (a copyrighted word meaning “laxative”) are just a few of the ingredients in reduced-fat, defatted, fat-free, sugar-free, lower calorie, low carb foods we put into our bodies. But it’s healthier, you say! It tastes just like the original without the dreaded fat or calories, so it’s okay to eat the whole bag, right? Right? No. No, Dieter, it is not right, it is not okay. If you want your digestive system and everything that comes out of it to look like the inside of a cigarette smokers lungs, then eat diet foods. The healthiest option? Get over it and eat a little less of the real thing.
It can happen to anyone, at any time. It’s everywhere. Meats, potatoes, vegetables and dough are the most common victims, though Oreos, candy bars, pickles, cheese (particularly mozzarella, though this culprit does not discriminate) and even ice cream are not safe. Typically first dipped in a simple batter (though sometimes left naked) the prey is then lowered into a vat of 375 degree mystery oil where it is transformed into Fried Food. A centuries old staple of the working class peasant, the wealthy gourmet foodie, and everyone in between, the process of turning perfectly good food into greasy, crispy fat lumps has not gotten any less gross. Dolled up descriptions on menus disguise such items as crunchy, crispy, battered, crusted, tempura’d, sauteed, etc. Sometimes the fact that it is fried is not even mentioned. Lucky us when that happens! The happier our palettes are crunching and sloshing around oil-saturated morsels, the more cottage cheese-esque our bodies become, both inside and out. But, like the rest of the foods on this list, it’s damn good.
White. Creamy. Moist. Tangy. Eggy. Now, the combination of these five things hardly entrance a person’s mental taste buds. But it gets slathered on sandwiches, slopped into potato and pasta salads, scooped up in gelatinous globs with greasy french fries and even combed into hair for a moisturizing, yet smelly, effect. Every single day this happens. Some people eat mayonnaise every single day. Now, even putting aside the health benefits this condiment does not contain, imagine trying to eat a sandwich layered with this off-white glop squirting creamy blobs of itself down your chin. You stick out your tongue and get a taste of it as itself and with nothing else… that’s when you realize it’s totally gross. But on things, like real food, somehow, some way it just makes sense.
Take-Out Chinese Food
It’s been 53 minutes longer than usual. Roughly ten minutes ago you checked in with your local Chinese delivery restaurant to make absolutely sure they didn’t forget about you. They’re on their way, they just left, you sit on those words until that inevitable knock knock is heard from just beyond the front door. Money already in hand you bolt, driven by starvation, to your Chinese savior. The transaction happens so quickly the only evidence that it actually occurred is that heavy, grease-stained paper bag inside a rather polite white plastic bag filled with plastic tubs and paper containers. But the environment is not important right now. Nothing is. It’s you and your order.
After it’s all over, the scene is always the same. Broccoli carcasses and noodle remnants lay defeated in thick, oil-spotted sugar sauce sludge. Amidst the deep-fried chicken balls you may have potentially eaten a cockroach. The stench of old fried food lingers along with the bulge in your stomach until sometime the next day. You wake up with a familiar MSG withdrawal headache. But all this still won’t stop you from picking up the phone next time you want lo-mein.
Packaged Pastries (Twinkies)
Smeared with strangely greasy, thick sugars, those hermetically sealed and brand name stamped snack cakes are staples in homes, purses and lunchboxes across America. Bakery goods without the bakery! This fantastic phenomenon of prepackaged desserts encompasses everything from breakfast treats like donuts and cinnamon buns to inspired desserts such as creme-filled chocolate cakes the size of your palm to the King of them all: the poor man’s eclair – the Twinkie. Twinkies contain 39 ingredients including: high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, preservatives and flavor enhancers up the wazoo, but there’s something that differentiates these golden food impostors and the whole Hostess gang from say, Little Debbie or Tastykake (though they’re still gross, too!). It’s that special extra touch of beef fat to hold the whole thing together. Put that in your mouth and chew it.
Bakery Baked Goods
Nothing beats a fresh, sugar-glazed, sprinkle-topped cakey donut first thing in the morning, a crumbly raspberry rugelach with tea in the afternoon, and a slab of frosting covered nut-studded triple-layered chocolate cake for dessert. Cookies, croissants, scones, cupcakes, danishes, anything from your local bakery — it makes the bad days good and the good days great. What can we thank for these sweet delicacies? Well, butter, cream, sugar, and refined white flour are a great start. Then we can thank those fantastic pastry chefs for combining those ingredients that we would never eat individually into one mouth watering start to a day or end to a meal. And thank goodness for those portions! Layer it high and cover it with frosting, pretty please with whipped cream on top and ice cream in the middle?
A bowl of cereal filled with milk in the morning, cheese on your sandwich come lunchtime, butter on your evening potato and a dish of ice cream for dessert; sounds like a typically typical dairy-filled day. All with that fresh from the cow taste! Oh, and the bloating, the bad breath, the weird grumbles from your digestive system too. Just pop some Tums and swish some Listerine and you’ll be right as rain to do the same thing tomorrow! Put aside the countless grams of saturated fat consumed in the copious amounts of dairy products in our diets each day, it takes a long time for prostate and pancreatic cancer to really take effect, right? After all, we can just hit the elliptical for a little bit, and it’s like that pint of Cherry Garcia never happened, right? Oh, and never mind the bovine growth hormones (BGH) which also help speed that cancer up, or even the fact that most cheese is made with the anti-curdling agent “rennet” which is an extract from the stomach of a young farm animal. It’s just so good.
Hot dogs: a summer essential. Deli meats: the fundamentals of lunchtime. Beef jerky and Slim-Jims: must-haves for snack time. The bare beginnings of this ancient form of processed foods dates all the way back to the Babylonian era 1500 BC and oh, how it has transformed. Under the rule of Oscar Meyer, the King of Processed Meat, the mercury and pesticides found in the substances fed to cows (who are then fed to us) is unrivaled by any other time or culture. Hot dogs are almost 90% fat! Curing agents and preservatives such as sodium nitrate and MSG are added to the metallic, chemical meat to bump up the flavor and life span of the mystery weiner nestled in your bun. Have two, colorectal cancer and heart disease aren’t that serious, plus, hot dogs are delicious! So are the meatballs in that can of Spaghettio’s, the nuggets in the Tyson’s box, the pepperoni in the separate compartment of the Lunchables box, the whatever it is in that little tin labeled SPAM, and in fast food establishments at every street corner. Beat that, Babylon!
Heat it up! Pour it on, dip it in, it smothers, it oozes, and when cold, it just stays put. It’s the glue that holds together many an Americans meal, no matter what time of day. American cheese, Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, nacho cheese dipping sauce, cheese cracker sandwiches, Kraft macaroni and cheese powder — oh the many places it goes, and the things that go in it! As real cheese has already been covered, it is time to delve into the apocarotenal colored pool of, for lack of a better term, pasteurized processed cheese food. Chock full of emulsifiers, preservatives and salts, processed cheese melts in a way real cheese never could. Plus, it’s cheaper. However, milk and its counterparts do present themselves in many cheese food products, though not in any way that makes sense to any non-employee of Kraft. The first three ingredients of Velveeta are: Milk, Water and Milkfat. Many questions arise at this point, but the Kraft mac and cheese is ready, so…
Soda, Energy Drinks and Coffee Drinks
High fructose corn syrup is the main perpetrator in this case against the global phenomenon of those sickly sweet sodas, energy drinks, and coffee drinks that we just can’t seem to put down. They’ve made themselves available and appropriate for any time of day, and can be attained just about anywhere. Sure, it quenches our thirst, wakes us up, reminds us of happy times with family and friends and blah blah blah. Barista-prepared drinks (like anything from a coffee shop, yes, even Starbucks) is just a concoction of coffee (maybe), whole milk, sugar syrup, whipped cream, chocolate, caramel — wow, that sounds good. Well, it’s not good for you! Many drinks are less healthy than a Big Mac. Every acidic, caffeinated calorie in soda and energy drinks comes from sugar, namely high fructose corn syrup, and the flavors are anything but natural. Oh, and the large amounts of phosphorous even steal calcium from your body! Someone stop that refreshing, tasty drink!
Packaged Corn Snacks
Here we have yet another food substitute that is acceptably consumed at any point of the day. While the breakfast part is more tolerable in the college kid crowd, no one should pretend they’ve never had Doritos for breakfast at least once. It’s corn so it’s healthy, right? And Frito-Lay in particular knows just what flavors to satisfy us any time of day. So does every single offshoot of the company, and every imitation which followed in store brands galore. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got to eat the whole three serving bag to feel like you’ve eaten anything at all, the corn oil soaked corn meal shapes encrusted with “cheese powder” command you to do so. The regrets are nil until the inside of the bag is shining its polymer shine, your now cheeseless fingers gleam with saliva and your insides shimmering with 300 calories worth of corn oil. But it was so worth it.
A reiteration of most things on this list, though prepared by a high-school dropout. Yum.
It all culminates in this. The number one offender; the reason why we eat nearly every food on this list despite every single blaringly obvious reason why we should not, the grossest of them all yet the most delicious — MSG. This sodium salt of glutamic acid has the incredible ability to make products that, ingredients-wise, could hardly be considered “food” so orgasmic, so flavor-blasting, so delicious that it’s literally addictive. It is of the class of “flavor enhancers” but is so unique in its extreme capabilities that it is also known as a flavor potentiator. Potentiator isn’t even a word. That’s how good MSG is. But as good as it is to our tastebuds and brains, it’s that bad for our bodies and well, brains, too. In addition to aiding a slew of various cancers and mental diseases to manifest themselves later on in life, not only from itself but from the food products it’s added to, it poses many short term issues as well. Burning, tingling and numbing sensations are common as well as a bevy of digestive concerns, not to mention swelling all over the body, headaches, weakness — the list goes on. But, again, as bad as it is, it’s that good, too. Looks like we all have a few life decisions to make.