Chocolate Chip Cookie - sm - ©

Sunday Musings: Should ‘Junk’ Food Be Considered ‘Wasted”?

Following up on our recent piece about food waste, something to think about this frigid, wintry Sunday morning… Should over-processed, nutrition-poor ‘junk’ food should be counted in with all the other types and classifications of ‘wasted’ food? And how should we redirect the source ingredients?

Recipe for Obese Kids - © dhawkdesign.comKids, especially, are prone to binge out on Junk food and neglect good,
nutritious foods in their daily routines during ‘unusual’ times – like now.

After sharing with myself a little joke about whether ‘junk’ food should be considered ‘wasted’ or ‘waisted’ (probably both, really), I got right down with thinking…

Is Junk food actually wasted food?

I think any reasonable person would agree – on reflection. I mean, even a food pro like me would take pause before responding aloud to that question. After all, Junk food persists as a huge feature on our global food landscape and is the basis of a $1 trillion industry worldwide.

On one hand, think of the money that circulates in the economy thanks to Junk food sales. Think of the homes, families and communities Junk food supports. I remember the crisis that the town of Smith’s Falls, not far from my city (Ottawa, Ontario; my nation’s Capital) faced when the Hershey’s Candy plant there closed and moved production of the many brands and products made there to Montreal and various other existing plants in the U.S. It was like kicking a ladder out from under that whole region’s economy.

On the other, think of all the nutritious products we could make from the basic ingredients that go into Junk food every year. I guess the fundamental question we’re asking today is, “Could those ingredients be used in ways that would contribute to providing healthy food to help folks weather the impending food insecurity crisis global warming bringing us over the 20 years or so?

Some arguments in favour of the ‘wasted ‘ label

As mentioned above, Junk food is nutritient-poor, filled with overdoses of Sugar, Salt and saturated Fats. Sure, manufacturers are continually trying to find ways to make it more nutritious. Burger and other ‘main dish’ pushers have made big hay lately from publicising how they intend to move to plant-based substitutes for the meat and other ingredients they use in their menu items. But cereal makers, as just one example on the other hand, are busy just now bringing back ‘retro’ and ‘legacy’ products that are more Sugar than cereal, for the sake of amusing and engaging pandemic-bored customers. And the binge-eating crisis that is growing out of the continuing pandemic-induced laziness that’s creeping into all our lives is contributing to a general deterioration in the health of millions of self-isolating home workers and even less-active than usual kids.

In short, we could be doing a lot more with the basic ingredients we have. Making them into Junk food is, in its own way, a lot like culling ‘ugly’ food from the food chain, not even giving it a chance to help feed millions who are already going hungry due to climate change in equatorial areas.

Some good arguments against the ‘wasted’ label

A lot of folks would disagree with the foregoing arguments. Especially those who love their Junk food and have even schedule ‘cheat days’ into their weekly and monthly lock-down routines. Even sister Erin and I indulge in periods of 2 or 3 days at a stretch during which we always have  a bag of corn chis and a couple of jars of Salsa or Garlic dip open in our little office. Yes, we pig out. No we do not apologise; we do rationalize that this otherwise reckless behaviour can be justified in the name of breaking the seemingly never-ending stream of boredom-, stress- and distress- filled days.

Far from being wasted, on days like those, we consider the odd Junk Good binge an essential ‘treatment’ for the emotional upset and – at the extreme – the kind of craziness and acting our the psychologists have been warning us could result from our current ‘wartime’ lifestyle, which I’ve hard compared to assigning a claustrophobic submarine duty.

Rather than being wasting food, it could be argued that supporting the junk food industry, especially at this particular time in history, might better be considered an essential duty.

Some notes on how to repurpose wasted food…

At its most basic, the question of re-purposing basic food ingredients away from Junk food manufacturing and toward making good, nutritious, staple foods is simply one of recipes, proportions and nutritional balance. Pasta, for instance, is (at its most basic) flour, water and eggs. And folks in large parts of the world consider pasta (noodles, macaroni cous-cous, and so on) an essential part of their daily diets, without which they could not survive.

All cuisines require fats to be nutritionally balanced, as well for preparation (frying and other cooking processes).

Even sugar is an important ingredient in many dishes, some of which you don’t even realize it’s used in. Did you k

And salt is an central component in the list of essential nutrients we all need to support life.

Which brings us around again to our central premise: There are lots of ways to repurpose Junk food ingredients; it’s just a matter of balance and proportions.

On balance…

At the best of times, Junk food has (at least since the late Victorian era) been considered one of the ‘permissible sins’; like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Cannabis – which as made legal for recreational use a couple years ago here in Canada – is another story for another day, as is the fate of the community of Smith’s Falls, whose defunct Chocolate factory has been turned into a monumental, legal marijuana grow op.

What other arguments can you come up with, pro and con, about the proliferation of Junk food, and whether it should be considered a waste, or a boon?

We invite you to share them with us, here at Maggie J.’s Fab Food Blog. Meanwhile, rip open another party-sized bag of Tostitos, crank open another jar of Salsa, and decide what you’re going to stream next…

~ Maggie J.