Those Great Pumpkins

Who among us hasn’t nibbled on Velveeta, grabbed a can of hash, scarfed down a baloney sandwich, or smuggled Spam into the pantry when no one was looking? A quick spin through the drive through, a nuked frozen entree, a bucket of fried chicken, or a sugary smoothie. Colored, candied breakfast cereals, fatty, salty luncheon meats, french fries, doughnuts, the assault is endless. And Americans keep coming back for more. After all, didn’t Elvis nosh on fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches? Fit for a king.

Bad foods fill a purpose for convenience, affordability and just plain hopeless cooks. Want pancakes? Fire up the microwave. Want muffins or donuts? Some shops even have drive-through windows. Coffee? Hey, we all know where we’re headed for a tall mocha latte. Lunchtime. McDonald’s here we come (burger, plastic cheese, large soda and fries, extra ketchup). Or worse, the company vending machines. Maybe they have those peanut butter cheese crackers. Dinner? Can’t beat pizza or chicken. Eating in the car, albeit dangerous and messy, is justified when you can’t wait to get home and roll out the forks and napkins.

Pseudo healthy food shops have exploded, the most popular form being juice bars, where you can buy a smoothie loaded with fruit (and sugar), maybe add just a little sherbet, and oh yeah, throw a dollop of protein powder in there. Hey, ma, I’m eating healthy. Whoops, ma is in line behind me.And then there’s those Chinese food stops, fast in and fast out, with veggies and meats. Well, yes they’re drowning in breading, cooking oil and MSG, but it’s, well… you know the rest. Where would Americans be without their beloved pizza. Loaded with sodium, fat and white flour, better throw on a few veggies just to balance out that meal. And yes, extra pepperoni, please. It’s pretty healthy, isn’t it? Tomato sauce is a vegetable.

Perhaps this is why trained and creative chefs have become such celebrities. How we love to watch them spin their magic, whipping up a delicious meal on their half hour show with wholesome ingredients picked fresh from their glorious, manicured gardens. Rounding it all off with a glass or two of fine wine. Takes history buffs back to those amazing and calorie-laden dinners we read about that once were served by third president Thomas Jefferson, a foodie of the nth degree. Of course, there was no convenience food back then, everything was grown fresh, and Tom had a French-trained chef slaving over a hot hearth. But for most of us who have our noses pressed against the windows of great homes occupied by celebrity chefs and their immaculate kitchens, we can only fantasize as we sit in front of the TV wolfing down our nuked dinner and a can of beer. Fish sticks for the kiddies.

Weekends are bad food heaven. Chips of all flavors, cheesy dips, soft drinks, beer, hot dogs, canned chili and lots of store-bought cookies and ice cream. No need to make dinner with all that snacking. But if you’re still hungry, just dial-up the local pizza place that delivers. You deserve a treat, and you’ve eaten nuked dinners all week, so how about some freshly made food arriving in 30 minutes guaranteed. Maybe some buffalo chicken wings for extra protein. Then Sunday, let’s do brunch with brown and serve sausages, frozen waffles and lots of syrup. Maybe some toast made with white bread and lots of jam. Yessiree, it’s a feast for the eyes. Later a light dinner of sub shop sandwiches, lots of mayo. Salad, no problem, prepackaged lettuce drowning in high fat, sugary dressing (and maybe just a few croutons).

We often wonder if the celebrity chefs really cook like that all the time when no one is looking. Or do they draw the drapes, surreptitiously boil up a box of mac and cheese, then collapse on the couch in their bath robes, dropping potato chip crumbs and washing it all down with a diet cola (or better yet, jug wine). We applaud them, we envy them, we want them for neighbors, but when all is said and done, we really think of them as entertainment (“don’t try this at home”), and we know deep in our hearts, bad food matters. It’s what’s for dinner.

Author Dale Phillip admits to indulging in bad food. She’d be lost without her microwave or prepackaged salads, and her freezer houses numerous frozen entrees. But overall. she does make an effort to cook and pick up healthy choices (grilled chicken sandwich here we come, hold the fries). A Southern California resident, she assures you that they don’t eat any better or worse than the rest of the country. And some burger drive-thrus have lines around the parking lot (and they’re not ordering salads). Dale invites you to explore her many articles on Food and Drink, and visit her blog:

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