Is processed food universally evil?

Grace Dent, Guardian’s restaurant critic, has a two-sided perspective on the debate around processed food. It’s more like a one- and-a-half sided, as the processed food seems to be dear to her heart, and healthful food dear to her health. Her key phrase:

…heart of the processed-food debate is class war. Delicious, fructose-syrup-drenched, MSG-sprinkled class war.

She starts with the perceived disconnect between  people advocating for healthful food and the people who eat them (and presumably without the abilities to cook a healthful meal):

because healthy-food campaigners always sound so posh, any debate can only ever descend into a bunfight over privilege

And then karate chops that argument:

majority of British working people have disposable income, access to a four-ring stove and a GCSE-or-above-level education and are fully conscious of the links between too many Greggs pasties and a profile like Homer Simpson’s. And these people still love processed food.

She spends a few paragraphs indulging in nostalgia about processed foods and how they are connected to her memories of childhood.

London life of a Guardian columnist – knee-deep in fancy quinoa, invites to juicing bars and nutritional yeast as a condiment –

And a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that cutting out processed food has made her healthier but left her confused about her identity with their absence from her diet.

Some thoughts:

  1. Yes, processed foods are delicious. Yes they are ubiquitous. Yes, they are linked to to our past. However, the key word is “past”. We are now building our future. Notwithstanding our links to our past, doesn’t it behoove is to give our children (the future adults) an opportunity to build memories like ours, but linked with the “good stuff”.
  2. It’s an iterative cycle. The more mired we are in processed foods as the mainstay of our diet, the cheaper it gets, and comparatively the “good stuff” becomes more expensive….leading to more processed food in our diets.. and so on.. We need to break that cycle. How do you break that cycle. Look at  “..kids with a mother like Toni Collette in About A Boy, who never tasted mint Viennetta and were not allowed to eat Cadbury’s chocolate rolls at birthday parties.”. These “positive deviants” might show us a way, not the “posh foodies”
  3. I am a “posh foodie”, though not an extreme one. I also love processed foods. We can be both. I cook my own food. It takes patience, and time’ which someone might not have when surrounded by three hungry kids – ergo, processed food to the rescue. I also don’t think the use of processed food is an either/or. It’s not a zero sum game. You can cook a dish and use processed food to save time. Use of both, when in a time crunch, might have beneficial effects; people can tell the difference between food from fresh ingredients and food with ingredients to keep fresh. I use frozen indian flatbread paired with lentils and curries. Other days when I make the flatbread from scratch, I am not nostalgic for the frozen varieties – I wish I could make the fresh item all the time.
  4. I don’t believe the push to make “healthier” choices in the processed foods is sustainable or good for health.
  5. Stop the shaming. Stop singling out individuals or groups.
  6. It is about privilege. I have the ability to be either a posh foodie or a processed food connoisseur. Not everyone does. I use the Fred Rogers’ “Won’t you be my neighbour?” approach to encourage everyone to cook their own food. I cook for others, invite people to eat with me, share easy to make recipes. I don’t “educate” anyone on good nutrition. I share.
  7. I also share donuts. Once in a while, I buy a bunch of mini ones for my office, freshly made by a donut food truck, Word gets out and I meet more of my colleagues on that day than I would meet any other day.  [/winning social strategy] 🙂

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