Guilty Pleasures

April 23, 2008

We had friends over for dinner the other night, and ended up having a discussion about how enlightenment can ruin food. For instance, although I was never a huge fan of the Big Mac (I prefer other fast-food vices), I don’t think I’ve eaten at McDonald’s a single time since watching Super Size Me. Another example is my husband’s newfound distaste for deli lunch meat after finishing The Omnivore’s Dilemma (I’ve just started it, so you should fully expect some future thoughts to be centered on what I learn from Mr. Pollan); he can no longer suspend disbelief about the ramifications of industrialized, corn-laced food sources, both on our bodies and the environment.

But there are still those things. Those items of food that we choose, on occasion, to enjoy in blissful ignorance. For me, one item that comes to mind is the Krispy Kreme donut. Hot Now, baby; when I see those words on the neon sign, something visceral happens, and I find myself gripping the steering wheel to keep the car from turning into the parking lot. I rarely give in, primarily because eating a donut just makes you feel, well, like you just ate a donut. It’s not good. Also, because I’m now more likely than not to have two children in my car, and I’d just as soon keep them in the dark about Krispy Kreme for a few more years (I know — more fodder for their future long-term therapy, dealing with all the things I withheld from them; if only I really loved them!).

Yesterday, though, I enjoyed something that I allow myself to eat every time I make it to Ikea. There’s something about those Swedish Meatballs that I cannot resist (I actually did, once, and regretted my decision with every bite of the roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella sandwich I chose in their stead). And let’s face it — Ikea food is cafeteria food. Somehow cooler, in all its Swedishness, but it’s cafeteria food nonetheless. The carrots are a bit too orange, the mac-n-cheese too salty. Nothing is really fresh, even the fresh food, but I just don’t think about it when I’m eating those meatballs. The gravy, the lingonberry jam, the side of potatoes (or delicious, chemical-laden fries, as I ate yesterday, after discovering that the kid’s meal has 5 meatballs and costs $1.99). It was cafeteria food heaven.

I feel I should disclaim here, once again — I’m not talking about fat. Or even sugar. I’m talking about food that, as is so brilliantly described in Pollan’s book, bears no resemblance to its origins. It has been so chemically altered, we are hard-pressed to trace it back to anything natural (think Twinkie here). So, fess up: what’s your weakness, your edible drug-of-choice?

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