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Healthy Junk Food: Could the Cause be the Cure?

By Ashley Beck | July 31, 2013

Photo: Terry Bain

Photo: Terry Bain

David H. Freedman, writer for The Atlantic, seems to believe it is the most plausible answer. When I first laid eyes on his article,  “How Junk Food Can End Obesity” , I was intrigued if not completely skeptical and even a bit scared (Especially since I was right in the middle of reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food). Fast food chains and processed foods are what got us here in the first place. It’s not real food. It’s filled to the bliss point, with the Big 3 (Sugar, Salt, Fat). Why would we look to them to undo our unhealthy habits?

Working in a food desert, I do see the dilemma that Michael Pollan’s Food Rules may construe for the masses, however, I also see strands of change woven through the rows of Wendy’s, Taco Bells, and Pizza Huts. Still, it comes down to the consumer. What are the masses choosing to eat? What is most affordable and convenient? Or what has ultimately caused them to continue eating processed foods, despite the farmer’s markets, freshly made foods, and gourmet markets that are now becoming more available? I would say it’s a combination of the three. The Junk Food Giants that got us here in the first place, have such a hold on the majority of our appetites, that it’s precisely why they must be part of the cure.

After reading Freedman’s piece with a reluctantly open mind, I believe both him and Pollan, in utter opposition of one another, are correct in their beliefs. The Pollanites, myself included, are right in their protest for better food, local produce purchasing and home cooked foods. For the health benefits, of course, but what’s more? It has the power to influence mass produced food and insist they make a difference. Freedman’s argument, unpalatable as it may be, is unfortunately  realistic. In a world where fast food and processed foods have become, well, giants, and own most of the populations food choices, not only because it’s affordable, but it’s convenient and addicting, in reality, it is the best place to start. As Freedman’s interview with one obesity specialist conveyed,

“Processed food is a key part of our environment, and it needs to be part of the equation,” he explains. “If you can reduce fat and calories by only a small amount in a Big Mac, it still won’t be a health food, but it wouldn’t be as bad, and that could have a huge impact on us.”

“In fact,” Freedman writes, “McDonald’s has quietly been making healthy changes for years, shrinking portion sizes, reducing some fats, trimming average salt content by more than 10 percent in the past couple of years alone, and adding fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and oatmeal to its menu”.

Like McDonald’s, other Junk Food Giants are now responding and taking action where once they ignored the harm being done, knowing full well as shown in The New York Times article, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, what they were doing to gain a profit. It’s possible advocates for a better relationship to our food, like Pollan and Mark Bittman, have made enough of a fuss to encourage these changes.  For example, giants like Pepsi, are investing in adding flavor without the Big 3, as mentioned in the article, “Food Corporations Turn to Chefs in a Quest for Healthy Flavor”.

So in theory, Michael Pollan is absolutely right. We are meant to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Unfortunately, it does remain quite unimportant, undesired or unattainable for many Americans. So the fact these junk food giants are making changes for the betterment of our health, could very well be a step in the right direction. If only we’d give them the chance.

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