Deep fried zucchini flowers are not necessarily the 'healthier' option.
Deep fried zucchini flowers are not necessarily the 'healthier' option.
Image: 123RF / Tatiana Vorona

The resolution to decrease junk food consumption is an ongoing one for many of us. It’s almost impossible though, and that’s because virtually all the food we can get our hands on is pretty much the same as that which we consider junk. It just doesn’t come across that way. 

Though a nutritionist might define junk-meals as those which are high-calorie, nutritionally deficient and processed; what actually gives something that label (or lets it off the hook), is all stuff that’s much more cultural, emotional and obscure — from the way branding makes us feel, to levels of poshness and status, whether it’s ‘fast’ (a major aspect), whether the food is from a big chain or a quirky stand-alone establishment, and even whether cutlery is needed. These factors of course, don’t have anything to do with more or less nutrition, but that’s how it works.

According to these criteria, pizza is considered by most of us to be far more ‘junky’ than a bowl of pasta napolitana, yet both have a base of refined wheat flour (actually the pizza might well be the better choice if you find one with a properly proved dough), both have the addition of tomato-based sauce, both will feature some olive oil (if you’re lucky), and both will probably feature cheese from the usual industrial farming. They’re the same meal in different shapes. How about KFC? If that’s junk food, then 90% of ‘real’ restaurants serving chicken are junk-food establishments. Virtually any place which doesn’t boldly advertise its fowl as being free-range, is giving you the same (or very often worse) chicken.

Having been into the kitchens of some of these esteemed places, I can assure that that said oil is certainly not changed more regularly
Andrea Burgener

But let’s say that whether or not the chicken’s been fed antibiotics doesn’t worry us. Perhaps the thing that defines this chicken as junk is the deep-fried aspect? Well deep-fried seems junky for sure, whether it’s chicken or slap-chips from our few extant corner cafés. But of course, the arancini, tempura, potato croquettes and zucchini flowers which we happily order in posher eating contexts, are almost always deep-fried in the same industrial vegetable oil as cafes and fast-food chains. And having been into the kitchens of some of these esteemed places, I can assure that that said oil is certainly not changed more regularly.

As for additives and preservatives in fast (a.k.a junk) food? I’ve seen Aromat, MSG, and more in ‘proper’ restaurants. And the vast majority of calamari sold to our hospitality industry has been preserved with sodium metabisulphate by the supplier/fisheries, so if your meal leaves you with an allergic reaction, it might not be the wine or beer you drank. It’s a minefield out there, but the mines aren’t where you’d expect them.    

BEYOND JUNK:

Not for any nutritional or gastronomic reason, but for some (admittedly culturally biased) gawping and 'eughing', check out Disgusting Delicacies. 

Then too, I love online mag Vice’s review of the worst restaurant in the world, which will have you consider your nearest burger joint a Michelin experience.  

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