Why does it taste so good?
Why is it so cheap?
Why is it so unhealthy?
I occasionally find myself breaking my “diet” when my daily gruel bores me. Let me explain the quotation marks in the previous sentence. I hate the word diet. It’s one of those fancy buzz words the public loves to overuse like superfood, healthy (or unhealthy), organic, and all-natural. Diet—and its odious brethren—belongs to a group of inane and trite words used in food and supplement propaganda attracting droves of sheeple, the credulous, semi-literate consumers who insist that a claim must be true because it is endorsed by a celebrity. I think diet is so spelled for a reason; die is the root of the word because one’s sanity (often alongside one’s finances) is excised and extinguished. Sanity is destroyed piecemeal by diets and all the myths, pseudoscience, and, frankly, bullshit promulgated alongside them.
As I was saying, delicious morsels of fast food periodically find their way to my mouth. Burger King and Taco Bell are my favorites and are the two I can’t seem to shake off. Humans aren’t perfect. I know, a quaint platitude, but it is the facet of the gastronomical pornography that follows.
Fast food has the virtue of being relatively inexpensive to the delight of the fiscally responsible. It is perhaps what makes it alluring to customers. Who wants to spend $15—plus tip—on a cheeseburger and fries at a gastropub when the same $15 can get you four bacon cheeseburgers, fries, a liter of cola, a confection, and 10 pieces of strangely-shaped chicken? I daresay that the choice is simple.
After a visit to Taco Bell, I often sit in my SUV awkwardly hunched over a burrito. Bitten on one end, expelling its contents at the other. I shun the sauce packets, for I risk getting sauce all over myself. I do not wish to wear the evidence of my dietary infraction. Although the likelihood someone is watching me is probably low, I cannot shake the feeling that I am surrounded by eyeballs. I can feel the piercing gaze coating me in sanctimonious judgment. I now feel shame and disgust, as if I was just caught walking out of an unwholesome body rub parlor. How did I get here? Surely I hallucinated the burrito.
My avid fans will know that my current weight loss adventure—which has yielded incredible results—is motivated by the hatred of my own physical appearance. As an aside: for someone that is writing a blog about acceptance, it is interesting to note that I had not accepted my own body; such is no longer the entire case. It’s a work in progress, so to speak.
There is something pernicious about this kind of hatred. It slowly encroaches into other aspects of one’s life poisoning one’s morals and straining one’s relationships with friends and loved ones. Strict adherence to austere dietary guidelines places enormous psychological pressure on the eater. What do I eat and how do I prepare it? How often must I eat? How do I regulate portion sizes? How much will this cost? How will I fit this into my already crammed schedule? This stress is further compounded if one’s goals aren’t met; first-time “dieters” tend to be very ambitious and shoot for unrealistic weight loss within preposterous timelines. No one losses 50 pounds in 30 days no matter how convincing the advertisement.
My long journey began with exacting precision. I monitored all food and drink that approached my mouth and assessed whether it would be worth ingesting. Tupperware and Ziploc proved indispensable allies as a majority of my meals were prepared at home in advance. I also love my glow-in-the-dark Nalgene bottle (shout-out to my homie for that spectacular gift). My motto soon became, “If I can’t make this myself, I shan’t eat it.”
Inspired by Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, and being a scientist at heart, I conducted various culinary experiments. I agree that that last sentence was strange, but hear me out. Hannibal, one of my favorite shows—unfortunately cancelled (Netflix or Amazon, please pick up this gem)—made cooking very enticing to me. Yes, this paragraph is just a whole muddle of inappropriate adjectives, especially when talking about Hannibal Lecter. Just bear with me. I’m not interested in cannibalism nor would I ever wish to have that particular gustatory experience. But Hannibal made cooking look cool to me. I have no shame in saying so. Anyway… I experimented. I stuck with a few basic meals and I seldom deviated. At times, it became difficult.
Shopping for ingredients and cooking take a considerable amount of time. In our fast-paced world, time is an exceedingly valuable commodity that always seems to be in short supply when needed most. Work and other responsibilities make food preparation more difficult and fast food more attractive.
The social aspect of fast food is quite taxing, too. Fast food has been subjected to vituperative criticism and many individuals don’t feel shy about expressing their scorn. Documentaries and news articles are frequently circulated about the horrors of fast food and the adverse health risks one takes when eating it. The stress materializes every time one approaches a fast food establishment because we are repeatedly told that eating from one is tantamount to sin. The problem that I think befalls all “dieters” is: not only are we prohibited from eating fast food, but we are not even supposed to think about it.
Quick! Think veggies. Think skinless chicken breasts.
No! Not burgers. Not steak quesadillas.
How did this Crunchwrap Supreme get into my mouth?
All of this is followed by the usual suspects: guilt, shame, self-loathing, disgust, and the judgment and eternal damnation by society at large. One is overcome with a monumental sense of failure. It’s stressful, depressing, and not conducive to good mental health. Constantly being worried about what one eats weighs heavily on people and can drive one to exclaim “fuck it!”. At this point, all becomes lost and one relapses into rivers of chocolate shakes and groves of quarter-pounders.
Why is eating so difficult?
I say: do not forgo the sensual pleasure that comes with fries and a drink. I would even go so far as to say that if two meals per week consisted of reasonable portions of fast food, one’s overall physical health wouldn’t diminish and one’s tenuous mental health may be preserved (if only temporarily). But I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional. Therefore, take my advice with a pinch of salt… or a side of onion rings.
Where would the drunken hoards obtain nourishment if all fast food establishments disappeared? Could one reasonably replace a midnight Taco Bell quesadilla with a 24-hour deli substitute? Or, even more frightening, a 7-11 substitute? I posit that abstention from fast is possible, but I’m not convinced that it’s completely desirable.
Should we look on the fast food establishments with contempt, as bastions of greed and excess and something to be deeply deplored? Should we punish ourselves, in our minds and in rhetoric, for the simple pleasures gifted us by bacon cheeseburgers? All the while, I ask that we ponder whether such self-flagellation is good for us.