The Fetishization of Unhealthiness

In my opinion, “revolution” is one of the single most overused words in modern English. Nevertheless, if we were to grant, as some would have us, that a “food revolution” is underway in the US, it already has its thermidor. Apparently concern for one’s health has become so mainstream that  gratuitous disregard for it has become hip and counter-cultural.

Please note: I am not simply making the observation that many Americans have disgustingly unhealthy eating habits.  Rather, I find that such diets have become almost chic.  Last weekend, for example, I was with some friends at a pub (which shall remain nameless) whose menu included such delicacies as Spam Bites (deep-fried spam and cream cheese), Deep-Fried Pickles and Pie Bites (deep-fried bits of pie).  Now mind you, this establishment is frequented by young, hipster types, not, as one might imagine, crotchety old men who don’t give a damn about all this healthy eating nonsense. The former are the ones who concern me.

To some extent, I can see the logic behind this counter-revolution.  Even hyper-conscious eaters have their guilty pleasures, so perhaps these Grease Monkeys just feel they’re being more honest and upfront about their proclivities.  And perhaps this backlash is somewhat justified:  although healthy eating is becoming more and more plausible as more and more places are beginning to sell real, fresh food, many of the most avid diet-pushers make eating healthy seem completely unenjoyable.  Hell, even I’d choose a burger over flax seed roll-ups.

Don't eat these

But once again, what makes this attitude so troubling to me is that it is prevalent in a demographic that really should know better.  The followers of this food counter-revolution are largely urban (i.e. they don’t live on a dairy farm, where butter is readily available and their economic livelihood), young (they grew up in an era when plenty was known about the health consequences of various diets)  and middle class  (they can afford reasonably healthy food).

Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s acceptable that people in other situations (poor, rural, elderly, etc.) have unhealthy diets — it’s just that usually there are circumstances external to the person that dictate their food choices.  In the demographic I am discussing, however there is usually the option to eat something healthy (or at least to not eat something so unhealthy), but they willfully decline.  Put another way, these people are eating things that are ridiculously unhealthy, not because they have no other choice, but because to do so is cool.

Some of you may argue that actually, they choose to eat these culinary monstrosities because they taste good.  To which I respond thus: Does deep-fried pie really taste better than just pie? And wouldn’t the cupcake taste better

...or this

without the bacon? Some wag will invariably respond “Everything is better with bacon,” and that’s just my point.

Bacon seems to be the icon of this counter-revolution.  Its mere mention causes otherwise rational people to say odd and disturbing things.  Once when I was at a chili cookoff, one of the cooks was sharing his recipe with a friend and me, and told us that he started by sauteeing onions with bacon.  He then inserted a dramatic pause to allow us to goggle over the mention of bacon.  When we failed to produce the desired response, he supplied it himself.

Now, chili is a reasonable, if not entirely orthodox, place for bacon to be.  But it should not be in chocolate, vodka or any of the other unseemly vessels we have allowed it to occupy.  I’m fairly certain that if you found someone who partakes in one of these novelty items, injected them with truth serum, and asked them if they actually enjoy the taste, their honest answer would be ‘no’.  But in just about any other setting, the desire to be cool mandates an answer in the affirmative.

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2 responses to “The Fetishization of Unhealthiness

  1. Scott Wheeler

    I must respectfully disagree. I suppose I fit into the category of folks who eat wildly unhealthy things relatively frequently, so I’ll chime in a bit. While I will agree that bacon doesn’t make EVERYTHING better, I have to at least say that it is often a marvelous way to add a bit of savory alongside sweet. That saltiness works really well alongside creamy things like ice cream or chocolate, which is why bacon ice cream and chocolate covered bacon are becoming such hits. I, for one, am one of those who partakes in these novelty items, and if you injected me with truth serum I would tell you that while I’m not always in the mood for bacon ice cream I am in that mood sometimes, and when I’m in that mood I would take it over vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

    I think that you are right that there are probably some people who eat certain unhealthy things to be chic, but I seriously doubt that that describes the majority of us. I’ve certainly never met anyone who said, “Ordinarily I’d really like to order the beat salad, but those diet nazis have really been pissing me off so screw them – I’m getting the butter poached lobster instead.” There are just some foods that are just really, really good but would suck without butter. There are some things, like deep fried pickles, that are boring until they are deep fried. Mushrooms and cauliflower are in the same boat there.

    Perhaps there is a level of individualism in the “young hipsters” that makes them decide they are going to eat what pleases them over what Jenny Craig would advise. In that sense they may be counter-cultural in their unhealthy eating habits. But I think the driving force is that they really do like the unhealthy food and that preference is the cause for their counter-cultural actions, not the other way around. I at least know that’s the case with myself.

  2. My only question is why you did not notify me that you would be in said (nameless, though obvious) pub. Come on man.

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