First appeared on Food Riot, by Susie Rodarme
The first time I saw the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to the Land of Chocolate, I'm fairly certain that my eyes got as round as saucers. Oh my stars-if you could make heaven into anything you wanted it to be, my heaven would for sure be a land made of chocolate. And chips. And maybe hamburgers. Yeah, definitely hamburgers. Also cake. With a river of cola. All the junk food, actually, please.
Frankly, I'm shocked that I didn't spend half of my childhood in a diabetic coma.
Between a grandmother who lived to indulge my every whim and a parent who was less-than-interested in taking time to make sure I got nutritious meals, I grew up eating a lot of processed, non-nutritive junk. Instant ramen noodles, boxed macaroni and neon-cheese-powder, frozen dinners, delivered pizzas, frozen pizzas, Hamburger Helper, and Oatmeal Creme Pies were just a few of the items that we kept around the house almost all of the time. Salads were eaten only at Grandma's and usually with a healthy dose of Hidden Valley Ranch. My leftover allowance (cos I had to feed that book addiction, too, y'all) was spent on candy bars at the video store up the street.
And for beverages? My dad was, and probably still is, a Diet Coke fanatic. I hated Diet Coke, so I got regular, full-sugar soda. Everything I drank came out of a can and had at least nine teaspoons of sugar (except when I went through a fruit-flavored Diet Rite or Fresca phase, which wasn't that often). I often went through most of a 12-pack in a day.
In a day. Every day.
Even writing about junk food now, as an adult who has come down from those years of constant sugar buzz, is enough to get my jones going. I can practically hear the crinkle-pop-hiss sound when I lift the tab on a can of soda, can feel the fizz rushing up to greet me while I take that first long swallow. I still want that magical infusion of a substance that, according to the author of Salt, Sugar, Fat, our brains react to the same way that they do to cocaine. But when has cocaine ever tasted so ever-loving sweet?
It was easier to kick cigarettes than it has been to kick junk food. Cigarettes didn't have 30 years of positive associations behind them. My love affair with junk started when I was an infant. There is a photograph, lost to time, of my great-grandmother holding year-old me and my baby brother in her lap. My brother has the red, scrunched-up, open-mouthed face of a baby who is screaming his head off. Shift to the left, and you will see why: there I am, clutching a baby bottle in my chubby fist that I have just stolen from him. The bottle is not full of milk or juice, but the dark, bubbly, sweet concoction that is Coca-Cola.
So, I'm working through this, but it's hard. I'm that "heavy user" of products that has Pavlovian cravings when I see an ad. I'm the person who can't get enough of the intoxicating combination of the salt-rush, the mouthfeel of fat, the neurological jackpot effect of sugar. But: the other day, I drank a cup of coffee without adding milk or sugar to it for the first time in a long time.
It's a start.
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