Junk food for thought

As I approach the age of 42, I am finally coming to grips with the fact that I can no longer eat the same sort of junk food that I’ve enjoyed all my life.

I have come to this conclusion many times over the past few years. In each case, the foods in question have been either entering or (more likely) exiting my body at the time. Most recently, I was picking over the lunch buffet at a nearby KFC when I reminded myself once again, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Some people live to eat. Others eat to live. At KFC you eat to die.

The KFC buffet is, on its surface, a great bargain. All you can eat for $5.99. There is a cold salad bar (which no one touched, including me) and the hot bar, which consists of all the fried chicken deemed too saturated with oil to be sold over the counter, plus a variety of starches (biscuits, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and absolutely the most foul, disgusting macaroni and cheese I have ever encountered). The starches are there to tempt you and fill you up before you eat too much of the chicken.

The clientele at the KFC was roughly 35% white trash and 50% old folks. Once you hit 65, I suppose having any bowel movement at all is a victory, and you’re past caring about quality and consistency. The trailer park residents are there, of course, for the price. For six bucks, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel can fill his belly and sneak enough food off the buffet to feed his six young’uns.

I understand that PETA is going after KFC for alleged cruelty to chickens. But nobody seems to care about the suffering KFC’s chickens inflict on the humans who eat them.

KFC wasn’t always like this. Back in the day, when KFC actually stood for “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” it was something special. Actually, I suppose back in the sixties and seventies, all take-out food was a treat, since most people ate something called “home-cooked meals” (check your history books, kids).

One weekend afternoon, we had a bunch of family friends over to the house, and around dinner time, no one had left. My mom had nothing to serve them for dinner so my father snuck out of the house to get a bucket of what we now call “Original Recipe” (back then, it was called “chicken” and that’s all they had).

Now, you might think that my father would have just brought the bucket down to our guests and said, “Hey, I bought us some chicken.” But no. Apparently this would have been a major social faux pas. So my mother took the KFC and disguised it by rolling it in oregano and shredded Romano cheese, and baking it for a few minutes to allow the little spikes of cheese to become sharp. So instead of Kentucky Fried Chicken, we served Kentucky Fried Chicken That Could Put Your Eye Out.

My parents rejected my suggestion that we serve the chicken in the paper bucket and just write the word “NOT” over the Colonel’s face.

Our friends ate the chicken, and to their credit, nobody made any sarcastic remarks. They were our friends, after all. And of course, we were able to serve them a Jell-O mold for dessert. Back then Jell-O was all the rage, and no gathering was complete without small food objects suspended in gelatin. Most families, like us, always had a Jell-O mold prepared and in the refrigerator, ready for those entertaining emergencies.

Anyway, I thought about all this during my lunch at KFC, and later that evening during my two hours of grunting and flushing. The food isn’t the same anymore. And neither am I.

I developed a taste for salty, processed foods from the time I was a toddler. I was a finicky eater (imagine that!) and my mother struggled to find baby food that I would willingly eat. The only success she had was feeding me Gerber Egg Yolk and Bacon, which I loved. Plus it entertained our friends when I farted and blew out my diaper like a drag chute.

I subsisted almost entirely on Pop-Tarts and SpaghettiOs until the age of twelve, when I switched to Franco-American Spaghetti, being sophisticated enough to use a fork. Even today, I always keep one can of SpaghettiOs in the cupboard, for emergency use only. It’s my comfort food.

McDonald’s is an integral part of almost everyone’s childhood nowadays. It was a big part of mine, too, but it was also something new and different, having just gotten rolling in the late sixties. I have vivid memories of the original restaurant designs with the giant arches protruding through the building itself. So I have a powerful sense of nostalgia about McDonald’s, in addition to just plain liking the food. Sadly, that is an indulgence I can allow myself only once a month or so now. The exception is during McRib season, when I will eat at least one McRib a day for the length of the promotion. But that only happens for about a week, twice a year.

People I know who are big fans of White Castle are amazed when I tell them that I grew up within walking distance of one and only ate there a handful of times. That’s a craving that I indulge, at most, twice a year. I’ve always wondered why, instead of having a patient fast in preparation for a lower GI, they don’t just have him eat six sliders a couple of hours before the procedure. It’ll clean you out just as effectively and a whole lot faster.

Burger King, however, seems to sit well with me. Apparently the flame broiled burgers are easier to digest than McDonald’s fried patties. I just don’t like Burger King as much, especially since they changed their french fries. Some years ago they began coating them with something (industrial waste, I think) and I haven’t eaten them since.

Nothing stays the same. What started out as an occasional treat became an addictive convenience and then, eventually, a threat to our health. The fact that it’s now called KFC instead of Kentucky Fried Chicken is an indication of that, when management decided that having the word “fried” in the name gave it a bad connotation. I’m sad that I can’t have it anymore, just like I can’t go back to that day all those years ago when my mom prepared her Chicken Incognito. If I could, I’d eat it and enjoy it, and I might not even make fun of her this time.

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