By Ray Balogh
“I’m afraid someday they’ll find me
“Just stretched out on my bed
“With a handful of Pringles Potato Chips
“And a Ding Dong by my head.
“… At night I’m a junk food junkie.
“Good Lord, have pity on me.”
Celebrating National Junk Food Day, Wednesday, July 21, need not end up in the tragicomic demise depicted by Larry Groce in the 1976 novelty song “Junk Food Junkie.” Just don’t overdo the gastronomic reveling associated with the day, whose origin remains unknown.
Junk foods range from candies to baked treats to popcorn to soda pop to chili dogs and bacon cheeseburgers. Some consider bacon and pizza to be junk foods. Others extend the definition to include TV dinners and other packaged meals.
In any event, junk food was a largely responsibly consumed tangent in American life until after World War II, when the population was traveling more and embraced the convenience of eating at fast-food restaurants, which today number more than 300,000. In the 1970s microbiologist Michael Jacobson coined the term “junk food” to curb the demand for sustenance high in fats, sugars, salt, preservatives and calories.
The harmful effects of persistent consumption of nutritionally deficient, albeit enticing, junk food are well known. But celebrating with gusto one day a year will hardly cause debilitation, so enjoy the day.
Some junk food trivia:
• 50 million — one in seven — Americans eat fast food every day.
• Despite Groce’s reference, the Food and Drug Administration prohibits Pringles from using the term “potato chips” for its products, as they contain only 42% potato-based ingredients.
• Snickers was named for Frank Mars’s favorite horse, and Tootsie Roll was named for the inventor’s 5-year-old daughter Clara’s nickname.
• On average, it takes 364 licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop.
• Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were originally named “Penny Cups,” though the first individually wrapped penny candy was the Tootsie Roll.
• A process called triboluminescence causes most hard sugar candy to spark when chewed. Wintergreen Life Savers spark the brightest because their chemical flavoring is luminescent.
• White Castle started in 1921 with a loan of $80 and is considered the nation’s first fast food restaurant.
• Every year Americans eat 13 billion hamburgers, 20 billion hot dogs, 70 million tater tots, 1.3 billion gallons of ice cream and frozen yogurt, 16 billion jellybeans, 700 million marshmallow Peeps and more than 2 billion popsicles, with cherry being the most popular flavor.
• Production of junk food in America is prodigious. Rolling out of factories every day: 5.5 million cookies, 27 million donuts, 1.4 million Twinkies, 400 million M&Ms, 200 million Skittles, a quarter million chocolate Easter bunnies and more than 2,700 miles of Twizzlers.
We asked several Kosciusko County residents about their favorite junk foods. Their answers appear above. Photos by Ray Balogh.