Scaling the Junk Food Pyramid

I spent a sizable part of the last month traveling on a book tour, which meant that most days I was eating pretty much like an 8-year-old. Actually, that’s not fair to most 8-year-olds. Let me rephrase that: I was eating pretty much like an 8-year-old would if his parents lost their minds and told him to live for a month inside a 7-Eleven.
And you know what? Even that’s not completely accurate. Most 8-year-olds trapped for a month inside a 7-Eleven would not have wound up mainlining sugar free Red Bull.
I should also note that a lot of the garbage I ate came from airport kiosks and gas station quick marts. I can’t blame everything on 7-Eleven. I’m quite sure if I were a more discriminating consumer or had devoted more time to my quest for food, I could have found lots of healthy choices inside the convenience store. Slurpees, for example. Why didn’t I drink more Slurpees?
In addition, I ate a lot of airplane pretzels and potato chips the very same color as that Red Bull can. At one point I was on a runway for an extremely long time — though I was not, I should note, a part of that infamous 10-hour nightmare — and I had airplane pretzels for breakfast and lunch. There was another period when everything I ate for three days I consumed standing up or inside an automobile. It was a pretty glamorous time in my life.
Now, I would not want to eat like this year-round. I would be super-sized. And, soon, dead. Moreover, it is no easy task to be a vegetarian in a fast-food world of fried chicken fingers and quadruple patty burgers. Fortunately, I am a cheese-a-tarian, and so I was able to get my sodium from cheese and my sugar from Little Debbie. The great thing about Little Debbie products is that they are both cheap and highly caloric.
One day when I was in Boston, my media escort surprised me with a bunch of bananas she purchased while I was inside a radio station, and it was the only thing I ate in a 36-hour stretch that didn’t come with a warning label or fall from inside a vending machine.
Someday I am going to dedicate a book to junk food — or, perhaps, to junk food and Red Bull. Notice, I am making a distinction between junk food and Red Bull. The difference (and here I may be splitting hairs), is that an author can stand at a podium and look slightly hip if he is holding a slender can of Red Bull. If I were to stand at a podium with a pack of Little Debbie snack cakes, I’d just look insane — or, perhaps, like a guest on the Jerry Springer Show.
Also, Red Bull has caffeine, and Little Debbie has fat. Last month, I needed the former poison a lot more than the latter. Besides, I am hoping to postpone that day when, like so many of my father’s friends, I am scheduling angioplasties like haircuts.
Just for the record, some readers have suggested that if I really want all that caffeine, I should drink Monster or Rock Star instead of Red Bull. Two points:
— Most of the people who have offered this advice have been 10.
— I think Monster tastes like liquefied PEZ.
In any case, somehow I did survive my junk food orgy. I became an expert on the many different flavors of Doritos, and I can tell you which ones leave the most residue on your fingers, your clothes, and (if you are not careful) your breath. Dorito breath is very bad if you are touring. So are Oreo teeth. I battled both.
But it was also extremely satisfying to return home to fruits. And vegetables. And the civilized pleasure of drinking my Red Bull from a glass instead of a can.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on March 18, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Scaling the Junk Food Pyramid

  1. susan cameron says:

    I loved your comments and can relate to them. I was recently starving and in a 7-eleven. The only thing that was remotely healthy was a bag of beef jerky. Good thing I am not a vegetarian or I would still be starving. I have a twinkie and burger king meal that are 3 years old. No mold, no bacteria. I pull it out to show my adult children when they show up with empty bags from these wonderful places.
    I have enjoyed reading your books and hope you keep writing. If you ever want to know how you can get fruits and vegetables everyday on the road, look at my website or email me and I will introduce you to Juice Plus. Have a great day. Susan

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