January 26, 2010

Seven things you should never, ever, ever, everever eat. And seven things you should.

Nnnng. Ew. Blar.

Continuing on last week's food-themed posts (yes, I know it's a new week, but I work nights, so my sense of time is a little off), yours truly has compiled a list of things nobody in their right minds should ever, ever eat. This list, by the way, is totally arbitrary and subjective.

I'm not one of those people who hews hard to the idea that only natural foods should ever pass your lips. Nor do I believe in strictly raw-food eating, or Paleo lifestyles, or Breatharianism. Frankly, a good White Castle slider is one of the best things in life, if you time it right. But there are some things--and I call them "foods" in charity--that you should avoid.

Ready to dive in? (Disclaimer: some of these items are not found in your normal grocery store. Blame the vending machines at the hospital.) From the bottom up, then:

Number Seven: Anything that resembles plastic.

Seriously: you can make a perfectly good macaroni and cheese without Velveeta. Likewise, you can probably live without fruit roll-ups in neon colors, strangely flexible donuts, or oddly shiny foodstuffs that resemble the packaging that they came in more than what they claim to be. If it looks, smells, and acts like plastic, it'll probably taste like plastic. Life is too short for that.

Number Six: Anything that is neon.

Neon is not a color found in nature. Neon colors belong to that subgroup of foodstuffs that are overly processed, loudly packaged, highly caloric, and all taste the same. Again: life is too short. If you want a cereal that dyes your milk blue or pink, toss some blueberries or strawberries or raspberries on it. Even frozen works, by the way, and gives you a nicely-colored milk moustache at the end.

Number Five: Those funky sandwiches in the hospital vending machines (or pseudo Hot-Pockets or their ilk).

No matter how hungry you are, these are a bad idea. Trust Nurse Jo on this one; she's eaten more bizarrely flexible food from hospital vending machines than she cares to remember. The one exception that proves this rule is White Castle sliders (see above), as those taste and behave exactly the same whether you get them from the drive-through, the freezer case, a vending machine, or unearth them from a Pharoah's tomb.

Number Four: Neural tissue.

I will eat almost anything. I have consumed (and sometimes enjoyed) blood sausage, grubs, sheep's head, haggis, and various unnamed entrails. I have even had brain, back in the late 1980's. Hell, I've eaten raw beef in Europe. But I won't eat neural tissue any more, primarily because Nasty Stuff Lurks In Neural Tissue. It's not just variant CJD prions that can live there; it's all sorts of viruses and other prions and....well, suffice to say that, after seven years doing neuroscience nursing, I just won't go there any more. (I do understand that commuting eighty miles a day on one of the country's biggest highways and working in a crappy neighborhood are larger risks than the occasional brain sandwich, but the possibilities are squicky.)

Number Three: Anything that looks or smells "off".

You would be surprised how many people ignore this simple rule. Following it will protect you from almost every nasty food-borne illness save botulism, and careful attention to your canned goods will help keep you from that, too.

Number Two: The entirety of anything larger than your head in one sitting.

This is more portion-control than foodstuff-related, but it's important. If it's bigger than your head, whether it be bowl of popcorn, cantaloupe, or butter sculpture, it's more than one serving. Failure to follow this rule will result in your hating whatever food you've consumed too much of for months, if not years.

And the Number One Thing You Should Never (evereverever) Eat:

Dishonest food.

If it has more than ten unpronounceable words on the wrapper, it's dishonest. If it's chocolate mousse made with carob, tofu, agave nectar, and decaf chicory espresso, it's dishonest. (On that last: if you have the bad luck to be a lactose-intolerant vegan, there are plenty of good desserts out there that will taste good and be honest. I have a chocolate cake recipe for you.) If it's anything that's imitating anything else, avoid it. I eat real butter--in much smaller quantities than I used to--because I like the taste of real butter. I Can't Believe It's Not Toxic Waste just doesn't do it for me.

Again, life is too short to put things in your mouth that are pretending to be something else. (Good dating advice too, come to think of it.) Exceptions can be made for cute sculptured cupcakes and Japanese food.

Now for the Seven Things You Should Eat:

7. Fresh vegetables in season, plain.

There is no greater joy in life than picking up a sun-warmed tomato from the farmer's market (unless it's picking it off your own tomato vine) and biting into it like an apple.

6. Good bread.

Ditch the plastic-wrapped stuff once in a while and treat yourself to real, honest, home-made or good-bakery-made bread.

5. Real dark chocolate.

Even if you think you don't like it, try it. Not only is it chock-full of good antioxidants, it's tasty. I like Green & Black's 70%.

4. Things you can't pronounce/don't recognize from a good Chinese or other Asian restaurant.

One of the best meals I have ever had started with a bowl of what later turned out to be cold, marinated tripe. Man, was that good stuff. Try being adventurous once in a while, and see what it gets you.

3. Tiramisu.

'Nuff said.

2. Real maple syrup.

See comment on #3.

And the number-one thing you should eat at every opportunity?

Fresh fruit in season.

A good peach from the farmer's market (or a good apricot, which is like a religious experience) might even out-do the perfect tomato. If you live in an area where cherries come into season for ten days out of the year, try some cherries. If you're in the South like I am, grapefruit and oranges are marvelous in the winter. If you live in California, I envy you and will come visit to sit in the shade of your lemon tree.

That's *my* totally subjective list. What's on yours?


  1. great post, Jo! definitely made me laugh and nod my head wildly. I agree with you, totally and would do anything to get a White Castle Slider down my neck right now ;-) Alas, none of those in Europe...

    Now excuse me while I toss out my wonder bread - velveeta - I Can't Believe-It's-Not-Toxic-Waste sandwich and have a bowl of whole grain rice and some freshly steamed veggies...

    Renée (@PinkyPie)

  2. I had to laugh at "I Can't Believe It's Not Toxic Waste"...my grandmother had it right when she refused to use margarine all those years ago (and still does)...now if I could only convince her of the right portion!

  3. Thanks for the morning laughs.
    and weeping.
    and sadness.
    and realization that I do indeed feel like...crizzap when I consume things larger than my head (hello date night with husband at movie theater. thats all Im sayin')but I consumeth I still do.

    for now :)


  4. Mmm...Real Maple Syrup. That has to be my favorite food ever. My in-laws say I'm a pancake snob. ;)

  5. Fabulous post!

    I got in a fight yesterday about dishonest food. One of my classmates was eating vegan mac'n'cheese...which is pasta with nutritional yeast and some other stuff, which is whatever, but it's not cheese. I was like, why not call it what it is and be real about it? I'm not sure why it made me as angry as it did.

  6. Great lists Jo!
    You first few items stoke the fire in my belly about childhood obesity. All the neon-colored, heavily sugared pseudo foods that clog the market shelves and the TV commercials that promote them to kids need to be banished.

  7. Can you have a sit down with my husband? He believes that dill pickle Pringles (YES, they make those) counts as food. I'd like to add pre-packaged deli meat to the dishonest food group. You know what one of the ingredients to sliced deli chicken is? Chicken flavoring. What?!

  8. Good list!

    Someone once passed on to me this pearl of wisdom:
    Red meat isn't bad for you. Fuzzy blue-green meat, now that's bad for you.

  9. Have you considered being a relationship counselor? Because that dating advice was *priceless*.

  10. Lowfatpie: The only thing I disliked about Denmark was the lack of good Tex-Mex. When my Danish pal came to visit me here in Texas, she insisted on cheese enchiladas....for breakfast. Good call!

    Losingit: She's your grandmother. Don't worry about portion sizes. My feeling is, if you've hit 70 years old, you can eat whatever the hell you want.

    Tracey: I confess to a weakness for dill pickle Pringles. To me, they're their own food group.

    Erin: Any and all relationship advice here is the product of my own experience. Sadly.

  11. Great post! I totally cracked up at a few of your "Do Not Eat" but am all over the "Do Eat"

  12. On my "do not" list? Hostess Ho Hos and McDonalds Big Macs. To me they are crack and I can't go there again. ;-)
    And on the "do" list - yogurt! Love it! And salmon. Love me some omega-3s.
    Good post and a great reminder, especially as I'm watching ht esnow fall outside and wanting some comfort food.

  13. I don't eat healthier things that don't taste good. If I don't enjoy it, I will resent it :) But, most of the "healthy" things fall into your #1 of the no-no list! And, the neural tissue...I'm in psychology (experimental), so that's always been a big 'ol no for me (because of the disease factor, not sacred).
    MMMM...fresh fruit. Yummy.

  14. Love this list!

    Though I have to confess I'll eat all kinds of weird pretend artificial food ON OCCASION. For me, it's a question of what's a habit (better be healthy) and what's a treat (can be total crap). And I don't rule out anything for a treat, if it tastes good to me. You know those grocery store bakery cakes that are probably 90% transfats and sugar and artificial color? For some reason they are like crack to me. Love me a slice way of Safeway cake more than a fancy gourmet restaurant's flourless chocolate organic hazelnut molten whatever. (Or actually, the proper way to enjoy grocery store cake is to buy one slice of chocolate and one of vanilla and share a bit of each; you need both flavors for full appreciation).

    But--I'm talking a few times a year. My normal dessert is a few squares of dark chocolate.

  15. My experience has been that once you get used to eating real foods, you can't go back. The processed, plastic-wrapped, unpronounceable stuff tastes like a chemical factory. What's sad is that we get trained from childhood to think that food is supposed to taste like plastic and preservatives, so we don't notice unless we make a major lifestyle adjustment.

  16. Excellent post. Love the advice about not eating anything larger than your head or not eating dishonest food.

    My folks love fried tripe but it'll never cross my lips...

  17. Mmmm....tiramisu. I make my own with Starbucks Via instant coffee and it's amazing (and easy).

    I was raised on white bread, velveeta and miracle whip sandwiches. Now I would barf if I ate one. I was actually proud of myself because I fought long and hard to eat a PB&J that had no trace of corn in it and actually tasted great. It's a chore to eliminate corn from jelly, PB AND bread at the same time. Very sad state of affairs.

  18. One more thing about dishonest food: that is my pet peeve. My poor MIL eats food she thinks is "trans fat free" or a mix of veggie and fruit juices and it turns out to have partially hydrogenated fats right on the label and the juice is mostly corn syrup. Just be honest!!!

  19. I'm with you on being adventurous with Asian food. The best "mystery" food I ever had were these little freeze dried fishies at a Korean restaurant. I thought it was savory, crunchy nuts or veggies until I noticed that all the pieces had eyes and looks of surprise.

  20. My "Do Not Eat" list would start with whatever you've got pictured at the beginning of this post...is that pieces of butter floating in there? Would that particular jello salad be called a "Dirty Martini?"

  21. That jello mold is terrifying. It looks like something straight out of the Gallery of Regrettable Food. I just don't trust Jello that has anything other than readily identifiable fruit suspended in it.

    Do veggieburgers count as dishonest food if they're not trying very hard to pass themselves off as meat? Like, if there are identifiable chunks of mushroom or tomato or whatever in them? Because I'll give those up when you pry them out of my cold dead hands.

    And the only White Castle sliders I can get here are the frozen kind. Boo.

  22. Hahaha when I was in middle school I took a really good look at the fruit rollup I had, and thought, "Huh...I can't really tell the fruit part from the plastic sheet it's on. That's a bad sign..."

    That said, I dislike real butter. It just tastes gross to me. So I indulge in margarine when plain oil won't do. And I dislike chocolate. But I also don't eat meat, so now we all know I'm a freak anyway.

  23. this is the most idiotic blogpost i've ever read. please, stop with the false advice and educate yourself or shut up.

  24. Do eat: a slice of your child's birthday cake! So sad for kids when a parent says "No, thank you" when they're trying to celebrate. Live a little!

  25. great post, great list.
    i am pretty comfortable with this good list.

  26. Great information Jo. Luckily for me, I gave up all of my neon colored cereal about 10 years ago. I'm kind of in a battle with certain "dishonest" foods though.

  27. Great post! It amazes me that at one time I ate a lot of those neon colored "foods" and the fake outs. Now I won't go near the stuff. Kills me that the grocery store carries more of the fake out and other things they call "food" that isn't than they carry real food.

  28. Great list. I only eat things bigger than my head if they are entirely veggies. Aka - I'll get down with a family size serving bowl of salad with fat free italian or a huge bowl of steamed broccoli. And I confess to loving margarine. I don't really care for butter or olive oil. But I use it sparingly.

    Agreed with everything on your list but maple syrup - the really pure stuff just tastes weird to me.

  29. Eww... That Jell-O salad looks terrible... :o(

  30. Loved the jello photo. I remember back in the day...

  31. In the same category as your plastic choices-gummy candy. It looks like the scum that forms on top of Jell-o that has been in the refrigerator past its prime.

  32. Smart list.

    Mine would gave two basic rules.

    Eat what grows on plants, not what is made in a plant.

    If it grew out of the ground, or ate what did, it should be okay.

  33. Fresh baked bread out of the oven.. OMG! I am in heaven & I don't need any butter or anything else! I love the end pieces too. We fight over them in my family!

  34. I was lucky to grow up eating real food. (I remember I was six when one of my cousins offered me some gum and I didn't know what it was.) It leads to me tasting store bought stuff that other people consider treats and wondering that people eat this voluntarily.

    Torture me with the thought of fresh tomatoes in the dead of winter, will you?

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  35. Sorry if somone has mentioned this already, but there is a website (and, I believe, a book) that's called something along the lines of "A History of Unfortunate Food." They take A LOT from 1950's cookbooks, and it is offal-er- awful and hilarious.

  36. Oh, and I like Miss Piggy's credo: Never eat more than you can lift.

  37. OK, sorry, last post. It's called the Gallery of Regrettable Food.

  38. I love your list of things I should never eat. Logical and well, very true. Especially the bits about neon food and dishonest food. My boyfriend laughs at me when I insist that we should never eat anything with ingredients we can't pronounce. But I insist.

    I have only recently started to appreciate dark chocolate. I like those 80% cocoa content ones.

  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. I LOVE this! Humor and good advice, all wrapped up into one tasty spring roll.

  41. Love this. I'm one of those lactose-intolerant vegans of which you spoke. :D I agree - I get more pleasure out of my Honest Foods than I ever did out of the dishonest ones. ;)

    Fun times, thanks for writing!!!

  42. Sing out sister!!

    This is pretty bang on. Simple rules, and the sense to know that the occasional exception won't (usually) kill you.
    To bad most yogurt in the grocery store is dishonest food also, with its HFCS.

  43. I agree! I'm learning to eat all over again really. just switched from iceberg lettuce finally. I have been dieting and exercising, and have lost over 40 pounds so far. Learned a lot about nutrition and exercise. I blog at Fitness Achievement

  44. O yeah, I'm always telling my kids that some things don't qualify as food, and if those fritos are staing their fingers orange, they are probabely staining their insides too! I've got them to eat good wholegrain bread and lots of fruits and veggies, so I ignore the occcasional soda I see them drinking!

  45. I had a good laugh, and agree with your list almost entirely but I was surprised at the "Dishonest Food" statement

    I consider "Dishonest Food" food that comes in an air tight wrapper and puffed up to look like it has a lot of food in it, but it is only 1/4 filled with a food product..I leave those on the shelves..Or products that come in boxes that are nearly twice the size of the contents..they stay on the shelf as well...

  46. What category are fried pork rinds in? I LOVE them!

    But fortunately, they're not around every corner up here in New York State.

  47. I struggled with weight gain and health issues. I found that my kids helped motivate me to get fit. Fitness and wellness should be free and accessible to everyone. I created a site dedicated to this.


  48. I can't stand maple syrup so I'm afraid I'll have to replace it with Pavlova. Sure, it's a diabetic coma on a plate, and you've already got a dessert on your list - but it's an honest food and sooo yum that I even have a dance for the rare occasion when I find it. (and because it's so rare to find, and so sweet, I can't over indulge!)

  49. Amen! I am a firm believer in eating smaller quantities of real foods. Butter, sugar, meat, and such are not evil in moderation. When people order bacon cheeseburger and diet coke I wince. Or vegan "beef" jerky. Wtf? Why people, why? And so many of them feel they are being healthier and kinder to the earth by not eating animal products, but do they realize how much those ingredient have to be processed to resemble meat? That uses up a lot of resources...
    I worked in the same building as a "natural food" store. Yeah right people, read the labels. They had good organic produce, but so many of those vegan options are so removed from nature it's silly.

  50. I think this is awesomeness! So true!

    I feel like alot of these things have been beaten into our head in various ways, but you put a new perspective on them that make so much more sense of WHY. Definitely passing this along!


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