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Junk Food Nation

07/29/05 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(HOST) Summertime is full of opportunities to indulge in sugary, fatty snacks. As the father of two boys, commentator Vern Gru- binger tries to avoid junk food, but some of his own childhood eating habits didn't exactly prepare him for the job.


(GRUBINGER) My mother worked in a snack food factory. Their specialty was sugary little cakes. She didn't actually make the snack cakes; she showed them off, as a tour guide. It was the 60s, and she wore a silly uniform at work, with a matching cap. Sometimes I got to tag along.

The building itself was just another large unassuming box, but it emitted a sweet, inviting odor. Inside was a wonderland, where giant vats of dough were churned and turned and divided up into thousands of little lumps that were shaped and baked and moved about in a vast room of machinery.

At the end of the production line, you could see the little golden cakes quivering as they made their way down a conveyor belt while fast-moving nozzles plunged in and out, injecting them with the nectar of the Gods that was their filling: sugar and fat.

To my young taste buds nothing compared to these delicacies hot off the press. Warm, soft and sweet, they melted in my mouth. I stuffed my chubby cheeks with them until I was just about ill.

These were the 60s, and who knew? If there was a food pyramid, I'd never heard of it. Fat, preservatives and processed ingredients weren't on our radar screen, let alone our food labels.

Mom did make many home cooked, healthy meals, but we also consumed our fair share of TV dinners and poptart breakfasts. For snacks, my sister used her easy-bake oven to crank out concoc- tions that I suspect provide me with immunities to this day.

Four decades later, there's just as much, if not more, junk food available, but now we know better, or at least we know more. We have itemized information about what's in our food, thanks to in- gredient labeling and a better understanding of how diet affects health. But, boy, do we have along way to go.

Across America, at sporting events and social gatherings, the sodas, the chips and the hot dogs are ever-present. In many schools, burgers and fries are still a normal lunch. Bake sales push cookies and brownies, and gymnasiums are universally adorned with cola logos.

In the supermarket, products from cereal to yogurt are festooned with cartoon characters and super heroes that mask their less- than-super nutritional content. No wonder there's an epidemic of dia-besity'.

Given my dietary history, I can hardly be critical. And I'm not a food fanatic; my family eats its fair share of fat and sweets, as well as healthy food. But we're trying hard to strike a balance.

I wish it were easy, but living in Junk Food Nation, it's not.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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