What’s the Problem with Novelty Food Products? They’re the New Normal: Foodie Underground

What’s the Problem with Novelty Food Products? They’re the New Normal – Foodie Underground

Column Even if you don’t buy them, novelty food products like pizzas surrounded by pigs in a blanket are destroying our health and our food culture. 

My friend Brendan sent me a link a couple of weeks ago to the announcement that American fast food chain Carl’s Jr. would be serving hamburgers with hot dogs and chips inside (it’s called “The Most American Thickburger”). Brendan and I have a mutual disgust, yet obsession, with industrial novelty foods; it’s like watching a train wreck, what you see is so obscene and yet you just can’t turn away.

Which is probably why he knew I would fall off my chair when he sent me a link to Pizza Hut’s new pizza surrounded by pigs in a blanket. I just didn’t know what to say. A pizza with a crust made of pigs in a blanket. Yes, someone thought that was a good idea. Thanks for making me hate the world, Brendan.

Cringe in disgust all you want, but there are people out there actually buying this stuff, and a lot of it. If they weren’t, companies wouldn’t be making it. Nowadays, there is practically a new novelty food product coming out every week, making it not so novel anymore. Novelty foods have become the new normal, and they’re killing us.

As more and more novelty foods (hotdog and chips hamburgers, cronut sandwiches, waffle tacos, etc) flood the market, they become normalized. Certainly no one is ordering a pigs in a blanket pizza every single night of the week (or at least I very much hope not), but menu items like this have an affect on our overall food culture. As novelty food products become expected on a regular basis, overall calories and portions increase across the board. No one is satisfied with just a mediocre hamburger anymore, they need a hamburger with four patties. In an effort to beat out their competitors, food companies are forced to come out with crazier, and crazier combinations to pull people in at the supermarket and in the fast food restaurant, a continuous battle of one-upping each other by figuring out who can come out with the grossest, yet. Given all the health ramifications, this is the kind of the thing that should be illegal, or at the very least, highly regulated.

By being wowed by such items, we are destroying our health and our food culture one pig in a blanket at a time.

The problem lies not only in the content, but also in the quantity. We have created a culture where we’d rather eat ten awful things than one good thing. That’s our real eating problem. Instead of indulging in one item made with quality ingredients, let’s say, a homemade cinnamon roll for example, we stuff ourselves with several low quality items – sugar-free, low fat, packaged raspberry dream flavored muffins – and aren’t any happier or healthier because of it.

“Oh, she’s against having fun with food,” you say. Sure, everyone needs a guilty pleasure every once in awhile, and we all have them. Maybe you might even want to try a pizza surrounded by pigs in a blanket just once. But there’s a difference between novelty and the norm. I’m not arguing for a culture of upscale, fancy food, but could we at least have one with real food?

If we are going to solve our problem of public health – and it’s a problem that isn’t exclusive to the United States, as our fast food chains and industrial food culture spread around the world, plenty of countries are dealing with the same issues – we have to seriously think about how to curb this kind of food mania. Maybe it’s restrictions on the food market, maybe it’s taxes, maybe it’s subsidizing healthy food, because there is a correlation between food prices and health, maybe it’s simply holding these companies responsible for the true cost of their food products.

Part of why we are unhealthy is that in the U.S. we are subsidizing those commodities that keep us unhealthy. Let’s look at it this way: in 2012, the U.S. government spent $11 billion to subsidize and insure commodity crops like corn and soy. The year before, in 2011, it spent only $1.6 billion to subsidize and insure “specialty crops” – the government word that’s used to refer to the stuff we should be eating, like fruits and vegetables. That hamburger might not look like a piece of corn, but think about how much corn goes into feeding the beef industry in the U.S. every year. It’s a lot, and it’s highly inefficient; for corn-fed animals, the efficiency of converting grain to meat and dairy calories is in the 3-40 percent range depending on the product.

Industrial food culture is dependent on industrial agriculture, and if the proliferation of these novelty food products is increasing, it’s because the ingredients are cheap, but we don’t pay the real costs. Because along with that hot dog and chips burger is a laundry list of environmental, social and health costs. At the very least, we have to call these companies out for what they’re really doing. They’re not feeding us, or entertaining us, or making it easier to put food on the table.

They’re just making us sick.

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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Image: Aaron Olaf

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.