For the first eight years of my life, I only ate cereal. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I’m not talking Special K, granola, or Cheerios, either. I mean Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Frosted Flakes, Cookie Crisp, Golden Grahams, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, Sugar Smacks, Trix, Alpha-Bits, and the like. I was adamant about my simple, yet highly-processed diet, and my chronic behavior regularly brought my mother to tears. (I’ve since made it up to her by becoming a travel and food editor, developing a much more well-rounded palate, and running this health and wellness site.)
Problem was, after kicking my three-bowls-of-sugary-cereal-a-day habit, all I really did was graduate to different equally processed and packaged foods – or what passes for foods according to the FDA. My parents had eight children, who often invited their friends over to the house. Our fridge/freezer was always stocked with gallons of full-fat chocolate milk (Dad’s favorite), Cherry Smash (discontinued red soda in glass bottles), and various flavors of ice cream in tubs. Our cabinets overflowed with cookies (Mallomars, Ideal, Chips Ahoy, Oreos, etc.), potato chips, and pretzels. My dad regularly brought home king-size Hershey’s chocolate bars and Mr. Goodbars and left them on the kitchen counter for all to break off pieces and enjoy. The folks at Dominic’s, our neighborhood pizza place, knew the Egan family well (and still do…their pizza rules). My grandma, who lived with us, was never without chocolate balls or sour balls. (We visited her room often.) Every Sunday morning, a man in a station wagon would drive through our suburban neighborhood, ringing doorbells and selling big flat boxes of warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And so, every Sunday, my parents bribed us with the promise of two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts after mass. Did we go to church? Goddamn right we did. (My parents may have been junk-food-junkies and enablers, but they weren’t stupid.) Whenever my mother went out of town to visit relatives or help with someone’s new baby, my dad took us to Roy Rogers for dinner. Every night. (We loved our dad for this.) Of course, we always brought the Roy Rogers home so we could eat our completely fried dinner around the kitchen table like a proper American family.
Okay, so maybe we Egans had a little issue with junk food. But, lest you think my parents abused me and my seven siblings, let me be clear: My overburdened mother prepared plenty of homemade beef, chicken, and fish dishes, vegetables, rice, stews, and salads for all of us day after day, night after night. (Frankly, I have no idea how she summoned the strength or stamina during all those years. Yet I also have no idea how no one in my family is obese. I suppose we all played a lot of sports growing up.)
Now I’m an adult. My husband and I shop at local farmers’ markets, have a garden, and cook at home a lot. Our fridge and cabinets are virtually free of junk food all the time. We know where most of our food comes from, and we stay away from heavily-processed foods as much as possible. We eat well, and healthily. Still, I cannot forget who I am or where I came from. I will not deny my roots. Which is why, very occasionally, I find myself craving many of the toxic faux-foods of my happy childhood. (This amuses/repulses my husband to no end.) Now, just because I’ve included a gallery of 12 of my fave faux-foods here, doesn’t mean that I eat all 12 of them regularly or at the same time. Not even close. (I’ve included examples of their “nutritional” information, some of which may surprise you.)
Yet while I reluctantly confess to still liking these truly disgusting faux-foods, I make no apologies for loving them on some level even now. My father used to say: “Everything in moderation.” I agree. But then again, the man was a junk-food aficionado who thought king-size was the only size. Here’s to you, Dad.