Is Fast Food the New Smoking?

If you’re under thirty-five, you probably don’t remember the days when people smoked in meetings.  The image of a bunch of execs puffing away in a conference room seems like something out of an old movie. Your eyes start to water at the mere thought of it.

Yet I remember when, as a 21-year-old, newly-minted college grad, I attended my first sales meeting with my new employer Procter & Gamble.  I’d been out of college for all of about three weeks, yet as I walked into the meeting and choked my way through the cloud of smoke hanging over the conference table, I felt like I was back in a bar or frat house, only instead of Hunch Punch, they were serving coffee.

Our company may have been selling squeaky clean Ivory soap, but that didn’t stop some of the older guys from parking an ashtray on the table and giving presentations with a lighted cig in their mouth.

Imagine your reaction today if someone whipped out a pack of Marlboros in the middle of a staff meeting.  Unless you work for Phillip Morris, most people express utter disdain for public smoking, and many would probably give the offender a lecture on the evils of nicotine.

As pen-chewing, finger-tapping, hyperactive breath mint junkie, I’m eternally grateful that I never took up the habit because they’d probably have to bury me in an iron lung.

These days, other than rebellious teenagers, very few people want to be seen with a cigarette dangling from their lips.  It’s now considered a somewhat shameful habit, and most smokers keep their tar and nicotine confined to their home, car or yard.

The new public danger is junk food.  Donuts have become the new cigarettes.  

As we become increasingly aware of the perils of processed sugar and starch, it’s only a matter of time before serving a tray of glazed pastries becomes the equivalent of passing out Virginia Slims to a high school tennis team.

Intellectually, I know we shouldn’t be eating junk, and there’s nothing I want more for myself, my family, and my colleagues than to be healthy, strong, and free from chemical additives.

But why, oh why, does bad food have to taste so good?

I confess: I love sugar, I love starch, and I’m pretty sure I even love additives and preservatives. I may tell my kids that I prefer organic leafy greens delicately drizzled with olive oil and lemon, but if you put a big ol’ helping of chili cheese fries in front of me, I’ll scarf it down and love every minute.

I probably love junky, processed food just as much as my dad loved to smoke. He didn’t quit until my mom banned it from the house and his company forced the smokers to puff in seclusion on the loading dock.

But now that he’s 74 and still playing the sax, he’s glad he was coerced into kicking the habit.

That’s the crazy thing about us humans; sometimes we have to be shamed into doing what’s good for us. So if health evangelists are ready to rid the world of addictive unhealthy food, I’m ready to support their efforts.

But if you happen to drive by my house and see that my shades are down, don’t knock. I’m on my back porch gobbling down Cheetos and a piece of fried pie.