If I could click my heels three times and wish myself anywhere, it would be America. I’ve never been that bothered about travelling (although, as a Sagittarian, I’m supposed to love travel. And socks and pineapples and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns, probably). But if I die before seeing the Statue of Liberty, underneath my expression of eternal bliss (I’m going to heaven, obviously), I’ll be secretly fuming.
The first thing I’ll do when I get to America, is go to Disneyland and give Mickey Mouse a hug and buy a Goofy hat with floppy ears that hang down either side of my face and maybe, if I’m feeling brave, go on the Teacups. And the second thing I’ll do, is head for the nearest supermarket and spend a whole day looking at the food. Not the nice stuff. The junk.
I absolutely adore junk food. I appreciate it the way a wine connoisseur would appreciate a 2009 Chateau Latour Bordeaux (cheers, Google). I harbour a not-so-secret admiration for the wildly imaginative ways Americans find to stuff more calories into food. They are absolute geniuses at it.
You might think that stirring a few chunks of cheese into your baked beans is a bit cheeky. But that’s nothing compared to the ability of the Americans to cram fat and calories and (I assume) awesomely delicious amazingness into their junk food.
I once owned an book called Eat This: Not That (sadly missing from my shelves, although I know there’s no way I threw such a gem away). It featured page after lickable page of American junk foods, suggesting ways of pruning the odd calorie here and there by swapping for healthier alternatives.
Along the way, it listed some of the most fattening foods it’s possible to order from US chain restaurants. These included two foods which, despite a desire to live past 45, I’m aching to try. First, was The Bloomin’ Onion, a speciality of the Outback Steakhouse. A breaded, deep-fried onion with dip, this is a starter that contains 2210 calories and 134 grams of fat. A starter.
Second, was the most calorific entrée in the whole of the US (apparently) – which also comes courtesy of the Outback Steakhouse. Cheese Fries With Ranch Dressing does exactly what it says on the grease-sodden tin – a huge plate of fries smothered in cheese and ranch dressing. And bacon bits, just for good measure, presumably because 2900 calories and 182g of fat is for bloody wimps.
I can’t help having deep-rooted respect for that kind of dedication to triggering a cardiac arrest. There are people who are paid to formulate food with the precise combination of sugar, salt and fat to make us addicted to junk food – and the absolute world experts clearly ply their delicious trade in America. (‘This burger has lettuce in it, dammit! What shall we do?’ ‘Don’t panic, Troy. We can always replace it with Super Chee-zee Bacon Flavoured Krispi Bitz’).
The US is home to the Double Down KFC burger (chicken in a bun made of chicken) and the Burger King Pizza Burger (2500 calories that are ‘intended to be shared,’ and which personally, I’d hide under my coat until I’d eaten it all myself). And wonderfully, unlike in the UK, a love of terrible food isn’t something to be treated like a shameful secret.
Recently, food blogger and chef @lukemackaycooks posted on Twitter a video of US legend Paula Deen making deep-fried cheesecake. Watching her chubby little fingers lovingly sprinkle chocolate shavings onto frozen cheesecake, fold it into a wonton wrapper, deep fry it, then ejaculate chocolate sauce all over the resulting mess, was beautiful to look at.
And biting into it, icing sugar coating her frosted fingernails, she looked much happier than anyone has ever looked eating a Legerra (a Pizza Express creation featuring a soggy glory hole filled with salad. Have a Sloppy Giuseppe instead, eat three less biscuits tomorrow, and stop dribbling over my Romana, please).
Despite my abiding love and respect of crap food, I mainly avoid it, due to a wish to fit into knickers that can’t house a small family of refugees. But when I finally find myself landing on the shores of the spiritual home of junk food, I will make my way to the nearest supermarket (hopefully a Piggly Wiggly – I learnt how to do joined-up handwriting by happily writing those two words over and over).
When I get there, I’ll treat it with the hushed respect of a museum, making my way down the aisles, eyes lowered in reverence to make sure I don’t miss anything on the bottom shelves. I’ll stock up on jars of Marshmallow Fluff and Rice A Roni and Hamburger Helper (“Italian Lasagne – just add hamburger!”).
And maybe while I’m there, I’ll buy a moo-moo, too. Just in case.