In praise of guilty pleasures

I’ve got one, you’ve got one, hell, even Michelle Obama has one. We’re talking guilty pleasures – that oxymoronic phrase that points out you’re enjoying something you shouldn’t be, right in your cake hole.

Sticky, gooey, salty, sugary – these are the finger-licking makings of the guiltiest of pleasures; the tastes that tongues wrap around in the dim light of a kitchen hood top, the folds of a comfy couch or while wedged between the fridge and its door. It tells of times where only eating straight out the jar with a spoon will do, or of stuffing it down so quickly you’re practically inhaling it. These are the good times – or are they?

By definition, guilty pleasures arouse internal conflict. Sure it tastes amazing, but if only someone could see you now – what would they think? Incarnations range from buckets of chicken to wedges of chocolate cake. But their point is to be infrequent; a mere lapse from your otherwise balanced eating habits. They represent a point in time where you hit pause on your food morals and go indulge in a dirty burger, something deep fried or laden with sugar.

Michelle Obama recently told kids that “splurging is the key to life” (give that woman a pat on the back). She asked, how could they appreciate vegetables without a little chocolate? How indeed. She admitted her guilty food pleasure is French fries – a little tame, yes, but if she’s alright with it, then so am I.

Even the godfather of Middle Eastern food Yotam Ottolenghi recently admitted at the Ballymoe Lit Festival that “good pot noodles” from Asian shops in Chinatown are his. “They have all sorts of MSG and things I don’t want to know about but I love the texture and I just love the whole experience of indulging in something that’s completely commercial but still really delicious.”

It’s good to know we’re not alone. During my student days, I developed a taste for Marmite on buttered toast topped with tinned beans and sausages. The umami hit was incredible – and matched by the guilt that followed. So much salt, so much sugar, so much wrong (and so much right). I eventually weened myself off it and embraced a pantry not filled with tinned beans and sausages – I know my heart will thank me for it. But other guilt-inducing plates include cheese and paté, cups of tea drank almost entirely via dunked Digestive biscuits and a Mars Bar (sometimes the only thing that can top the end of a tiring day.)

There are times when only these foodstuffs will do, and a life of deprivation is one not lived. So indulge your inner devil every once in a while – after all, in every life a little naughty must fall. Sure, you might be banished to culinary hell for eating such things, in which case, I’ll see you there.

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