Yes, it is indeed a song from Dirty Dancing. But no, this isn’t Eric Carmen’s sultry croon to perfectly compliment the simmering sexual tension between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. This is about a man with another sort of craving – food. Junk food. Glistening, colourful, mouth-watering food, glorious food.
It happened as I was editing an article about the exponential increase in junk food appetite brought on by alcohol. It’s true that a few beers will wipe out all food sensibilities and make that slimy kebab utterly irresistible. It’s all down to serotonin levels and decreased rationale and other such neuroscience. But what struck me was when I started delving into the stock archives for some suitable images of burgers, pizzas and the like. The more jpegs of glistening burgers, hot dogs, french fries, pizzas and schnitzels that flickered past my eyes, the hungrier I grew. Hungrier than I’d ever been for some greasy food, even more than when I’m drunk.
My eyes sent an image of a glistening 10-storey pillar of meat, cheese and sauce directly to my stomach – and left my brain, which would surely have stepped-in to say ‘that’s disgusting,’ or something along those lines – completely out of the loop. My eyes were conducting a sneaky, salacious affair with my stomach, behind my mind’s back. While my mind was pre-occupied on photo resolutions and style-guides, my eyes and stomach were indulging in a raunchy sext-session of explicit food-porn.
Before I knew it, I was starving. My hunger was better described as ‘food-horny’. I was absoultely defenceless to titanic junk-food cravings. I succumbed to a debauched food fantasy perpetrated by my sinful eyes. After barely two minutes’ exposure to deep-fried obscenity, I could not suppress my desire. I decided lunch that day could only be a burger. A big burger. A bad burger. The most depraved, greasy, immoral, war-crime committing burger. I wanted a burger so deliciously evil there’s a separate circle of hell reserved for it. I wanted my veins to runneth over with saturated fat; I wanted to be bursting at the seams with oil, sodium and high-fructose corn-syrup. I wanted to see nothing my processed cheese and strips of bacon when i closed by eyes. It was my McDesire, a super-sized lust… my beautiful dark KFC-twister fantasy.
And so, off I went to the nearest fast food franchise and exchanged my cash for junk. But it was the most amazing junk ever… a huge, double-patty hamburger with bacon, extra cheese and extra sauce. It was bliss… right up until around the fourth bite. Ravished as I thought I was, my mind finally twigged and the gig was up. My eyes and stomach were outed for their wicked games and my brain realised I really wasn’t that hungry that I should be tucking into a weapons-grade grease bomb. But enlightened as I was, I didn’t stop. Perhaps my brain was punishing the rest of my body by actually granting its poison wish. After licking the final glaze of slick grease from my fingers, I retired back into my seat, swarmed with feelings of guilt, horror, self-loathing and a little gassy. I had eaten the forbidden burger from Satan’s grill and was suffering immediate regret. My punishment was an uncomfortable afternoon, looking and feeling like someone fat and evil.
So what did I learn? We all know fast-food chains glorify their menu and nobody (hopefully) is so naive to expect to be served replicas of the perfect images in the ads. When I unwrapped my burger, I was not surprised that it looked to be more of an abstract artist’s impression of the immaculate vision that compelled my hunger in the first place. I wasn’t surprised, nor disappointed that I could not tell where the cheese ended and the meat began – or that it looked that it had at some point been stepped on during its creation. But even so, the original photograph was enough to commit me to spending money on what, in reality, was something that looked to have been dreamed up by H.P. Lovecraft. Savvy and aporetic as I think I am, my cynical defences were breached – and there was nothing I could do about it. It was an image, merely an image – but it was all that was required to set off a chain reaction of hunger, craving and a need for gratification. There is endless research that explains how certain visual cues can lead your brain to form predictions of fulfilment and happiness, but you never really understand that these things occur until you actually realise you’ve succumbed to it. It’s no wonder food advertising is such a lucrative marketing branch and one so heavily regulated. I’ll never underestimate the power of the subconscious again.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll install an Internet filter to block out gratuitous pictures of enormous burgers…
Happy International Food Day! #BAD11