Junk Food Day: Is it OK to celebrate?

Junk Food Day 2011 sees industry growing despite tough economy. But public isn't jumping for joy on Junk Food Day.

Mark Stehle / AP Images for Oscar Mayer
Anthony Scardino, left, receives an Oscar Mayer Selects Beef Frank from hot dog enthusiast, writer, and chef Hawk Krall, right, as Donna Fabry waits in line during the Philadelphia debut of the first-ever, special edition Wienermobile Food Truck on Wednesday July 20, 2011. Hotdogs are one of a slew of options one can eat to celebrate National Junk Food Day on July 21.

Happy Junk Food Day, even if most Americans don't feel like celebrating.

Schools are tossing out soda and vending machines. A growing number of states and cities are banning trans fats from restaurant food. In January, California carried the ban over to doughnuts and baked goods, too. Farmers markets, bristling with junk-hostile veggies, are booming.

Gone are the days when hamburgers were as wholesome as the roller skates and poodle skirts that delivered them to the window.

But all the trash talk could be what's getting the creative juices really flowing in the junk food industry.

After all, 2011 has seen a glut of inventive concoctions:

  • Ben & Jerry’s released a new flavor, “Late Night Snack,” inspired by the TV show with Jimmy Fallon. The ice cream satisfies both salty and sweet cravings, with caramel swirls and fudge-covered potato chips, suspended in vanilla ice cream.
  • Burger King pulled out all the stops with its “Ultimate Breakfast Platter,” a plate piled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, a biscuit, and three pancakes with syrup.
  • Hardee’s came up with its own weighty meal combo, the Big Box Lunch: two double cheeseburgers, fries, fried apple pie, and a 20 oz. drink, for $5.

All the innovation seems to be paying off. Fast food is growing faster than any other segment of the restaurant industry, and should have a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to a study by the Indian research firm RNCOS.

Candy withstood the recession just fine. Last year, the confectionary industry grew by almost 4 percent, with "on the go individual chocolate” sales up 10 percent and nonchocolate Easter candy up 21 percent, according to data from the National Confectioner’s Association and Symphony IRI Group.

Given that performance, does the junk food industry deserve some applause on Junk Food Day? If you think so, best to celebrate quietly.

First lady Michelle Obama may be watching.

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