James Whelan Butchers: When Junk Food is Great


There is nothing boring about the English language, particularly if you consider how words evolve and grow.  Created to mean one thing specifically, words can quickly catch on and take on whole new explanations with different generations.  These days technology also informs how we use words and I’m very aware that there is a teenage lexicon out there that really sounds like a foreign language to anyone over the age of 30.   Try reading teenage texts or emails (with their permission) and you’ll soon find yourself lost in a crazy mixed up land of abbreviations, acronyms and oxymoron that constitute clear communication in their world!

From our own perspective ‘Junk Food’ has become an all encompassing word that somehow takes little account of just how ‘junky’ the food actually is.  I heard a six year old recently describing a burger as a forbidden ‘junk’ food in his house.  My ears instantly pricked up and I was about to engage this child in the debate about how all burgers are not created equal and then thought better of it.

Junk Food

Junk Food

But how many adults are also quick to slap a negative connotation on many foods that have, essentially been kidnapped by an industry.  I’m talking about burgers, chips, chicken nuggets, pizza, fish fingers, even ice cream, biscuits and sweets!  We might all say that these foods are not good for you.  However if you are prepared to make them yourself then there’s no need to fear them at all as a threat.

Children these days intrigue me.  Some of them have no real knowledge of how real food is made or where it comes from other than the shop or supermarket, but yet you will find amazing adult words like ‘carbohydrate’ and ‘diet’ in a five year old’s vocabulary.  Just like the six year old who spoke of junk food I heard an even younger child say, “I’m not allowed to have too many carbohydrates”, as he barely pronounced the word.  While it is good to educate our children, maybe we need to look at our approach.  Children are literal.  Telling a child a “burger is bad” or, as another child declared to me, “bread makes you fat” is a misguided approach in the extreme.

I love my kids to eat junk food; that is the junk food that I make them myself.  We don’t have it every day, but I love providing the treat of mini homemade burgers with lovely real potatoes sliced into thick crunchy chips.  The only reason the burgers are ‘mini’ is to fit in their little hands.  Pizza is a big hit and while I sometimes concede to a bought pizza base every now and again the toppings are always fresh.  One particularly fun event was lining all the toppings out in little bowls and letting them be their own master chef.  It certainly took the sting out of a wet Saturday afternoon.  I’ve also created pizza on pitta bread and they have always been a triumph as well.

Chicken nuggets seem to be a universally loved children’s food.  There is nothing at all nutritionally wrong with chicken nuggets if they are made of real chicken.  To be honest there is a sensory pleasure in the creation of chicken nuggets.  I like to pan fry the breast quickly just to sear it and make it easier to cut into pieces.  Then I bathe it in seasoned flour, some egg and finally breadcrumbs; creating a little army of breaded pieces that are always delicious.  Of course I can’t leave things alone and so I often experiment with the flour seasoning by adding in a little turmeric spice or cumin; not too hot of course, or other things from time to time.  For a more adult nugget, just slice the chicken in lengths and you’ve created the slightly more glamourous chicken goujon.

I was recently treated to a bowl of homemade ice cream.  Despite the fact that it is still winter and possibly not the most obvious time for ice cream it was an experiment in a recently acquired Christmas gift of an ice cream maker.  The end result was fantastic.  Now it was quite a grown up affair as there was alcohol involved but I’m already looking forward to the possibilities that will no doubt grace my palate from said ice cream maker come the warmer months.

Homemade Ice Cream

Homemade Ice Cream

Let’s reclaim some of this junk food territory and make sure that popular and culturally fun food isn’t completely lost to us just because some people have exploited recipes to the point of removing the real goodness and substituting chemicals in their place.  We can enjoy junk food and eat it without guilt as long as we make the junk food ourselves.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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One Response to “James Whelan Butchers: When Junk Food is Great”

  1. Nenaghgal says:

    Great post Pat – good to remind people that you can make your own delicious versions of nuggets and burgers. Educating children about food is so tricky – have just entered this phase with my 11 year old, of course, does not help as I get older, I get more and more wary of all the preservatives and additives put into many foods. Here’s to making it at home with our children! By the way, the ice cream looks fabulous!

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