Why should I feel guilty about eating? Many dishes are considered unhealthy, but an occasional indulgence is OK. Photo: Getty Images
Feast or Famine
by Susan Jung
Feast or Famine
by Susan Jung

Sugar, spam or fried chicken? For a true foodie, there are no guilty pleasures. It’s all good, just don’t overindulge

  • As a food editor, restaurant reviewer and all-round foodie, I feel only pleasure from eating – no guilt
  • From instant noodles to street food, these dishes may not be healthy, but everything is OK in moderation

The other day, someone asked me to name my guilty pleasures.

Of course, they were referring to food – they weren’t trying to pry into my personal life to find out if, say, I gleefully stole candy from babies, or took the money out of the donation cups of blind street people.

This person was surprised when I told them I didn’t have any guilty pleasures, and rather snidely pointed to my Instagram feed, where I posted about eating instant noodles, Spam, and fast food fried chicken, and where I show dishes I’ve cooked that use what nutritionists might think of as unhealthy amounts of butter, lard and sugar. The person implied that what I was eating wasn’t very “foodie” and therefore I should feel guilty about it.

I was tempted to say please don’t impose your food issues upon me – just because that person would feel guilty about eating those things doesn’t mean everyone should – but thought that might sound antagonistic (which was possible) or defensive (I didn’t have anything to defend). I also resisted asking if there was a culinary equivalent of the Ten Commandments that I wasn’t aware of, that dictated what types of ingredients food lovers should avoid on threat of being relegated to the ninth circle of hell where we’d be forced to eat our most hated foods for all eternity.

A spam sandwich may not tick the health boxes, but an occasional indulgence in an otherwise healthy diet is fine. Photo: Getty Images

Instead, I explained patiently that I never feel guilty about foods I eat – because why should I? Does the fact that I occasionally eat instant noodles, family-size bags of potato chips, or fast food chicken, fries and fried peach mango pie (usually not all at once) make me a bad person?

I know these foods can be high in calories, sodium and trans-fats, but take far more pleasure in eating them than I would almost any salad, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing what you like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. And is the occasional indulgence in an otherwise healthy diet really that bad?

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If you’re a regular reader of freelance writer Andrew Sun’s I Know a Place column, which appears on the SCMP website every Wednesday, and in which people tell us about their favourite restaurants in and out of Hong Kong, the interviewees often talk about their guilty pleasures.

To me, the things they feel guilty about are totally innocuous: they’ve mentioned laksa, indulging in too much wine, eating typhoon shelter crab, going to a cha chaan teng for a plate of fried noodles, eating ice cream or frozen yogurt, enjoying a Spam, scrambled egg and peanut butter sandwich at a dai pai dong in Hong Kong’s Central district, and dining at three-Michelin-star Caprice just because they want to, and not for any special occasion.

I’ve done all of these, so if there really are nine circles of hell, I’d be at least as far down as the gluttony one. But guilt isn’t the emotion that I’m experiencing – instead, I feel happiness.

Hong Kong fried street food is delicious. It maybe not be very nutritious, but we still love it. Photo: Getty Images

Occasionally, I have a hard time falling asleep at night – it takes a while for my mind to switch off. I’m certainly not going to lose even more sleep by feeling guilty about something I ate.