I don’t know if I’m on solid biological ground here, but I think all of our junk food cravings are based on prehistoric nutrition. By that I mean, we seek out high-calorie foods because energy is scarce in a natural setting. If vegetables tasted better than ham, we would fill up on veggies and forget about hunting boar. Then we wouldn’t have as much protein to build our primeval muscles up, which are important for hunting boar.
Problem with my theory: it’s circular. Meat provides us with the ability to hunt for meat. But I guess it also provides us other brute strength abilities (like defense against mid-sized predators). Plus, meat has a lot of at which is important for growing a blubber blanket.
Another problem with my theory: shouldn’t the most protein-rich vegetables taste better than the watery, fibery ones? I’ve never heard anybody say: “Eww yuck, cucumbers. Can’t we please have some kidney beans?”
Anyway, the gist of my theory is that what is considered nutritious today is what would be considered very poor food by subsistence farming standards. Turnips? Cabbage? That’s what you eat when you’re starving and want something to feel a little less empty on! Good food is fried pork rinds, the sort of stuff you can sit out a winter on. Salt beef: excellent protein, and it keeps well. Bread is okay, since it’s got starch calories, but white bread is best, since you don’t waste stomach space with all that useless roughage. It’s best of all with some butter on it. Sugary foods are great, since they pack lots of available energy, and remind us of fresh fruit.
The problem is, of course, that we held those tastes over into an era of agricultural plenty. You have to really hunt to find rutabagas, but you can buy a whole chicken for less than a day’s wages! So our idea of nutrition has turned full circle: we only smile upon calories from protein, which we need to cut down on as well since it often comes with fat and salt, and we need more fiber in our diets (which was never a problem before).
However, I did discover a relatively healthy snack food that actually scratches the same itch as REAL snack food. Edamame (soy beans), as prepared at Japanese restaurants. Lightly salted, hot and tender in their pods (which you discard). Sorry, baby carrots just don’t cut it.