NB: To make full sense of the dialogue unfolding here, you probably need to have read the issue of Eat This Newsletter that contains my original take on the conversation between Robert Shewelt and Anna Zeide.
I fully agree that most commentaries don’t discriminate among different degrees of processing either. Funnier still are those that tell us to avoid processed foods while at the same time singing the praises of kombucha or sauerkraut. But I think that actually offers an insight into how they think of processed foods, so I’m happy to ignore them.
I disagree, however, that ultra-processed includes “almost all pre-packaged foods that can be found in a modern supermarket”. It certainly does not apply, for example, to a box of polished white rice, or a can of tomato pulp.
There is definitely a whole web of problems around convenience foods that is worth untangling, and someday I may attempt that. For now, I’ll just say that I do not agree that the things you include in that are, in my mind, equally processed. I am no fan of mass-produced bread, but I consider it to be in a different category than many ready-to-eat foods, and I have no idea what meat-and-chicken extracts actually are. Perhaps I lead too sheltered a life.
Equally, foods that allow disabled people a measure of autonomy are not equivalent to the very cheap calories that single parents often purchase essentially because they have no options.
As for ready-made sandwiches, they would be ultra-processed if their ingredents were ultra-processed, but not otherwise.
I honestly do not think that either I or the authors of the World Nutrition paper I cited were lumping convenience foods and what you call junk food. I can only state once again that my problem is with using the single word “processed” to cover everything from a pre-packaged ingredient or food to a Twinkie.
With that in mind, and, of course, everything we both know about a balanced diet, I would have to counter that not all junk food is junk, not all processed food is ultra-processed, and no single food is either healthy or unhealthy. Even Michael Pollan’s advice not to eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food falls down in specific cases. My grandmother wouldn’t have recognised sashimi.