It’s a well-known fact that America is a nation of fat people. And I’m not talking “chubby” or “a wee bit overweight.” Hell, I’m not even talking about your garden variety level of Wal-Mart fat. Rather, I’m talking about the kind of fat that allows you to use the fold between your upper and lower belly as a purse and your bellybutton as a cup holder. And it’s not just a few of us, either. Currently, 32 percent of all adults are clinically obese. And a recent report by the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention predicts that by 2030, 42 percent of all Americans will be obese, while the other 58 percent will be hunted for food.
As shocking as these numbers are, what should surprise no one is why we’re all so damn fat. Aside from our collective tendency to have activity levels comparable to that of a couch, we also eat like shit. Because of this, over the last 10 years we’ve seen increasing efforts by many to push a healthier lifestyle—not just upon the consumer, but upon the companies providing us with this food. In particular, the fast food industry has been under siege, and now the menus and staples of crappy dining that we all grew up on and love are changing.
But I can think of at least one man—me—who’s not going to stand for it anymore—because A., standing’s a lot of work and B., I have chairs for a reason.
In all seriousness, though, I am getting more than a little tired of the War on Hamburgers. Don’t get me wrong: I can appreciate the health concerns that come along with fatty diets and processed foods, and I also understand the national importance of a fit, healthy citizenry. So while I understand everyone’s concerns, I also don’t care.
Things I do care about: Either really good hamburgers smothered in cheese that squirt a cow’s worth of grease onto my plate after the first bite, or really disgusting hamburgers that admittedly taste like solidified, beef-flavored baby food but have the wonderful benefit of costing $.99 per pound. Seriously, I don’t care if your burgers are made from that stuff that always seems to be falling off Ben Roethlisberger’s face, if you’re going to cook up a pound of it and sell it for a buck, I’ll take ten.
If you think I’m kidding, consider this: my all-time favorite fast food snack is a taco from Jack in the Box. I love those things, and I have them all the time. Here’s the rub, though: I have no idea what that taco meat is made of, and, in fact, I’d be flat-out stunned to learn that it has actual meat from a cow in it. That said, I really don’t care because they taste like a deep-fried dream, and you can get two of them for a buck.
I am aware that these tacos are not healthy, and that’s why I don’t eat them everyday.* Though, there’s no guarantee that doing so would necessarily kill me. Take a look at Don Gorske, who in May of last year ate his 25,000th Big Mac. You see, for 39 years straight, he has eaten two Big Macs each and every day of his life—according to him, in all that time there were only 8 days where he didn’t have a Big Mac. That’s a picture of him below. And as you can see, at the age of 58, he’s doing fine.
His sex life is a different story.
We first met Gorske in the film that really kicked off the end of America’s love affair with fast food: Super Size Me. In the 2004 documentary, Morgan Spurlock showed America what happens to the human body after eating nothing but McDonald’s fare for 30 days.
And if you have to ask what does, in fact, happen, then you are the problem, not the burger.
Either way, after the film was released, fat, lethargic and depressed people all over the world were horrified that the food they’d been eating for decades can make you fat, lethargic and depressed.
Really? People didn’t know why they were fat? What, did they think the asses they’d been dragging around were the result of a particularly nasty strain of flu? The answer, apparently, is yes. How else can you explain things like the Men’s Health columns titled Eat This, Not That. These columns list the very worst meals (health wise) people can have at national restaurants, and offer up healthier alternatives to those meals—by the way, none of those alternatives is ever to “cook something at home.” By reading these stories, people learn stunning things such as the fact that Burger King’s Triple Whopper with Cheese is not the best choice for those looking for a light lunch. The burger, which the good people at Eat This, Not That rated as the worst fast food hamburger in America, has over 1,100 calories and 75 grams of fat.
While I appreciate Eat This, Not That’s noble goal of making Americans aware of what they’re eating, I tend to think if you’re regularly eating Triple Whoppers with cheese because you think they’re helping you fight cholesterol, then the heart attack you have is what scientists like to call natural selection. The rest of us, on the other hand, know to save Triple Whoppers for special occasions, like when we’ve lost a bet or are sick of life but are too chicken to use a gun. That’s right, most of us understand that Triple Whoppers are ridiculous.
There is one thing more ridiculous, however, and that’s Eat This, Not That’s suggested alternative to ¾-a-pound of beef covered with three slices of cheese. According to them, instead of a Triple Whopper you should have a regular Cheeseburger. Admittedly, this is good advice, but the reality is if you can comfortably eat a Triple Whopper, a cheeseburger will do for you what a single fry does for those of us who don’t need a Hoveround to go shopping.
I.e., to the writers of Eat This, Not That: eat shit.
If you’re still not convinced that the problem isn’t with our food but with stupid people, consider America’s response earlier this year when everyone suddenly realized that grocery stores and fast food restaurants were making burgers with pink slime—a gelatinous, creamy mixture of mechanically separated meat that is bathed in an ammonia mixture to kill the bacteria. For decades, no one cared that you could eat a Big Mac without having to chew it, but the second we found out why we didn’t need to chew it we all freaked out and start demanding that pink slime be banned?
In response to the public outcry, most grocery stores and fast food chains did away with the pink slime,** and schools across the country removed the product from its school lunches—which is a damn shame, really, because for many kids that meal represents the only pink slime they’ll eat all day.
Of course, years before the pink slime fiasco, the fast food industry had been trying to revamp its image with healthier options like salads, not-so-healthy but different kinds of crap like sugary coffees and chicken wraps, and, my personal favorite, the arrival of “real hamburgers.” In the past four years or so, nearly every fast food company has introduced the bigger, better burger, usually made with fancy things like sirloin or Angus beef. Consider them the fast food industry’s way of apologizing for serving you crap for decades.
It’s pathetic. For nearly 70 years, McDonald’s proudly boasted about how many burgers it has served, but in a shameful admission that all those burgers were crap they’re now offering a not-as-shitty burger, the Angus Apology. Burger King is still selling the crappy Whopper which made it an international power house, but it’s also redone its entire menu, added its own Angus burger and some weird-ass thing called the Chef’s Cuisine burger. And Wendy’s, not to be outdone, went the Full Monty, completely scrapping their old burgers and fries while switching to an entirely different beef.
Hell, if you’re going to go that far, why bother to keep calling it Wendy’s? Doing so makes them the Halloween III of the burger world.
It’s not just the burger joints racing to apologize for the food we’ve been gladly eating for years. Look at the changes Domino’s Pizza has recently made. They actually ran a months-long media campaign in which they came out and basically said: “Our product sucks, and we can’t figure out why you keep buying it. Still, to reward your loyalty, we’ve completely redone the entire recipe you’ve come to know.” And the absurd thing about this tactic (aside from the fact that the only thing different about the pizza is the garlic sauce rubbed over the crust) is that millions of Americans bought it hook, line and sinker. Domino’s business is up big time, and why shouldn’t it be?
It’s still the same crappy pizza, and it still is far cheaper than real pizza. That’s why I ordered from them back in 1991, and that’s why I occasionally order from them now. It’s a simple, but winning formula.
Sadly, it’s a formula Domino’s burger brethren are no longer following. Because while McDonald’s Angus Apology is, in fact, a bigger, better burger, they charge almost as much for it as a sit-down restaurant charges for a real hamburger. And while McDonald’s still serves the old crappy burgers that built them into the empire they are today, the prices are being jacked up considerably (to be more in tune with the pricing of the new deluxe menu offerings). Last time I checked, a Quarter Pounder Value Meal costs over six dollars, and while that’s really not that much money for that much food, it’s a horrible deal when compared to what I can get at Red Robin for a buck or two more.
Which brings me back to my point and the only reason we’ve all eaten so much fast food over the years. Yes, it’s quick, but it was also cheap. As the industry, as a whole, converts to a healthier cuisine, and as its prices continue to rise, they will continue to look less and less like the establishments that are so embedded into the last four or five decades of American life.
And while many of you might think that’s a good thing—as all your doctors undoubtedly do—I have to say there’s something about this transformation that feels downright un-American.
*Tacos are a weekday thing, as I prefer to class it up on the weekends with some KFC.
**Actually, the joke’s on us all, as most companies didn’t do away with the slime, just the ammonia solution that turned the slime pink.
P.S.: When you walk into any Fat Burger restaurant, you will see a sign on the wall that proudly declares, I shit you not: “We have the leanest beef in town.”
Seriously, did the jackass who made that sign not see the name on the door?