In early 2001, I read Fast Food Nation, an exposé on the fast food industry by Eric Schlosser. The author describes the history of the fast food industry, how American culture has shaped and been shaped by the concept of eating on the go, and, most interestingly, describes the process of how livestock and grain turns into fast food, and its effect on the human body. It’s really a great book — it’s not preachy, and avoids anything that could be considered alarmist.
After reading Fast Food Nation, I came to the altogether-rational conclusion that I should cease consuming fast food. This wasn’t a big lifestyle change — for reasons rooted both in economic sense and a concern for my own health, I didn’t have but perhaps one meal at a fast food restaurant every couple of months. It was just a rare on-the-go treat, a chance to load up on salty, gut-filling goodness.
Several months ago, I was talking to somebody trumpeting that they don’t watch television. This is a common trend among people who don’t watch TV — they feel that they have to tell everybody that they meet that they don’t watch TV, making clear that they’re doing so for the purpose of feeling superior to others. I’ve gone for months at a time without watching television, but I didn’t feel the need to print up a t-shirt about it. I realized, though, that I was in danger of letting my lack of consumption of fast food turn into just such as dubious bragging point, based on ideology rather than fact. (Nearly four years had passed since I’d read Fast Food Nation, and much of it had begun to fade from memory.) To avoid finding myself saying to people “oh yeah, well, I haven’t eaten a Big Mac in ten years,” or something similarly obnoxious, I went to a Wendy’s while on my weekly Charlottesville –> Blacksburg commute. It’s no secret that Wendy’s has the best burgers of all fast food joints, so it was a no-brainer.
It was a terrible, terrible cheeseburger. The meat was grey, the lettuce limp, the bun squished, the cheese wholly artificial. It was precisely as I recalled, and yet had become horrible. The effect was much like — if I may get preachy and obnoxious here — that which comes of going for a few months without watching a 6:30pm national news broadcast (instead listening to All Things Considered reading the New York Times or watching MacNeil/Lehrer — and then watching again. It’s crap. Only you wouldn’t know it without having gone without. Perspective.
I haven’t had fast food since my Wendy’s experience, and I can’t imagine that I’ll have it again too soon, but, for purposes of not being a bastard, I’m not ruling it out. I may have a Happy Meal tomorrow, just for self-spite.
|Yes, those are French fries. On the burger. Saving you the calorie-burning work of picking them up individually.|
All of this is by way of introduction to my disgust at the the Hardee’s “Thickburger” ads. Hardee’s, which is known as Carl’s Jr. to those in the American west, introduced a big-ass deathburger a couple of years ago, though it spent much of that time under its previous name, the ingeniously-titled “Six Dollar Burger” (it retailed for $4). The Double Thickburger, for example, has 1,244 calories (808 of which are from fat) 98g of fat (150% of the recommended daily allowance) and 38 grams of saturated fat (190% of the recommended daily allowance). Most startlingly, this burger has 2,086mg of sodium, markedly more than even a Banquet Hearty One frozen dinner. So it’s objectively fair to say that the Thickburger is a nutritional horror show.
Armed with this knowledge, combined with everything that I’ve learned about the industry from Fast Food Nation, along with my burger-avoidance, burger-trying, burger-avoidance stages, I find the TV spots about as persuasive as a Virginia Slims ad. But what’s really gross — what really makes me cringe and shield my eyes with interlaced fingers — is that with every bite taken of a Thickburger in these advertisements, there is a loud crunch, followed by the thick sound of mastication. When I hear that, I think of the bone fragments ground up in the beef in the carcass-stripping process, of the gristle that is necessary to pack a single hamburger with 98 grams of fat, and of the effect that the food is going to have on the body of the person crunching down.
Ugh. It’ll be a cold day in hell when I can turn my stomach back around long enough to squeeze a Thickburger into it. Burger-abstainer or no, it’s hard not to be self-righteous about something that nasty.