Thursday, November 25, 2004

Bad burger

Advance warning: If you've been having tummy trouble within the last day or two, kindly refrain from reading this post until things have settled down somewhat. I'm still feeling a touch of nausea a day after I first heard this news. Now, on with the show...

American fast food chain Hardees has unveiled its Monster Thick Burger. The basic specs of this thing are pretty frightening: 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat from its two 1/3-pound slabs of Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise and a buttered sesame seed bun.

As a point of reference, a Big Mac has 600 calories – which was pretty sickening in its own right until the arrival of this new generation of superburgers. For more background, MSNBC is running this story, and this one.

A really perceptive reader (thanks, Jeff!) brought this to my attention yesterday. My first thought when I followed the links in his e-mail was that this was a joke. But it's real, and it represents yet another milestone on society's apparently one-way trip to an obesity-laden dietary hell.

What bothers me more than the fact that the thing has two times the recommended daily allowance of fat, and almost a day's worth of sodium, is the attitude of Hardees head honcho Andrew Puzder. He says the new confection is "not a burger for tree-huggers.

"This is a burger for young hungry guys who want a really big, delicious, juicy, decadent burger. I hope our competitors keep promoting those healthy products, and we will keep promoting our big, juicy delicious burgers."

Um, right. I hope you can sleep at night, Andy. I guess the fact that you're actively promoting the proliferation of a killer doesn't seem to weigh on your conscience. Lovely. My belief in humanity has once again been reinforced.

Am I wrong in feeling this way? Should I be this riled up about an overblown sandwich from an otherwise-nondescript purveyor of grease patties? Does the world really change if someone pushes fast food to another egregiously dubious milestone?

Perhaps not. We are, after all, not obliged to consume this thing (even if I wanted to, I'd have to drive into the U.S.; yet another benefit to living in Canada.) And even if we were forced to stand at the 70s-styled formica counter and stuff back one of these bad boys, do we really think that all of society would be threatened because of what's inside the grease-stained wrapper?

Hardly. But this isn't a about statistics. It is about image, perception, and influence. Comparatively few people buy Dodge Vipers. They're horridly expensive, horridly bad on gas, and horridly useless for day-to-day living. But there they sit in the showroom next to humble Neons and PT Cruisers, casting their halo over the unwashed masses who can do no more than smudge the windows with their proletarian noses. The number of aspirants to these lofty machines will far exceed the number who ultimately roll one home, but the influence will extend far beyond the sheer number of folks behind the wheel.

Back to the food vernacular, the sandwich won't be a top-seller, but it will sit atop the menu, quietly establishing a new benchmark for adipose-soaked decadence. Lesser sandwiches won't seem quite so bad any more. We'll down whatever they offer with even less concern for its long-term impact on our health.

Indeed, even industry experts are shrugging their shoulders in a tacit admission that the battle for a healthy tomorrow is slowly – perhaps not so slowly – being lost. A restaurant consultant named Jerry McVety was quoted in the MSNBC article as follows: “Maybe this is a smart strategy because there are still folks out there who care about the taste and size of their sandwich, and less about their weight.”

Allow me to pause while I once again shake my head.

I'm no dietary angel. I eat my fair share of what my Yiddish-speaking grandmother would have termed chazerai – loosely translated as garbage, or junk food. But I can't help but shake my head at the prevailing attitudes that relentlessly drive ever more obscene creations into mainstream pop and food culture.

The Cold War may be over, but the Fat War continues to rage, and it's racking up more victims than any Soviet missile ever did. As odious as I find this new Hardees product, and the corporate message that has driven its introduction, I find it difficult to lay all the blame at one company's door. We demand this. We refuse to change. Fast food joints are simply adapting their offerings to deliver what we've asked for. The enemy, it would seem, is us.


Anonymous said...

Veda here. Lazy tonight, don't want to sign in.

Carmi, I think you're right in seeing this as simply over the top obscene. And, what you said about it minimizing the other ff burgers, I'd like to take a step further. By minimizing these other "foods" as has been done now by zillions of companies for the past few years, I do see the trend of people not seeming to be aware of what they're actually eating. That it's okay, since it's not the super-huge thing.

But on another note, I do see many ff chains adding great healthy foods as well. Salads, mostly, but it's a great start. And it's really taken off. So, I agree that this thing will sit at the top of the menu likely, but think that most will opt for the salads and the like.

just a late night thought.

Diane said...

You are right - the choice is ours, and we are responsible for our own behavior, each person has to make their decision to eat this stuff or choose something else. But the larger point is correct too - the image, the influence this type of thing has on the larger population.

The ads that Hardee's run on t.v. for this thing amaze me: a hot young lady riding slowly riding a mechanical bull and eating a Thick Burger. I look at that and shake my head... It's a funny gimick - the voiceover says something like, "Would you rather see a group of scruffy men sitting around eating a burger?" But truthfully, that waif would never be caught dead eating it in the real world. Else, the actress would be out of a job after a few of them. Or less marketable I suppose.

Dean said...

It's an old argument. Where do the rights of the person start, and those of society end?

I think that this whole trend was started by the reaction against smoking. I remember a time when I was assaulted, pretty much everywhere, by cigarette smoke. People smoked in their houses, in their cars, at work. People smoked in restaurants, in stores, at sporting events.

We've largely won the right not to have to breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke, and as an ex-smoker, this is a good thing.

I don't believe that this carries over to the junk-food argument, though. For one thing, there's pretty much no argument that there's no such thing as a healthy cigarette, but even a greed-burger like this can be part of a healthy diet if eaten with (great) discretion.

I watch my diet pretty closely, as I have a tendency to gain weight. I love barbecued ribs. The two can, and do, coexist because I don't eat ribs every day, or even every week. I probably don't have ribs more than once every couple of months.

I don't believe that society should be enforcing dietary options. Personally, I think that the sort of widespread education programs that reduced tobacco to the fringes would do the same for fast food.

It's already happening, and in fact I think that this Hardee's oink-burger is a reaction to the fact that it's happening, and is a Sign of the Impending Fast-Food Apocalypse.

Mark said...

Everyone knows the connection between a diet hight in fat, and obesity/heart disease, but people still do it. I think, therefore, that some legislation should be created to put a cap on calories per sandwich, for instance. Or perhaps a tax on the calorie content of the food.

Humans can't always be trusted to be sensible, hence speed limits. In Ireland recently, the government put a tax on plastic bags at supermarkets. Before, people used to take as many as they wanted and they didn't recycle them, despite knowing that it was bad for the environment. Now their use has almost disappeared as people use heavy duty re-usable bags, or paper grocery bags.

I can't imagine many governments squaring up to 'big food' though, especially not the Bush one.

Anonymous said...

Veda again. Lazy, still.

I have to get in here and address what Mark had to say, hope you don't mind that, Carmi? If so, let me know, I won't do it again.

Mark, there is a solid, reasonable difference between capping plastic bag limits due to lack of recycle versus capping cals per sandwich due to lack of logic. If people are dumb and destroy the world for everyone else, that's one thing. People being dumb and destroying their own lives is a personal choice. Either wisen up or fatten up, right? I don't agree that there should be capping on the amount of anything in any food distrubuted, so long as it is, indeed, edible. (ie, no mouse droppings or bits.) If the product sells, great for the company, if it does not, hooray for the smart people who know and do better with their lives. I've never particularly cared for the "keep me safe from myself" types of laws.

Okay, stepping down. :)

carmilevy said...

Veda: quick comment - I'll think something more coherent up later. Just wanted to let you know that I place a high degree of value on all forms of feedback. By all means, please keep the words coming, k?

Mark said...

I'm not saying that people should not be allowed to eat what they want, just that they should be dissuaded from eating too much.

Anonymous said...

Veda here again. :) I've decided that I simply don't want to sign in to comment and hope everyone's cool with that. If you want to get to my site or whatever, you may find me at So, there's that. Now on to the commenting. :)

Carmi, thanks for letting me know where you stand on that. And, I'm glad to hear that you actually promote such discussions in your comments threads. :)

Mark, I read your latest comment here and agree to a point. I think people should be informed about healthy choices, whether it be via printed flyer, magazine spreads, tv or radio spots. Totally a great idea. However, actually disuading people from making their own choices, even about what to eat or drink, comes too close to personal rights. It's not at all like smokers, (which I am one), who indeed pollute otherwise hopefully breatheable air. It's closer to cussing at the opera, but not even the same as that either. It's just plain choice. Taking away choice, or even biasing one's choice regarding how they speak, what they eat, or how they dress cuts mighty close to socailistic tendencies. I cannot in any way argue against such ideas.

Mark, I don't dislike you in anyway, at all. I just don't agree with what you've said here. Disclaimers aside, I sure hope we're all still getting along. :)

Mark said...

Veda, I'm sure we'll get along. I love discussions so don't hold back!

I think that our national perspectives may have something to do with our different opinions. As you probably know, the UK has a national health service for all, paid by all. So not only do people who abuse their bodies hurt themselves, but they also harm others financially. Pitting personal liberty against money is always going to be a dodgy issue however!

Is it not best to try and prevent overconsumption of alcohol, tobacco, and perhaps foods artificially high in sugar/salt/fat by taxing it? The taxes can then be used to treat people who develop a consumption problem.

Prevention is better than cure.

However (!), Scandinavian countries have VERY high taxes on alcohol and despite this, a problem with alcohol abuse.

Bah, nothing in life is simple!!

Carmi: sorry to continue this discussion with Veda by using you as a proxy! (anyway, you started it ;-)

ps: hope you're feeling better!

Anonymous said...

Veda. Again. Hi!

Carmi, I'm with Mark, thanks for letting us dish this to speak. err, sorry, that was really lame.

I will email Mark and allow you thus to have your comments section back. :) I'll copy to you, sound good? That way, you still get the benefit of the discussion. Talk about a win-win-win, right?

Anonymous said...

Me again. Bummer, no email listed for Mark on his site.

Alas, I'll have to continue here...

I think you're right, Mark, to say that the gov'tal take on the issues definitely prevails our though patterns. I can see where you would feel the way that you do based on federal health care. I'd likely get crabby about it then too. However, in the US, we don't have that, so when people screw up their lives, they do it only to themselves, really. Unless they're on Medicare or something, but I think there are limits there, as well. Plus, if a known alcoholic goes in for a liver transplant, they're not treated nearly with as much respect (decency, yes, respect?) as say, someone who's liver never functioned properly or due to cancer. So, we have our ways as well... Mwahahaha!

Has that system been working well where you're at? I've only heard about conditions in Italy, where the medical system is also federally based.

Carmi, thanks again for donating the space for such discussion. It's greatly appreciated!

carmilevy said...

Hi Veda & Mark (and everyone else, of course).

I'm really enjoying your discussion here. Please don't feel the need to move it offline. As far as I'm concerned, the more discussion there is in, on, around and throughout my blog, the better. Last I checked, Google didn't limit the amount of space devoted to comments, so go nuts!

Spencer said...

Yes, Veda and Mark, please continue. I don't have strong feelings one way or the other on this but I'm interested in reading about others discussing it.

On another note: Carmi, what is this that looks like a bit of html that's been commented out. It reminds me of a what scantily clad woman that has little or nothing to do with the narrative would look like to an alien trying to understand pop culture.

carmilevy said...

Hi Spencer. I can't find any rogue html-like code lurking in the blog, so I'm not sure what the source of the problem is. Can you help me localize it? Thanks!