"Light" - In the Era of the Monster Thickburger

Light salt, light beer, Miracle Whip Light, low sodium V8, low fat potato chips, cholesterol-free salad dressing, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Dr. Pepper, boneless-skinless chicken breasts, heart-healthy seafood, Lean Cuisines, WeightWatchers, Slim Fast, Bowflex, South Beach, Atkins, all natural no preservatives, sugar-free gum, tobacco-free cigarettes and safe sex. Virtually everything that tastes or feels good should be avoided at all costs.

Health is fast approaching taste as the primary marketing messages for most categories for food and beverages. The reason is simple – rampant obesity. The U.S. health care establishment estimates that nearly 35% of all Americans are fat which has devastating health consequences and significant impact on already soaring medical costs.

Excess fat is prevalent in all socioeconomic groups, and is even regarded as a serious problem among infants and toddlers.

Nutrition and diet consciousness has spurned whole new industries from health and fitness clubs to therapeutic massage and yoga, and has given pharmaceutical companies an enormous and receptive market for appetite suppressants, anti-fat and cholesterol medications, vitamins and non-food supplements.

Obesity increases the risk of respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and stroke. As fat people are often less attractive and physically impaired, they are more at risk for chronic depression. There are few behaviors, save perhaps binge drinking, hard drugs and heavy smoking, more destructive than gluttony.

Diet books are routinely found at the top of best seller lists and virtually all of the spokesman and women for everything we lust after from cars to lingerie and from blue jeans to home furnishings are svelte, lean, sexy, healthy, young and often famous. Thin is in, fat is not.

How then to explain the run away success of Hardee’s new 1,400 calorie Monster Thickburger, Burger King’s new triple burger or Blimpie’s infamous “Quint” – five burgers, two eggs, cheese and a rasher of bacon in one gigantic sandwich. “Value Meals” – are an incentive to make it easier to add an order of large fries and a large Coke to accompany your Big Mac. Double Stuffed Oreos, stuffed pizza, all you can eat buffets, tubs and sometimes barrels of fried chicken. The Olive Garden – eat as many helpings of pasta as you can hold.

IFOCE – International Federation of Competitive Eating - has already convinced ESPN that their professional gluttons are athletes, with annual TV coverage of the Nathan’s Hotdog Championship, won for three years running by a young Japanese phenomenon who dunks in water and then stuffs 38 Coney Island dogs down his throat in less than 10 minutes.

420-pound “Badlands Booker” made his mark in Matzo Balls – nearly 30 lbs. consumed in 5 minutes. Even a butter king – 7 sticks consumed before all other competitors conceded.

IFOCE represents the absolute antithesis of heart-healthy. Their biggest stars train by expanding their stomachs between events. One claims to ingest 10 lbs. of oatmeal a day.

While heart-healthy menu selections can be found at Outback, Friday’s, Ruby Tuesdays, Applebee’s, Wendy’s, Bob Evans and even Cracker Barrel Country Stores, it never looks like many people are eating them. While ribs, rings, chocolate cheesecake and the like get the major play.

There is no market for low-cal biscuits and gravy and impossible to produce extra-crispy, hot and spicy “light” chicken. While fat people may become depressed, they must have really enjoyed the process of getting fat; while it appears that people disciplined enough to confine their eating to tiny portions of low-fat, low-salt, sugar and cholesterol free fare are just not having any fun. It’s hard to sit next to someone with a 38 oz. T-bone, mashed potatoes and gravy, and carrot cake with nothing between you and starvation but a cottage cheese and peach salad and six ounces of poached fish.

There are few things in life consistently more pleasurable than a good meal. Perhaps in lieu of abstinence the health caregivers should encourage moderation when it comes to alcohol, sugar, salt, animal fats and carbohydrates.

Smaller portions with less frequency makes a lot more sense than asking people to eliminate French fries, sausage gravy and hot fudge sundaes. Perhaps the Monster Thick Burger is a hostile reaction on the part of Hardee’s management to those who promote spinach salads as a reason to get off the road for lunch.

An argument could be made that providing the Monster Thickburger is as unethical as cigarette advertising to teenagers. While greasy food in large quantities can be addictive, cigarettes in any quantity can and often are deadly. The American Medical Association now regards moderate drinking as heart-healthy.

Mixing and matching seems to make the most sense. Diet Coke with a burger, light salt on onion rings, low-cal dressing on salads, fat-free mayonnaise in deviled eggs and light beer with pizza. It may in fact be difficult to stay extra thin with this routine, but likely possible to keep from getting fat. In the final analysis it may be better to be pleasingly plump and happy.