In a food fight, burgers and fries are winning big

I always enjoy it when the Food Police receive their comeuppance from fast food fans. You know the Food Police; they're the folks who eat lots of alfalfa, bean sprouts and tofu and look forward to their annual Thanksgiving Tofurkey.

Fighting back against obsessive calorie and carb counters, the fast food industry is offering calorie- and fat-laden alternatives that actually taste good. What a concept! According to USA Today, the CEO of the company that owns Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, Andy Puzder, figures he'll be famous forever for inventing the Monster Thickburger, a 1,420-calorie monstrosity sold at his restaurants.

Puzder said that he's merely trying to offer consumers what they want most: tasty food. "These products sell better than health-conscious products," he said. "We don't tell consumers what they want. They tell us." Which means that monster burgers are outselling apple and walnut salads. That's no surprise because, after all, do you know anyone who goes to McDonalds for salads?

"Consumers who supposedly hung on every carb and calorie just months ago appear to be zealously responding to ... their taste buds," observed USA Today reporter Bruce Horovitz. He wrote that the NPD Group, which tracks consumers' eating habits, reports that the most popular menu item ordered by men at restaurants is hamburgers followed by French fries; for women, it's fries and burgers, in that order. Pizza ranks third for both genders.

All of this has given rise to what Time magazine dubbed the "Burger Wars." It was spurred by a conniving Las Vegas woman, Anna Ayala, who claimed to have found part of a finger in the chili she ordered at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, Calif. As a result of her claim, Wendy's faced an embarrassing lawsuit and more than $15 million in lost business. Ms. Ayala's spurious lawsuit collapsed, however, when she and her husband were arrested and charged with fabricating the "finger incident."

According to Time, Wendy's business had been in decline well before the unpleasant incident as fast food "big guns" McDonalds and Burger King changed their menus and offered lower prices on some items. Preaching what Time called "a newfound concern for health," McDonalds successfully launched a new line of salads.

But, Time continued, Burger King and Hardee's (and Carl's Jr., which has an outlet in Carson City) "took the low road, heavily promoting gut-busting sandwiches like the Enormous Omelet and the Monster Thickburger." Wendy's countered with the Triple Burger, which actually contains more beef than the Thickburger. And then, in the cruelest blow of all to the Food Police, politically correct Ben & Jerry's dropped all three of its low-carb ice cream flavors and introduced a double-wide cone.

The National Retail Association reports that nearly 50 percent of the money that Americans spend on food is spent at restaurants. "There's lots of money to be made providing delicious food that's not good for you," said John Hemingway of Vivaldi Partners, a restaurant consulting firm. "Americans like to eat out and to eat good food. Generally speaking, good food is bad for you." Duh!

"Even in an age of better-educated dining, decadence still beats out decorum when most Americans eat out," USA Today opined. "Sure, folks like to know they can get a salad at the burger joint ... but the vast majority still pass on them." In fact, Whoppers outsell salads by 10-1 at Burger King. Pizza Hut joined the trend with double-stuffed pizzas.

Steven Witherly, a food consultant with a Ph.D in nutrition, offered a scientific explanation: "We're genetically programmed to seek fat and salt. ... Even though the (high fat) diet is killing us, the brain won't let us change." Well, thanks Dr. Witherly, that's reassuring. He's one of the brilliant scientists who, after years of painstaking research, discovered that fast food can actually make us fat.

An example of what the good doctor is talking about is found at Burger King, where breakfast sales have jumped 20 percent since the March introduction of an Enormous Omelet loaded with two slices of "cheez," two eggs, three strips of bacon and a sausage patty packing 730 calories and 47 grams of fat. That's a big favorite of 300-pounders in short-shorts, of whom we have our fair share at local fast food outlets.

If you're afraid of the Enormous Omelet, however, you can go to IHOP and order French toast stuffed with sweet cream cheese and other gooey (but tasty) stuff. And for lunch or dinner, you'll visit Ruby Tuesday's (which went healthy two years ago by posting trans-fat information on its menus) for an Ultimate Colossal Burger - two half-pound hamburger patties on a triple-decker bun. Yummy!

And so it goes. Americans are looking for tasty food when they eat out. Damn the calories, full speed ahead! I think I'll go out for a chicken-fried steak with extra gravy. Bring it on!

n Guy W. Farmer, an overweight senior citizen, eats out a lot in Carson City.


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