A fast-food junkie goes cold turkey

by Brian Clarey

I did it: I’m off the fast food.

No more Wendy’s. No more Sonic. No more Burger King. No more chicken nacho cheese chalupa.

And I’ll never have another Quarter Pounder again.

People who have known me for a long time probably won’t take this oath very seriously; I have been an avid consumer of processed and mass-produced goods for a long, long time.

I was the guy who would pump my fist in the air when I learned the McRib was coming back for its annual appearance on the McDonald’s menu.

When Wendy’s came out with the Big Classic in the ’80s I had one almost every day for a week, with a side of Wendy’s lame fries and a large chocolate Frosty.

I once devoted serious time and intellectual energy to answering the question, “Quarter Pounder or Whopper Jr.?” (The answer is Whopper Jr., but only if you get two of them.)

I once ate $9 worth of Taco Bell.

And when I lived for a time across the street from a McDonald’s I was unable to walk past it without going in and buying something. Anything. A bag of fries, even.

Fast food was a cure for hangovers and constipation, a reliable and cheap (and speedy) solution for a person who sometimes forgets to eat, a surety in an uncertain environment – after all, a Big Mac is a Big Mac is a Big Mac, be it from a mall in Morristown, NJ, where my grandmother used to take me, or a stand-alone in Novato, Calif., where I was once with an entire wedding party that cruised through the drive-in just before the ceremony. We all thought it would make a great commercial.

But I’ve been off the stuff for more than two months, and it feels just fine.

The impetus for this boycott was twofold: I’m close enough to my 40th birthday to smell it (it reeks of aftershave, lawn clippings and crayons) and I’m starting to recognize that my body is not the impermeable strap of leather I once thought it to be, that it treats me better when I put the right things in it.

And as I age I’m also beginning to discern connections between the machinations of the country’s biggest corporations and the actions of the general populace, cause-and-effect behavior that is rarely to the benefit of the average schmuck.

In short, I’m surrounded by fat people and I don’t want to be one of them.

And it’s become clear to me that the fast track to the town of Lardass has a terminal set squarely under the golden arches. The large fries alone have 30 grams of fat in them, as much as three Cadbury Caramel Creme Eggs. A sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle contains 32 grams of fat. My beloved Quarter Pounder with Cheese has 25 – 40 if you get the double.

Remember the scene in Supersize Me when Morgan Spurlock sat in his car eating a McDonald’s meal that took like 20 minutes to finish? That was the double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. You might also remember that after a bout of sweaty shivers he vomited the entire thing out the window.

Supersize Me was pretty good if, like me, you enjoy watching a man systematically destroy his glandular system for fun and profit, but a better source of hard information is Fast Food Nation, a book by Eric Schlosser (no relation, as far as I can tell, to the venerable Greensboro clan of the same name).

In it he documents the standards and practices of the industry, an astonishing exposé for someone like me whose diet once consisted of several fast-food meals a week.

Among the eye-openers are accounts of meat-packing industry that has changed little since the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and a retail system based on cheap labor and unskilled workers, as well as documentation of the rise of fast food since the McDonald brothers introduced the Speedee Service System in 1940, growth that, like that of the cancer cell, is purely for its own sake.

And that’s not such a crazy analogy – processed food products (i,e, hamburger, white flour, American cheese, whatever it is they put in those shakes) aid mightily in the formation of free radicals, and not the kind that take over student unions. These free radicals are unstable cells loose in your system that, if left to their own devices, can damage your DNA and contribute to the Big C.

But most disturbing is the industry’s systematic assault on our children. Most kids these days know about McDonald’s before they know their colors or can count to ten.

So screw it. No more quick eats for this hombre. But I still reserve the right to eat at whatever I want at gas stations and fairs. And hot dogs. Hot dogs are cool with me.

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