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20 years

Fat People
June 19, 2003

By Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2003 - All Rights Reserved
To distribute this article, please post this web address or hyperlink


et’s face it. America has become a nation of fat people. Walk down any street in the country at lunchtime or visit any mall in America on the weekend. Fat people. They’re everywhere. If you aren’t anorexic, the odds are better than 60-40--especially if you like fast foods, or are at least forced by lack of choice to eat at fast food restaurants daily--that you are overweight. We are becoming grossly (and in some cases even obesely) overweight, not necessarily because we consume too many calories, but because we consume too much fat in those calories. As a nation, we’ve become overweight simply because we choose to eat things we probably shouldn’t be putting in our mouths--like Whoppers, Big Macs, fries, soft drinks and milk shakes.
     Some foods, as convenient as they are for today’s fast people in an increasingly fast society, contain too much fat or starch or salt--or all three--and far too many calories to be considered a healthy alternative to mom’s home cooking. With fast foods it's fat. Fat, as ugly as the word sounds, generally tastes good. Buy a steak without marbling (that’s fat), and you have a tasteless piece of shoe leather. Buy a burger made from 97% lean meat, and not only is it more expensive than a burger containing 35% to 40% fat, it's dry and tasteless to boot.
     Over the past decade or two the fast food restaurant chains have basically destroyed the family restaurant business in America--not because they actually serve food faster (I’ve stood in the lines waiting for a manufactured burger and fries and discovered as the minutes ticked by that there is really nothing “fast” about fast food except in the manner in which its prepared)--but because the mass merchandising approach to advertising by fast food hucksters erroneously suggests that it is less expensive than a “sit down meal” in a real restaurant.
     In the beginning it was.
     When the Golden Arches first appeared across the landscape of Americana, you could buy a MickeyD cheeseburger and fries for a quarter. For another dime you got an ice cold Coke. Competition from Burger King, Burger Queen, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen (the soft ice cream people) and scores of other fast food vendors sent costs skyrocketing because, with competition, everyone was forced to advertise to tell the American people where to go to buy the cheapest, tastiest, fastest carryout meal. Compared to the real sit-down restaurants, the fast food joints weren’t so cheap anymore...nor was the food they served that wholesome. There was too much fat, too much salt, and too many calories in each serving. Added to that is the fact that everything was fried. Some on a brazier grill, some on a griddle and some in a deep fryer.
     When America became cholesterol conscious, the word ‘fried” began to disappear from the fast food vernacular. Kentucky Fried Chicken (the only fast food chain to actually have the politically-incorrect word in its copyrighted name) became KFC*. When Harlan Sanders created his famous recipe, his chicken was fried in a large iron skillet. It was not until the late 1930s that it was pressure cooked. But the name and the image of fried chicken remained part of the chain’s identity until the early 1990s when anything fried was suddenly construed as unhealthy.
     Since there was not much that the fast food industry could do to disguise the fact that hamburgers and french fries are fried, the fast food industry (like the frozen food industry) began to focus on calories rather than fat content or what levels of good or bad cholesterol were contained in the food they served.
     Even Good Housekeeping magazine (which should know better) featured an article [pgs. 155-159, July, 2003] suggesting there is a fast food diet that willactually help you lose weight because the caloric intake of the fast food was low. The author of the article, Jim Karas, noted that he didn’t focus on the fat or sodium content of fast food meals because, in his words “...my philosophy is that when it comes to weight loss, the calorie is king in the long run...” adding that “...you should limit fat and sodium to avoid heart disease and high blood pressure.” Ironically, buried between the second and third pages of this article was an ad for Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium), a cholesterol-lowering drug. The reality is that when it comes to losing weight, calories are not king. Fat reduction is.
     The caloric intake is deceiving because we’ve been conditioned to judge how much we consume by the number of calories and not the fat or sodium content. In his Good Housekeeping diet, Karar meticulously detailed how many calories (but not how much fat) were in the following items from various fast food eateries.\

• Plain English Muffin 150 calories
• w/ 2 scrambled eggs 310 calories
• Egg McMuffin 300 calories
• Sausage Breakfast
Burrito 290 calories
Burger King
• Croissan’wich w/
Egg & Cheese 350 calories
• Western Egg
Breakfast Sandwich 300 calories
• Biscuit w/ butter 280 calories
• Sourdough bread
with Ham 220 calories
• Croissant
with ham 310 calories
• Chicken McGrill 400 calories
• 6 Chicken McNuggets 630 calories
• Plain burger w/ fries
and small soft drink 530 calories
Burger King
• 4 Chicken Tenders
w/Fries 400 calories
• Plain burger w/ fries
and small soft drink 530 calories
• Whopper (no fries) 710 calories
• Large Chili w/cheddar
cheese & saltines 395 calories
• Low cal salad w/
dressing 125 calories
• Plain burger w/ fries
and small soft drink 530 calories
• Baked potato with a
spring salad 490 calories
Taco Bell
• 2 Soft Tacos
w/beef 420 calories
• Taco Salad w/o the
Shell w/salsa 420 calories
• Plain Bean Burrito 370 calories
• Grilled Stuft Burrito 730 calories
• 7 Layer Burrito 530 calories
• Tender Roast Sandwich
w/sauce 390 calories
• Individual Popcorn
Chicken 450 calories
• 2 drumsticks 280 calories
• 3 wings 450 calories

• Regular Roast Beef Sandwich w/curly fries 660 calories
• Light Grilled Chicken Sandwich w/curly fries 590 calories
• Beef ‘n cheddar Sandwich 480 calories
Boston Market
• Chunky Chicken Salad (1 cup serving) 640 calories
• Grilled 1/2 chicken breast w/ new potatoes 460 calories
Pizza Hut
• 2 slices cheese pizza 400 calories

Your personal “pan pizza” at Pizza Hut will let you adjust your waistband to the 600 calorie notch. Add a jumbo order of french fries (or freedom fries if you wish) to your favorite fast food sandwich and you will have added another 300 calories to your meal. Lord knows what happens when you “super size” it. Imagine, if you will, stopping into one of your favorite fast food haunts for dinner...and you’re very hungry. A two-Whopper dinner at Burger King with super-sized fries and a soft drink will net out at around 2,320 calories--more than a normal man’s daily caloric allowance. Hopefully you haven’t eaten anything else for the day because you just had a whopper of a meal. If you had an Egg McMuffin and black coffee for breakfast and an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, curly fries and black coffee for lunch, you would have consumed 3,350 calories--assuming there were no snacks of any type during the day.
     If all you’re looking at are calories, you’re still in deep-fried fat. Put mayonnaise on your favorite sandwich, and you just added 200 more calories to your meal. When you look beyond the warning flag--the caloric intake--at the fat you are consuming based not on gram weight, but the percentages of fat you can safely consume and hope to burn off in a normal active day, you will begin to get an idea why America is overweight. America has a penchant for fast food and it is making us fat. Unfortunately, too many of us are addicted to fat food either because we like it or because it is too convenient. While there is nothing fast or cheap about fast food, the taste seems to resonate with the pickup truck lifestyle of Americans who, because mama is a wage earner just like papa, seem to have forgotten how to prepare a real home-cooked meal, or how to maintain a healthy, balanced diet that includes the “basic” food groups (which do not include high fat content fast food sandwiches, tacos or pizza).
     For that reason you can understand what might possess several people around the country to accuse the fast food industry of conspiring to make them fat. A handful have filed lawsuits against their favorite food haunts because they woke up one morning and discovered their bodies no longer fit their skin. Of course, you and I both know that nobody held a gun to their heads and forced them to eat two Whoppers for lunch and a chunky chicken salad, grilled chicken breast and new potatoes for dinner and maybe a 7-layer burrito for a late evening snack--two or three times a week for the past decade or two.
     We eventually become what we consume. That’s a sad fact of life. When our consumption of highly saturated fat content foods (or high starch or high sugar content foods) exceeds our ability to burn off the calories, and we unwisely choose to continue consuming the same types of high fat, high starch, high sugar foods day in, day out, let’s face it folks, we’re gonna get fat. Not just mildly fat...we’re gonna get obscenely obese. We’re gonna become porkers. And sadly, when push comes to shove, the only person we can realistically blame is ourselves. We can argue that we have a genetic disposition to be fat and blame our grandmothers and grandfathers for passing their bad genes down to our parents. Or, we can blame the fast food industry since they have the deep pockets lawyers need to profitably sue someone on a contingency basis. But the simple truth is, we get fat only because we continue to eat without regard for [a] the caloric intake or [b] the amount of fat contained in those tasty morsels we shovel into our mouths. Believe me, Dave Thomas didn’t conspire to make you fat, and Ronald McDonald isn’t holding a gun to your head to make you eat...and no one in America with an honest bone in his body can claim that fast food is so delicious that he can’t resist it. We eat it because we’re just too lazy to go home and cook a meal.
     In November, 2002 eight New York City teens filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against McDonald’s, claiming they were deceived about the fat content in the chain’s Big Macs and Happy Meals. Their lawyers were very likely hoping the chain would settle the action since this isn’t exactly the type of case that gets a good report in the law review. In January, 2003, the court dismissed the action as a frivolous lawsuit. In the opinion of this writer, the court should also have sanctioned the lawyers who filed it. Lawsuits like these are just about two commas and a semi-colon short of extortion--and the lawyers know it. Any lawyer filing this type of action should be charged with a felony, and any judge who entertains such an action in his or her courtroom deserves to be removed from the bench. Not every case deserves its day in court.
     In July, 2002 a similar action was filed in a Bronx courtroom. This one has not gone away. Filing this lawsuit was a 56-year old maintenance worker, Caesar Barber. Barber, who is medically obese, has diabetes (one of the byproducts of obesity). He’s already suffered two heart attacks (also the byproduct of obesity). Barber will likely get his day in court, but his lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, is going to have a tough time proving that McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s and Burger King caused him to tip the scales at 272 pounds (so Hirsch will attempt to shift the burden of proof from his client to the fast food chains who will be accused of concealing damning information about the unhealthy nature of fat food).
     Already attempting to mitigate his own responsibility for his bulk, Barber claims he started eating fast food over 30 years ago because it was cheap--and because he didn’t know how to cook. Apparently Ronald McDonald, the Colonel, Dave Thomas (now deceased) and Burger King are to blame because Barber can’t boil water or because those specific peddlers of fatty foods chose to advertise their fatty sustenance in his price range. Shame on those evil prevaricators of fat. They should be made to pay millions so Barber can afford to eat prime rib and bacon-wrapped filet mignon instead of Quarter Pounders and Whoppers.
     Even as the lawsuit filed by the fat boys of New York was trashed by a judge who apparently found it hard to believe that anyone with an IQ higher than their hat size didn’t know that fat-soaked fried foods weren’t good for them. The lawyers who successfully waged war against the tobacco industry are now leveling their sights on the fast food industry.
     In a prepared text on August 2, 2002 Professor Richard Daynard, an attorney who heads the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northwestern University’s School of Law said that “...McDonald’s serves millions of customers a day and a substantial number of them don’t know the food isn’t good for them...[McDonald’s] meals are way over the daily allotment of calories. How would you know that?”
     Daynard indicated that he will hold a symposium this fall for lawyers and public health officials to strategize how to hold fast food companies accountable for the public health costs of feeding America fatty foods. In other words, Daynard and his class action cohorts are looking for another concerted tobacco industry-style class action lawsuit that could feasibly result in another 600 billion dollar settlement. They tried that with the gun industry and it failed. Caesar Barber’s lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, is convinced he can successfully expand Barber’s case to include millions of fat Americans who want to blame someone else for their own obesity--and be rewarded because they didn’t know when to push themselves away from the table.
     Lawyers like Hirsch and Daynard will argue, claims American Enterprises Institutes expert Dr. Sally Satel, that fatty foods are as addictive as nicotine. Michael Greve, another AEI scholar, says the word “addictive” is so over-used that it is now meaningless. But he doesn’t dispute the fact that it is likely this will be the ploy used by Daynard and his legal cohorts. He suspects the soft drink industry may also be targeted. Greve noted that legislation has been introduced in Maine and New York that would require restaurants to disclose the calories and fat content of every item on their menus. That means the manufacturers of high sodium content supermarket frozen entrees can’t be far behind since, according to U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona two-thirds of all Americans are overweight and 15% of America’s children under the age of 18 are clinically obese based on the body fat index created by the Surgeon General’s office.
However instead of pointing the fatty finger of fate at the food industry America needs to take a good look at itself. Our kids are fat because Mom no longer cooks. It’s too easy for either Mom or Dad to stop by KFC on the way home from work and pick up a bucket of chicken, or call ahead for a pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut, or take a quick trip south of the border and feed the family on grilled stuffed burritos from Taco Bell. In defense of the fast food chains, more times than not, you’ll see Mom in the local supermarket picking up a Stouffer’s family meal or a shopping cart full of individual frozen entrees on her way home from the office. More fat foods. That’s what happens, according to Caesar Barber, when nobody cooks at your house.
     It’s the view of Kelly Brownell, Ph.D, founder of Yale University’s Center for Eating & Weight Disorders that Americans are undulated with advertising touting not only fast food but snack foods, soft drinks and candy that is loaded with sugar. Add to that the virtual gauntlet of vending machines that fill our offices, schools and food courts in shopping centers, and we can’t escape the contemplation of food even for a moment.
     Complaining about the unhealthy eating habits of the American people, he said that “...25% of all the vegetables eaten in the United States are french fries.”
     Brownell, who wants to target soft drink companies, distributes slides and photos of baby bottles emblazoned with soft drink logos. “We’re giving them...” (the soft drink companies) “...a free pass to our children. Something needs to be done about this.” In Brownell’s mind, buying licensed goods that contain Coca Cola, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew logos is a terrible crime--especially if they are going to adorn the clothing worn by small children. Brownell also views Ronald McDonald in the same ilk as Joe Camel. Both are, in Brownell’s opinion, mascots of evil. Joe Camel enticed kids to smoke and Ronald McDonald, Brownell apparently thinks, entices kids to get fat.
     Ruth Kava, Director of the American Council on Science and Health believes fat is a genetic problem. If both parents are obese, she says, there’s an 80% chance the children will be obese. That may be, but the odds are even better that it isn’t a genetic problem, its a problem of knowing when to push yourself away from the table, or realizing that sugar or starch-ladened snack foods, candy and soft drinks are going to cause massive weight gain. The parents apparently lacked that training, and as a result, their children inherited their bad eating habits not their bad gene pool.
     Tragically, we now live in a society in which the people who do harm to themselves are treated as victims, and they are being compensated for their stupidity in a new form of welfare financed by class action lawsuits filed against corporate America but ultimately paid for by the American taxpayers who must pay more for every product and service they buy. (Most of the beneficiaries of fast food class action suits will be low income families in which both parents work.) The major beneficiaries, however, will be the class action lawyers who will rake off the lion’s share of the settlements from the fast food industry, the snack food industry, the soft drink industry and the frozen food industry. When they get through, it will cost you 25% to 40% more to eat the tasteless lean meals that will be offered in the nation’s fast food restaurants and supermarket freezers. But, you will know how many calories are in each tasteless bite, and how many grams of fat and sodium you are consuming.
     Most Americans are shocked by the notion that people would blame McDonalds or Burger King for their own lack of self-control. MSNBC polled Americans in several fast food restaurants during the last week of July, 2002. One woman, picking up a carryout order at Wendy’s in Richmond, Washington said: “It’s like a shopaholic suing the mall for advertising its sales.” (The woman, Jenny Klein, quickly pointed out to MSNBC that her visit to Wendy’s that day was an “occasional splurge.” She assured the reporters that she normally fixed well-balanced meals for her family.)
     Steven Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association scoffs at the notion that restaurants are the purveyors of fat and are to blame for America’s fat problem even though they likely will be when the Food Wars are fought in court. “This sort of action...” (the lawsuit filed by Caesar Barber against McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Wendy’s) “...gives frivolous a bad name,” Anderson was quoted as saying. “Restaurants have a wide variety of choices on their menus, and people make the choice to eat what they want and when they want every day. This is all about personal responsibility and moderation.”
     Perhaps that’s true for normal, sane people. But it isn’t true about lawyers. With lawyers, its always about victims' rights not personal responsibility--especially if there is someone with deep pockets that can be sued. In this case, the fast food industry has very, very deep pockets. Sales in the fast food industry for the year 2000 were $435 billion. Sales are expected to increase about 25% by the end of this decade bringing annual sales to about a half trillion dollars per year. It’s safe to say that the fast food industry is ready for plucking.
Forget about pushing away from the table. What the lawyers want are a few more chairs around the table and a few more mouths wrapped around a burger and fries. The same lawyers who led the successful charge against the tobacco industry have now circled the food wagon and are ready to lead the assault against the purveyors of fatty food. The lawyers, of course, would have the American people believe that they preparing to sue the fat out of the fast food industry for us.
     Blame is the name of this game.
     If we aren’t responsible for the food we put in our mouth, who is?
     Because they have very deep pockets, the class action lawyers who are currently circling the wagons looking for weakest link to break the fast food chain, have found the evil doers. They’re just having trouble making the idiots who don’t know when to stop eating look like victims.
     The nation’s liberal do-gooders who believe Big Brother has an obligation to protect us from ourselves are pleased that pressure is being applied on the purveyors of bad diets to clean up their act and provide healthier meals to the consumers.
     But even then, how do we make the fast food junkies say “enough is enough?” By suing the companies who produce the fare they eat? Big Brother thinks so. Watch for a flurry of lawsuits against fast food chains in the coming months.

When Harlan Sanders created his recipe for fried chicken in the early 1930s in his single restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, his batter-dipped chicken was fried in a large iron skillet. With the advent of the pressure cooker in the late 1930's, Sanders experimented with pressure cooking chicken and using his secret recipe of herbs and spices. Kentucky Fried Chicken was born--although it was not franchised until 1952 when his original restaurant failed when the new interstate highway system bypassed Corbin and diverted his customer base. (Return)



Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved