The Morning File: Some of us seem a tad slow to desert fast food passion
It’s been too long since The Morning File staff all went out to a nice fast food lunch together, enjoying the calories, the restroom hand dryers, the playground tunnels to crawl through.
So we’re headed out today to Wendy’s to taste the overhaul of its 42-year-old hamburger, and no one’s going to stop us. Not Michelle Obama, with her emphasis on healthy eating; not McDonald’s, with its insane offering of oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins; and most certainly not our too-smart-for-their-own-good kids, who seemed to eat nothing but fast food for about five years and now, in their late teens, treat it like radioactive waste.
Someone’s gonna need a pretty heavy defensive line today to keep us away from this new 800-calorie half-pound Hot ‘N Juicy double cheeseburger, and we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to talk anyone on such a defensive line into joining our ranks anyway. That’s right, Casey Hampton — we’re talking to you.
Right around the time The Associated Press ran a story recently alerting us to the extensive Manhattan Project-style research that developed the Hot ‘N Juicy, it published another article suggesting all the talk about Americans wanting to eat healthier is just that — talk. Consumers at fast food restaurants are putting their money where their taste buds are, consequences be damned.
“So, while 47 percent of Americans say they’d like restaurants to offer healthier items like salads and baked potatoes, only 23 percent tend to order those foods,” the article said, citing a survey last year by food research firm Technomic. The AP made the point that IHOP’s 1,180-calorie breakfast sampler of eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns and pancakes (“Excuse me, miss — can I get extra toast with that?”) reigns as its top seller, rather than goody-goody yogurt and fruit bowls.
As another example, before McDonald’s started automatically providing half-servings of both apple slices and french fries this year in its Happy Meals, parents who formerly had the option of picking one or the other for their kids chose the fries 89 percent of the time.
It’s possible, of course, that parents taking their kids to McDonald’s are already a self-selected group of familial gluttons, indifferent if not hostile to government warnings about obesity. Or maybe they feared their children being picked on if they seemed averse to fries, a form of bullying that would be only natural. (“Apples? Your old lady smells like rotten apples, ya little squirt. Now grow up and order some food you can put some salt on, or else.”)
Not willing to be forced down some path of healthy food emphasis by the nutrition police, Wendy’s stuck to its traditional guns on Project Gold Hamburger. The chain has been losing market share to McDonald’s and spent 21/2 years on an effort to remake its bread and butter — which turned out to be a literal as well as figurative change. After extensive taste and marketing tests, the main burger ended up with a thicker beef patty, extra cheese and a buttered, toasted bun.
Oh, and Wendy’s switched the color of its onions from white to red. Let’s see if that keeps their burger-eaters from jumping to Five Guys.
“It’s not about getting real exotic,” a Wendy’s senior vice president told the AP. “It’s about making everything work.”
Now, we’re not stupid enough to think fast food is our best option when going out for lunch, or dinner, or breakfast — or when we get hungry again right after a healthy lunch or dinner. But gosh, that craving for what is provided by McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, etc., is as American as a drive-through window.
We know ourselves that we’ve tried to have good intentions in such places — no, don’t super-size me, please don’t, really, well OK, if you must — but it’s so, so hard.
“There is often a disconnect between consumers’ intentions and their actions,” said Technomic executive Darren Tristano. “Many consumers are actually making substantial changes to their overall habits, even basing which restaurants they frequent in part based on their impressions of the healthfulness of the brands. However, as many of us know from personal experience, diners do not always follow through on their intentions once it is time to order.”
Someday, such behavior might change, due to national indoctrination of people like the young vegan in The Morning File’s own household. But until then, we’re willing to have our buns buttered and discover what is so hot and juicy about the Hot ‘N Juicy.