Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Thanks to Michelle Obama’s interest in Americans’ epidemic obesity, we’re hearing more these days about eating disorders, even this innovative one, described in last Sunday’s supplement to the Boise, Idaho Times


An ambulance sits vigilantly in the floodlit parking lot of the Burger Blitz in suburban Lincoln, Nebraska. Its two attendants quietly observe a particular patron inside the restaurant, a man who has been eating ravenously. 
The man suddenly stops mid-chew. A few morsels tumble from his distended craw. He shudders, turns the color of a plum. In mortal agony, he grasps for a breath beyond his reach, and finally pitches forward into the remnants of his meal, a cardboard bucket of chicken bones, ketchup, and lard.
“Let’s hit it,” cries the taller attendant. They leap out, pull a collapsible gurney from the ambulance, and roll it into the restaurant. 
The 26-year-old manager, Bobby Lee Dilworth, meets them at the table. Like the other employees, Dilworth wears a tiny checkered chef’s hat adorned with the well-known Burger Blitz emblem, a cow grinning from a meat grinder. 
“Evening,” says the shorter attendant, unbuckling the gurney’s straps.
Dilworth nods. “Third one this week,” he complains, wringing his hands. “I wish something could be done. Last night one just laid there getting stiff while other customers waited for the table. It’s not fair, you know what I mean?”
The attendants take this as a professional challenge. “Well, here,” says the taller one, “we'll deal with him while you clean up the table. Place'll be back to new in a minute.”
Skilled though they are, the attendants nonetheless cause some little commotion. Several patrons look up curiously from their boxes of Gutbusters and Chicken Tetrachloride. Perhaps they do not know what has happened, but then again, perhaps they do.
Perhaps they are aware of the trend that has begun to sweep the Midwest like prairie fire: suicide by gluttony.      
The foremost expert on this phenomenon is Dr. Karl Mandrake, Chief of the Nutrition Department at the respected Sloan-Smithson Institute in Albany, New York.
“This fad shouldn't surprise anyone,” Dr. Mandrake confides over lunch. “After all, we are a nation of consumers, so what could be more natural than for consumption itself to become a popular form of suicide?
“Most of these self-destructive acts have occurred in fast-food outlets for economic reasons,” Dr. Mandrake continues, folding his Reuben sandwich to wrestle it into his mouth. “Look at it this way: twelve or fifteen GooBurgers or Fat Dogs or whatever they’re pushing these days are still cheaper than a bottle of sleeping pills. In fact,” he grins, leaking a rivulet of mustard onto his tie, “you even have change coming.”
The owners of these restaurant chains seem surprisingly unbothered by the fad. Harold Colon, President of the National Faux Food Association, says, “Suicide is tragic, but we must face facts. The fact here is that to us, these people are customers, too. Let me tell you, customers are very special people—even though I’ll admit these folks sometimes make a mess. From some of the stories we’ve heard, you’d think the other customers would walk out. But they don’t. That’s what we call in our business ‘brand loyalty.’ Anyway, we feel fortunate that hardly anything disgusts our clientele.”
The issue is causing battle lines to be drawn.
On one side is the U.S. Surgeon General, who has recommended that fast-food restaurants employ full-time security guards to enforce healthy eating practices and verify that patrons carry suicide insurance.
On the other side is the might and wile of the fast-food industry. Explains Faux Food Association’s Colon, “In business you find a need and fill it. One chain is now trial-marketing a package that caters exclusively to suicides. They offer the meal—a meal especially rich in embalming preservatives, I might add—and the cleanup, and burial in a large styrofoam box. Their motto is, ‘We do it all for you.’”
In a way, one concedes, this is progress. But is it good for the country in the long run? Researcher Dr. Mandrake answers, through a mouthful of blackened redfish and creamed spinach, “That's not for me to say. I don’t get involved in politics. I’m just into health.”

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