American Musings #1 “Supersize my Fast Food Nation”

I’ve just returned from a two week trip to the South of America. Not South America: that would have been much more intrepid and travel writery. Nope I went to Florida, the traditional destination of flabby, soft shelled tourists everywhere. However, as my live-in partner and cat co-parent is an American I did at least get to quiz her about the natives and Learn Their Ways (which include Eating Corn Dogs, Watching Nascar and Supporting McCain Even Though He Lost).

I thought I knew quite a lot about the US. Smugly, I assumed my addiction to US TV imports from an early age (not to mention my love of Bill Bryson books) would mean I slotted in wisely, nodding my head in blythe recognition at everything I encountered. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Even something as simple as fast food instantly boggled my little British mind…

We arrived in Tampa at 1am local time simply bursting with vibrant energy after a 20 hour, three-plane budget journey via London and Washington. Our first stop? TACO BELL. The missus was particularly insistent that this was something she couldn’t wait til morning for, so at 2am I found myself bemusedly examining a list of about eleventy billion options while the bored sounding teenager on the other end of the Magic Speaking Tube tutted and sighed. You see, I can’t really cope with choice, and America has bucketloads of it. Well, the illusion of it, anyway, as when you get down to it (and correct me if I’m wrong) the only difference between a lot of the American Fast Food chains from Burger King to McDonalds to Wendys to Arbys to Hardees is the shape of the burgers and the way they’re cooked, broiled or otherwise presented.

Hardees, for example, have “Thickburgers” (from Wikipedia: The Monster Thickburger is a type of double-bacon cheeseburger with mayonnaise. The burger contains 1,410 Calories (5,900 kJ), 107 grams of fat, and 2740 mg of sodium) –

Arrgh. Anyway, each restaurant has a ‘thing’, and that’s theirs. Wendy’s ‘thing’ is the Frosty, a sort of shake I think (I’m not sure though, as I wasn’t really permitted to stray from the wonder that is Taco Bell).

Here, we’ve got McDonalds and Burger King, KFC and Subway. And Greggs the baker, of course (mmm, steak bake). But that’s about it really. In the US, there are a thousand and one other chains, all of them ‘drive-thru’, all of them with their own (often tiny) niche that they’re frantically clinging to. Arrays of signs dot the night sky, each one on a tall, tall stick so it can be seen from miles around. It’s crazy, and the South is the hub of all that is unhealthy, fast and sugar-laden.  You’d be hard pressed to find food that’s not deep-fried or drenched in fat or grease within a 400 mile radius of Atlanta (which is also the home of Coke, unsurprisingly).

Nobody does fattening quite like the Southerners. Er, apart from the Scots, that is (I’m pretty sure even a shack-dwelling chocolate-coated-beef aficionado would turn their noses up at a deep-fried haggis). If it’s not scattered or smothered, it’s covered. If it’s not glazed in something it’s usually coated in something else. Everything oozes and glistens moistly. It’s great- if you’re on a ‘death-by-lard’ suicide mission, that is. And don’t even get me started on the wonder that is the Topping Bar. Hot cheese in pipes, gherkins, mustards, relishes, ketchups, onions. I was entranced, and repeatedly ruined perfectly good portions of fries and hot dogs by drowning them in goo (mmm, goo).

The list goes on. Want chicken? Well, you’ve got Chick Fil-A, Popeyes (Chicken and biscuits), Zaxbys (which specialises in ‘chicken fingers’) and KFC (of course).

As well as the burger/chicken joints, there’s also a ‘down home Southern’ type restaurant chain called Cracker Barrel, a self-styled ‘homestyle family restaurant and Old Country Store’ serving the sort of food that a ‘folksy’, dumpling faced farmer’s wife with a porch swing might have made for her family back in the day, if instead of using farm produce she used prepackaged, prechopped, frozen cheesicle eggs or something. Their aversion to the letter G (fancy fixin’s, Country Cookin’) is matched by their love of the abbreviation n’- as in ‘Salads n’ such’, ‘vegetables n’ sides’ and ‘beverages n’ juices’ etc.

Pretty much everything is chicken fried, even the chicken:

Chicken Fried Chicken
A generous portion of our chicken breast fillet fried to a golden brown then topped with our Sawmill Gravy.

(I’m not sure what sawmill gravy is. Possibly bits of melted wood shavings mixed with grits and sugar, then combined with deep fried chickenoil).

Also, can’t decide whether to have a main course or dessert? No worries! Just try the Sugar Cured Ham with corn muffins. It’s meatysweetalicious.

Of course, if you have a genuine craving for pure sucrose, there are no fewer than thirty-two bazillion sweetpeddling sugarchains to choose from. Dairy Queen, Dunkin’ Donuts, (note that aversion to the perfectly respectable letter G again) Krispy Kreme, IHOP (that’s the International House of Pancakes to you and me. Clearly not that international though as it’s currently only found in the US, Canada and Mexico). I had a Krispy Kreme donut. Just one, although I could have eaten a thousand- it tasted like hot fried sugary heaven. A hoop of golden loveliness which bore no relation to the stale, sugar powdered imitations you get here. It’s like comparing Disneyworld to Pleasureland in Southport.

However, the casualties of all this chicken-fried excess are all around, their big flabby wobbling front bums wedged into rented scooters, crawling round malls with a Cinnabon box in one hand and a Frosty in the other. I have to admit that I put on a few pounds when I was there. It’s hard not to, especially given the allure of Mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce. But there must come a moment when you clamber into your scooter for the very first time and adjust your breathing tube when you think: ‘hang on a second. Maybe I should try NOT eating my own body weight in french fries today?’ or when you look at Jabba the Hutt and think ‘sexy bastard, he can still walk’.

Anyway, I’m off now. While I was there I spotted a gap in the market, so I’m off to open my own brand of restaurants selling deep fried Sugarcheese ™. Cheerybye!

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

5 Responses to American Musings #1 “Supersize my Fast Food Nation”

  1. Simon Williams says:

    Glad to see you managed to resist the excesses. Went to the Edinburgh Festival earlier this year and was interested to note the deep-fried Mars bar is still in good shape – well squidgy and battered shape – and advertised in neon on the chip-shop front, too.

    Great piece of writing BTW. I look forward to #2 etc

    • ladyribenaberet says:

      Thanks for your comment Simon! Glad you enjoyed it. I’m having really bad withdrawal from the delicious US foodstuffs. I’m craving a portion of LardBits right now, and some Piecake.

  2. Daniel says:

    I am not a fast food fan, but this picture is very tempting. I am hungry right now. I better go eat some real food.

  3. fantastic advice and sharing,I will buy one this beautiful jeans for me .thanks

  4. Lawl I just noticed, you have the same name as I do. We both think the same way. Anyway, I’ve been visiting your website lately especially when I’m bored and have nothing to do .

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