National Post I like my food fast, but I won't get fat (National Post, July 15, 2003)


National Post - Tuesday July 15th, 2003



Sylvie brings our dinner, and it is both hot and crisp, yet soft and melting in the exact right proportions. Sylvie says, "You know what we call you two?" She giggles. "Mr. and Mrs. Pizza Hut." My husband's eyes mist up until he can barely see the first slice of his medium thin and crispy all dressed.

We eat at Pizza Hut once a week, religiously, a word I use metaphorically, but not my husband. His fidelity to the "red roof" is absolute. It's worrying to see a grown man morph into a five-year-old bouncing in his seat in anticipation of his pizza, but there it is. If Pizza Hut ever folded, I think Mr. Pizza Hut might suffer a severe depression.

Imagine his chagrin when I inform him that PepsiCo, Pizza Hut's owner is, after Hershey, Cadbury and Coca-Cola, the next most likely company targeted in a coming spate of obesity liability lawsuits with the potential to shake the fast food industry -- and our dining security -- from its moorings.

In January, a lawsuit against McDonald's was tossed out because "it wasn't the law's place to protect people from their dietary excesses." Right on, judge! Nevertheless, seven other suits are in progress, taking encouragement from the crazily high tobacco damages for cancer victims, and capitalizing on a parallel uprush of entitlement and victimhood amongst the obese. And hoo boy, there are lots of them!

Apart from some South Sea Islanders, Americans are the fattest people on Earth. Sixty-one per cent are overweight, 20% are obese, and five million are "morbidly obese." Supersizing of portions -- a McDonald's fries in 1960 was 200 calories, today it is 610 -- coupled with the use of cheaper high-fructose corn syrup (six times sweeter than sugar) that doesn't metabolize easily are fuelling this Blubbermobile. But the gluttonous passengers refuse to step on the easy-to-reach brakes. It's a co-dependency. Take it from one who knows.

The World Health Organization is "weighing in" on the issue, too. If they have their way, restaurants may be forced to divide their space into the equivalent of smoking and non-smoking sections. I envisage an apartheid Pizza Hut, with one curtained-off side serving a whole wheat crust and cottage cheese topping, the other double-stuffed crust and mozzarella. Will Sylvie one day say, "Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Pizza Hut, you're too heavy for the 'fat' room. You'll have to eat on the 'lite' side." Talk about a chill effect on dining out!

As you see, Mr. and Mrs. PH have more than the average person's stake in the outcome of these lawsuits. I am praying that the recently introduced Personal Responsibility Food Consumption Act won't get bogged down in the U.S. Senate and will beat the lawsuits to the finish line, but tort reform is notoriously unpredictable.

Because what fast foodies need isn't financial compensation for our addiction -- in our hearts we know we are to blame -- but a way to live with it without "overdosing." I practise what I preach and as a result am merely chunky, not obese. My mother was constantly dieting so I didn't think it was unusual to know the calorie count of every piece of food I ate. Thus I am amazed at how dumb the average person is when it comes to food values. Yet in five minutes you can learn enough to eat sensibly at your favourite junk food palace.

I appeal to your self-interest, fellow foodies. Victory in the courts could seriously impinge on your pleasure. So work with me here, litigious fatsos. It ain't rocket science.

How can you not be aware by now that a large soda has 200 calories while a diet soda has zero calories. Zeeero! The taste difference is negligible, and the benefit is huge over time. Now take Pizza Hut for specifics. Thin crusts are less calorific than thick crusts. Cheese is fattening -- don't get the stuffed crust. Pepperoni and other meat toppings are fattening. Is it so terrible to get mushrooms and green peppers instead? Don't get that side of fries, you have enough carbs and fat in the pizza. Forget the chocolate cake. Eat the pizza and a salad, drink the Diet Pepsi, and you won't have to sue anybody.

Fast foodies all share a common trait: Their inner child never grew up where eating patterns are concerned. They don't need an adult's variety. They hate variations on their given theme, whether it is hamburgers, chicken, pizza or burritos. Fast food is not only full of comforting fat, it never changes, the two characteristics that appeal to most children.

Fellow junkies! Do we really want to leave it to the courts to decide whether we are to be thin, classic, or stuffed? No. We must tame the child within.

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