I’m pro-excess, especially in the arena of vice. I think you should, at least occasionally, eat too much, smoke too much, drink too much, cheat, carouse, fuck, gamble, sleep, travel, spend, and overexert too much. Which is why I’m in Las Vegas this week, having done my first half-marathon (speaking of excess) here on Sunday night. I love Las Vegas. I love everything about it. I’ve probably been here fifteen times in the last ten years. I revel in the mayhem and bask in the excesses.
But even excess can be overdone. Even here. And I am reluctantly realizing that there is now more ability to overindulge in food than I am capable of endorsing.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m pro-fatty. I’m pro-junk-food. I’m pro-luxury. I warmly endorse butter, foie gras, bone marrow, chicharrones, and frying things in real fat. I will put my affection for fat-laden charcutierie up against anyone’s. I could eat deep-fried cheese every day and twice on Saturday. But I remember the first time I felt judgmental about ridiculously unhealthy food: The McGriddle breakfast sandwich. Bacon, eggs, and cheese betwixt a pair of pancakes – the first ingestible I ever looked at and thought, “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re living in The Simpsons! The chemicals and calories in that cannot possibly be worthwhile. They just can’t.”
Last night I was on Fremont Street, the old downtown, and between pubs I passed something called the “Heart Attack Grill.” It’s a burger joint. When you enter, the hostess gives you a hospital gown. They refer to the waitresses as “nurses.” If you eat the whole Quadruple Bypass Burger – two pounds of beef, add twenty slices of bacon for about $4 – they provide wheelchair service to your car. None of that is what pissed me off. What pissed me off was their biggest sign: “ANYONE OVER 350 POUNDS EATS FREE.” That’s what converts gallows humor into a freak show. Imagine a tobacconist who offered free cigarettes to anyone who could cough up some blood. You’d be simultaneously utterly aghast and morbidly curious to see who’d take them up on that, would you not?
I’m fully aware that I can be accused, as a one-time half-marathoner, of having the zeal of the converted. But I’m not thin. I’m not even average. I’m still right around 250, and still happy to put away three-quarters of a pizza, or get dessert even though I’m full, or have thirds on anything. Nothing slim about me. Heart Attack Grill’s “ANYONE OVER 350 POUNDS EATS FREE” policy…that’s not promotional. That’s a sideshow. That’s nearly a snuff film. I don’t need to be the President of the Legion of Decency to find distasteful the “World’s Largest Gangbang.” (919 dudes and the honey-badger-tough endurance athlete Lisa Sparxxx. Google it at your own risk.)
You’d think PETA would get involved. Maybe if Heart Attack Grill started advertising “Our burgers are made only from cows so fat they need Rascals and reaching sticks,” they would. But right now, they’re only worried about the animals being eaten; they couldn’t care less about the animals being fed.
Then this morning I had breakfast at “Hash House A Go-Go,” where I once, years ago, tried unsuccessfully to split a plate of chicken and waffles with my wife. Despite being enthusiastic eaters sorely in need of the Hangover Holy Trinity of sugar, grease and salt, between the two of us we only ate about 80 percent of the dish, which was half a fried chicken atop four large waffle squares and a biscuit the size of a softball. The waffle had bacon in it. This was not, mind you, a platter marketed for two people, like a porterhouse or a Caesar salad. This was a breakfast meant to be ordered by one person. Our server, I remember, had actually seemed surprised at our declared intention to split the thing.
I now notice I unintentionally described the aforementioned meal as “unsuccessful.” Hmmm. The platter of chicken and waffles was delicious. It was cleverly executed and well-presented. We enjoyed it very much. (Is my only measure of a dish in my ability to finish it?) And then this morning at Hash House A Go-Go, I had corned beef hash, and left roughly half of it on my plate. I felt bad about it. Starving children and all. But it really seemed like the better choice not to eat it, however delectable it was. I was full. I didn’t want any more. But there it was, a perfectly good half-finished plate of food, and I was considering willfully and intentionally wasting it. Is the Clean Plate Club so ingrained in me that I’d rather keep my lifelong membership than my health itself? What kind of relationship do we have with food when the act of choosing not to eat something that I don’t even want is so taboo that it doesn’t even seem like a reasonable option?
If, year after year, I kept going back to an unhealthy romantic relationship, and the thought of leaving didn’t even seem like an option…
…there’s a name for relationships like that.