In a story titled "The 20 Worst Foods in America," journalist Matt Goulding takes apart staples of the American chain restaurant table
with equal parts humor and horror. Perhaps the most revealing part of his analysis is the comparisons of what one order of this restaurant food equals in terms of other meals.
Eating five servings of pasta or two pints of Ben & Jerry's in a single sitting sounds like some kind of culinary hazing. But, according to the Men's Health analysis, one plate of P.F. Chang's pork lo mein has the same amount of carbohydrates as five servings of spaghetti, while those two pints of ice cream together still have less sugar than the 30 oz. Jamba Juice chocolate "smoothie." Meanwhile, finishing off the 2,300-calorie "personal pizza" from Pizzeria Uno gives you as much energy to burn (or fat to unload) as 18 slices of a thin crust pizza from Domino's, a chain not known as a paragon of healthfulness in its own right.
One of the most insidious examples here is what takes the cake for the nation's "worst kid's meal" -- a serving of macaroni and cheese from the Macaroni Grill that is the caloric equivalent of force-feeding your child an entire box and a half of Kraft macaroni and cheese. It sounds more like child abuse than dinner.
Chains are easier targets for this kind of inquisition than your typical independent restaurant, which may be dishing up similarly high-fat, high-calorie meals. And, of course, there's the argument that these restaurants and their test kitchens and culinary research staffs are merely providing what customers want. But when you advertise your business with commercials showing fit, attractive, giddy people digging into your food, and in reality those same actors would be out of a job after a month of actually eating things like the 1,400-calorie Taco Bell "Taco Salad Grande," I say you're fair game.
Now, if anyone ever does a similar analysis of a roast beef po-boy, dressed, with extra gravy and a couple of Abita Restoration Ales to wash it down. . .well, I don't ever want to hear the results.
- Ian McNulty