Eating with the in-crowd

November 17, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

People don't usually think of me as hip, but I can fool you sometimes, which is why I was standing in line at a McDonald's on York Road the other day with the big lunch crowd.

Maybe you heard: McDonald's is the hot place to eat again. Its sales rose 8.2 percent last month, which analysts attribute to consumers watching their pennies and gravitating to cheap fast food and $1 menu items.

There may be fewer people popping for a venti frappuccino at Starbucks, where profits are down dramatically and the barristas might as well bring a deck of cards to work and play solitaire.

But at McDonald's, people are pigging out on Big Macs and large fries and triple-thick shakes, just like the good old days.

Of course, even as I placed my order with the requisite bored-looking kid behind the counter, I flashed back to what happened to poor Morgan Spurlock.

Remember Spurlock? He was the guy who made the 2004 film Super Size Me about the effects of eating too much fast food.

Spurlock decided to see what would happen if he ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days, and it almost killed him.

Since most Americans get no exercise, he decided not to exercise at all while on this binge. So he gained 25 pounds. His cholesterol levels went through the roof. He felt depressed and exhausted much of the time.

And his sex life just about ceased, which is pretty much what you should expect when you turn into a moody, lethargic fatso.

(There's one scene in the movie that's priceless: Spurlock's girlfriend staring into the camera and fumbling for a delicate way to describe his lack of energy in bed. "I have to be on top now," she says finally.

(Oh, the horror. Honey, you might want to check if he's even awake.)

Sure, what Spurlock did was crazy. But he got a movie out of it, and it made him a ton of money. So when I wrote "poor Morgan Spurlock" earlier, I meant it in a figurative sense.

Anyway, I have no plans to pull another Spurlock, just because I'm trying to stretch a buck here.

He was sacrificing his body for a cause, knocking back Egg McMuffins and hash browns for breakfast, Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese and super-sized fries for lunch, and 10-piece Chicken McNuggets for dinner.

But not me, brother. I need to keep this lithe, ripped body in tip-top condition, especially after getting a look at the deductible I'll be paying under my new health plan.

So I ordered the Southwest salad with grilled chicken and Newman's Own low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and a bottle of water.

For dessert, I decided to go wild and have one of those Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait things that comes with granola.

Oh, do I know how to live or what? Come party with me sometime and see if you can keep up.

Of course, here's the thing about McDonald's:

Sure, they serve healthier food now than they did even a few years ago.

Sure, they have apples and bottled water and granola and salads with low-fat dressings, because they got tired of being called the Great Satan of the fast-food industry.

Sure, they got sick of being blamed for all the fat kids in this country, even though you could blame the schools, too, for getting rid of gym classes and the parents for letting these little porkers veg in front of a TV and computer all day.

But you still get the sense McDonald's wishes all the health nuts and fat-kid advocates would leave them alone so they could go back to serving the kind of all-American, fat-laden, artery-clogging stuff they've always served.

In fact, when I asked the kid behind the counter if he knew what exactly was in the Southwest salad, he gave me a blank look.

Then he just turned and walked away!

At this point I thought: Wow, here's an employee who's really sick of the prissy yogurt-and-granola crowd.

But a few seconds later, he returned with a Southwest salad so I could see for myself what was in it, which turned out to be lettuce, roasted tomatoes, corn and beans.

So that's what I had for lunch. And actually, it was pretty tasty. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of other wussy salad-eaters in the crowd, though.

Most of the other diners seemed to be pounding the usual Big Macs and Quarter Pounder variations and fries, and washing it all down with wastebasket-size Cokes and Sprites.

But that was OK with me. To each his own.

I was just happy to be eating with the in-crowd, even in tough times.

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