Giving up the Ghost

(With apologies/props to Dennis Miller) I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but is it just me or is the healthy option trend over?

For much of the last decade, fast food chains have been adding healthy options – salads, veggie burgers, etc. – to their menus. The additions were in response to perceived consumer demand for healthier options as demonstrated by the rapid ascent of the Subway chain in the late 1980’s and 1990’s to surpass McDonalds as the largest fast food chain. First, it beat McDs in number of US locations, then North America, … and then the world!

Suddenly the execs at the rivals took notice. Next thing you know, soups and salads are showing up on menus. Veggie burgers and grilled (or at least non-deep fried) chicken sandwiches started to be offered.

Some failed miserably.  KFC offered grilled chicken that somehow simultaneously had less fat but more sodium than it’s deep-fried counterpart. Wendy’s (and pretty much everyone else’s) salads were made in advance (often off-site) and kept in the fridge until you ordered. When your marketing is based around burgers cooked fresh to order, the message received is “burgers=fresh, salad=not fresh”. Wendy’s new fries seasoned with sea salt have more sodium than the old ones seasoned with iodized salt.

I don’t think anyone ever thought the fast food industry’s new found commitment to healthy eating was much more than a sop to a perceived trend of the moment. They’re real worry was the “veto customer”, the person in the car who doesn’t eat anything on their chain’s menu and convinces friends to go somewhere else. If there was just one item on that menu, that person would give up years of habit and let his friends get their Big McWhopper Classics.

The prime example is the inevitable spring special of the fish sandwich. Why does everyone who doesn’t have a fish sandwich permanently on their menu suddenly have one on special in the springtime? In a word: Lent. They don’t want to lose sales from Catholics observing the fast on Fridays during Lent. There’s only several hundred million of us in North America alone.

It didn’t work. Fast food sales have actually been in decline the last number of years. Even Subway is feeling the pinch with it’s $5 footlong offerings. Subway’s troubles have as much to do with its business model of unprotected franchises than declining sales. Like Starbucks, most major cities have a Subway within blocks of another Subway. Depending on what route I take, I can walk past as many as 5 when I walk from my apartment to the Running Room on a run night.

Now it seems like the fast food chains are going in another direction. Save for McD’s which is undergoing a multi-million dollar makeover to compete with … Starbucks(?), the fried food chains have decided to cater to the latest trend:  Internet-fuelled junk food fetishism.

KFC has the Double-Down (now in “zinger” hot and spicy flavour) which is a bun less sandwich made out of two fried chicken patties, bacon and cheese. Burger King has the quad stacker. Wendy’s has the Baconator.

That’s just the burgers!  Tim Horton’s has brought Cold Stone Creamery to Canada. Their shakes actually have more calories than the average burger. The worst offender is the PB&C (peanut butter and chocolate) shake, which clocks in at 1750 calories (1030 from fat). Thanks, Tim’s for making the burger joints look good.

Even if these items were available before I began my journey, I wouldn’t eat this shit when I was fat.  Oh, I had my moments. I would order KFC about once a year. It would serve as a reminder why I order it once a year. The salt content alone left me dehydrated for days. There’s still the odd trip to the drive thru on one of the half dozen times a year I actually have access to a car. Usually on my long road trips back to New Brunswick or Cape Breton. As much as I try to eat healthy, they haven’t made a salad I can eat with my hands while driving.  I’ve figured out some relatively decent road snacks, but the actual healthy driving meal eludes me still.

This whole junk food fetish seems to be fueled by the Internet. The ‘net has this bizarre ability to elevate any niche, no matter how random or small, to the level of international movement.  You have websites like EpicMealTime (NB: if you’ve noticed I’m not linking like I usually do, there’s a reason. Find it your damn self.) that posts videos of the team creating the most disgusting concoctions, all of which have creative uses for what they call a “bacon weave”.

And you wonder why we’re losing the war on obesity?

The marketing of this stuff even plays directly to the male ego. The tag line for the Double-Down is “Make time for man time.” Yes, the wannabe Don Drapers at KFC want you to think consuming their 610 calorie (310 from fat) and 135% of your recommended daily sodium intake sandwiches will define you as a manly man. You know what it will really define you as?

A fat man. A fat man who plays ping pong in his basement in the dark with night vision goggles that he probably got from CODMW2 Deluxe Collectors Edition. That’s what the marketers at KFC think of their customers (and they wonder why their largest franchisee in Canada declared bankruptcy).

With a day and a half’s serving of sodium in one meal, probably a thirsty fat man, too. Better buy a pop/soda, too!

The fast food scene isn’t all bad, though. Toronto-based Freshii seems to be growing quite well. Seems like they’re announcing a new location every day on Twitter.

Aside from the chains, there’s always good old-fashioned locally owned restaurants. Ottawa has it’s usual collection of pubs that serve food just a notch or two above McDonald’s, but there’s some that have innovative, healthy items and seasonal specials in addition to the burgers and fries. My two faves are the Higlander and Lieutenant’s Pump. There’s also the higher end restaurants with great chefs that prepare healthy options from locally sourced vendors. Those are pretty expensive places, like Bekta’s. There’s also a great number in between the pubs and

Eating the food that food eats

Here’s an example: The Green Door. Now that Kalin and I are an official item, Christian and his wife, Ramona, wanted to go on a “double date” with us. I let them choose the restaurant. They selected the Green Door. (Christian’s version of events and attempted conversion on the road to Damascus here)

“The Green Door,” I thought to myself. “isn’t that a vegetarian restaurant?”

Cue sinister dum, dum, dum, music,

Sure enough it was. Christian joked it was an act of revenge. For what, I don’t know and he couldn’t remember. We often take so long to retaliate against one another for our pranks it feels more like instigation than retaliation.

I got him, though. I enjoyed it! 😛

Did the ol’ Facebook check-in, where I posted the photo on the left, and was promptly heaped tons scorn by my carnivorous friends with nothing better to do on a Saturday night than to troll Facebook.

My sister took quite emphatic glee. She is a vegetarian, or at least was one. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her eat chicken and fish recently. Regardless, I’ve been teasing her mercilessly for over 15 years and she attempted some comeuppance.

In the spirit of Churchill, though, yes, I ate vegetarian, but Sunday I would cook coffee-marinated flank steak. She would still be a joyless pseudo-vegetarian.

Now for all the fun and sarcastic wit. We did have a great evening. It’s a nice place with friendly staff.  Since I wasn’t sure what I would enjoy, I took a little bit of everything. The restaurant is set up cafeteria-style and you pay by the weight of your plate. A little bit of everything made for a pricey first plate that wasn’t actually all that filling. Yep, I went back for seconds. Round two was heavy on legumes so I would feel full. It made for an expensive learning experience, but tasty one, too.

Saturday night also meant the end of our spell of nice weather. It cooled off severely overnight and was only in the mid-single digits the rest of the week. I’m just thankful it was the mid-single digits above zero.

It actually made for some nice running weather. Our 12K Sunday long run was made a little longer (by a kilometre) when I lead the group on right at an intersection when I should have gone left. I was able to quickly correct course, though. I had programmed the route into my MapMyRun account. I have the app on my iPhone so I let it track via the phone’s GPS. When I realized we were headed away from Bayswater, where we should have been going, I very quickly could find where we were vis-a-vis the route and get back on track. We met up the 2hr15 group and then quickly passed them.

We’re actually getting to the distance on the long runs where we need to take into consideration things that we didn’t have to worry as much about at shorter distances:

  1. Hydration – bring water, your own water. I run with a 750 ml Camel Back bottle and it’s so far been more than enough. Most of my runners have the belts with the little bottles, which is good, too, but in colder weather those little bottle can freeze up. There’s a couple of husbands and boyfriends that come out on the long runs with their significant others and they share each other’s water. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, unless your other sucks back all your water and leaves you empty when you need hydration.
  2. Nutrition – I’ve already written about my pre-run (oatmeal with almonds and berries) and post-run (protein smoothie). Now it’s time to think of in-run nutrition. The 13k burned almost 1,000 calories before most people have rolled out of bed on a Sunday.It’s time to start experimenting with the various gels, energy bars, and assorted snacks. So far, the gels remind me of the fluoride treatments that you get from the dentist. Blech. The experimenting will continue.
  3. Bathroom breaks – Since the Sunday runs are quite early in the morning, many of the runners who come from the office during the weeknight runs are quite hard pressed to make it on time. Since the store only has one change room/washroom, there is often a long line up for those that need to change or have a pre-run trip to the loo.  Even if they didn’t need to go before they left, the LSD runs are getting to the 90 minute mark. If the runners follow item #1, they’ll have taken in a good amount of water by the three-quarter mark of the run. One of my runners veered off into an arena a mere 2K from the store because he couldn’t hold it anymore. We need to start marking potential pit stops on the map. It will also give people a chance to fill up their water bottles.

Tuesday’s run was a quick 4K tempo. I took the group behind Parliament Hill from pathway entrance near the the Portage Bridge. This meant we had the double hill at the Rideau locks around the third kilometre. The other groups went the other direction, entering from Confederation Park, and went down the hill. Since we started that way on Sunday, I did the opposite. My runners did a fantastic job of taking the hill. I gave them a little walk break at the top of the hill before proceeding with the last kilometre.

Speaking of hills, Wednesday’s hill training actually went better than the previous week’s. The cooler temperature probably had something to do with it. One kilometre warm up, followed by five hill repeats, and a 2K cool down back to the store.

As you could probably imagine following such a run, my Thursday morning extreme lean class at Greco was extra fun. I chose the exercise station that would best help the legs work out the kinks as my first station. It was a weighted curtsey lunge. It was slow, at first, but I managed to work out the kinks pretty quick and the rest of the exercises went rather smoothly. Friday’s regular Lean and Fit class was also a great balance between upper, lower, and core body. Great way to end the week.

But wait. The week isn’t over.

Getting an extra run in tonight. It’s “bring a buddy night” for Kalin’s 5K clinic. Guess who she’s bringing.



2 responses

  1. Great commentary on fast food industry – I think it’s more “sinister” than that though – read The End of Overeating for fascinating insight into salt/fat/sugar combo and addiction and how food industry uses this for profit. Also check out research done by Brian Wansink at Cornell on health halos 🙂 great tips for LSD training as always 🙂

  2. […] for all the feedback and response on last week’s extended rant against the current state of the fast food industry. It felt really great to get that off my chest. […]

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