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10.06.10

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Phaedra
GREASE IS THE WORD: The, um, growing sick-food movementis a right-wing response to the health food movement.

The Fat-Tea Party

A culinary equivalent of the Tea Party is gaining traction

By Ari LeVaux


THE BURGERS are free—all day, every day—at the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz. The only catch is you have to weigh at least 350 pounds. The fake nurse who weighs you is young, hot and female. All guests, regardless of weight, are called "patients" and are "admitted" by the "nurses," who dress them in bibs that look like hospital gowns. Strategically placed mirrors behind the counter provide patients with heart-stopping views of fake-nurse crotch.

The menu includes unfiltered cigarettes and milkshakes reputed to have the highest fat content in the world, but burgers are the main attraction. They range from the Single through the Quadruple Bypass, based on the number of patties they contain, with two pieces of cheese for each patty. If you finish an 8,000-calorie Quadruple Bypass Burger, a fake nurse will push you by wheelchair all the way to your car.

On a recent visit, Zach Fowle of the Phoenix New Times reported watching one customer eat two Quadruples. "The guy has the meat sweats and looks like he might spew at any minute. It's a good thing he's getting wheeled out, because it looks like he can barely walk," Fowle observed. The burgers come with all-you-can-eat "Flatliner Fries," which are cooked in lard and smothered with cheese and/or gravy.

In every fiber of its being (perhaps fiber is the wrong word), the Heart Attack Grill is a one-fingered salute to the health food movement. That's the idea anyway, according to owner Jon Basso.

A former Jenny Craig weight-loss program franchisee, Basso considers himself a trailblazer in the rebellion against healthy eating and the development of shameless cholesterol bombs like KFC's Double Down sandwich and Friendly's Grilled Cheese Burger Melt, which features dual grilled cheese sandwiches in lieu of buns.

"I view myself, not as an originator, but to have been the key driving force of this trend. The Heart Attack Grill hit with BIG international publicity in 2006 which gave other restaurateurs the courage to put something of gigantic proportions on their menus," he told me via email.

The "sick food movement," for lack of a better term, has parallels to the Tea Party in that both draw on deep wells of vague dissatisfaction, and both are less articulate about what they're for than what they're against. The common ground is hinted at in the tax line on Heart Attack Grill's receipts, which reads "Obama's Cut" (even though sales tax has always been state-imposed and not federal). Given that the First Lady has made healthy eating one of her pet projects, and that the president's health care bill has a substantial prevention component, eating poorly has become a patriotic act and rallying cry in the minds of Obama's political opponents.

"Get away from my french fries, Mrs. Obama," warned Glenn Beck at a recent Tea Party event in Illinois. "First politician that comes up to me with a carrot stick, I've got a place for it. And it's not in my tummy."

Basso's free-food-for-fat-people policy is a calculated risk. He doesn't advertise, so the attention it draws is especially good for business, as is the restaurant's fat-friendly ambience. But the policy also creates the intriguing possibility that some "patients" who are already within gulping-distance of 350 pounds will make a calculation of their own: You spend "x" dollars in order to buy enough Quadruple Bypass burgers to put you over 350 pounds, then you can be done spending money on food. This makes gluttony more than a patriotic exercise in personal freedom. It's an investment. What could be more American?

There is, of course, a solid argument to be made that efforts to improve America's eating habits would be a good investment for the country as well. Alas, I can already hear howls of protest from the Fat-tea activists: "First they'll take away our grease, then they'll come for our guns."


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