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Debunking Diners and Other Culinary Nostalgia

by Staff


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DinerI have a recurring dream involving a 72-ounce steak, a baked potato, a salad, a dinner roll, and a shrimp cocktail. Ironically, as I learned from Greg Beato in the January issue of Reason, this is exactly the meal you have to eat, in 60 minutes or less, at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo to win a free dinner. 

Even in my dream, I never quite finish the artery-clogging smorgasbord of unadulterated, corn-fed Americana. The heart attack–inducing components of the Big Texan meal are the staple of old-fashioned comfort food: meat, starch, a smattering of veggies, more meat, more starch. And, Beato argues, it’s these long-loved ingredients—not Big Bad Fast Food—that have us reaching for the last notch of our belts.   

Beato examines the history of America’s love affair with fatty foods and our nostalgia for the old-time diner to show that “McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and the rest of their fast food brethren” have been cooked up as “savory scapegoat[s] for our perpetual girth.” In assuming their center stage position in the obesity blame-game, Beato points out, Mickey D’s and the likes have opened themselves up to such public scrutiny they could never get away with serving the 6000-calorie Big Texan meal. Fast food companies will continue their slow, fat lobby–induced rollout toward food that won’t quite kill you. But diners and other iconic eateries will continue to get away with serving whatever they damn well please. Like a 72-ounce steak that will make your heart explode. 

Is Beato penning yet another fast food–sponsored rant about our obsession with obesity? No, his argument—fueled by the refreshing libertarian logic that Reason’s known for—is more nuanced than that. In our obesity panic, we (and the litigators) have taken aim at fast food instead of ourselves. “The idea that rootless corporate invaders derailed our healthy native diet may be chicken soup for the tubby trial lawyer’s soul,” Beato writes, “but in reality overeating fatty, salty, sugar-laden food is as American as apple pie.”  

Morgan Winters

Image by Mulling It Over, licensed under Creative Commons.