He was eating a “triple bypass burger” and munching on “flatliner fries” at the Heart Attack Grill, when the chest pains began. By the time the ambulance arrived the forty-some-year-old man had collapsed.
At the Heart Attack Grill, customers are not offered diet drinks or low-cal plates. Rather, the décor is reminiscent of a triage unit, with waitresses dressed as nurses and the cook as a cardiologist who comes out now and then to see if the “patients” (aka “customers”) are still breathing. At this restaurant, it’s all about eating exactly what you’ve been craving … plenty of lard, bacon, cheese and beef fat.
And if you weigh in at over 350 pounds (before eating), your meal is free.
When you say, “I’m serious as a heart attack,” you are absolutely right. More adults in the United States, both men and women, die from heart disease than from any other cause. Moreover, the signs pointing to where we are headed are ominous. Obesity has become the national norm, with 2/3 of American adults weighing in as either obese or in imminent danger of getting there.
More disturbing yet is the realization that 1/3 of our children are already overweight or obese. The average life expectancy for U.S. citizens—a figure that has climbed steadily since 1900—has now begun to fall. Our young people are poised for an uptick in heart disease, diabetes and other serious ailments in numbers that are far beyond that of previous generations.
And the worst part of the story is that the whole catastrophe could have been prevented.
The owner of the Heart Attack Grill, Jon Basso, says his is the only honest restaurant in America. He blatantly tells folks “This stuff will kill you.” Oddly enough, the idea for the Grill came from Basso’s experience in the health industry. As a fitness instructor, he observed that clients were much more excited about fudging on a diet than on keeping one. Why not give them what they want?
Basso’s hunch turned into a booming business. Most folks will talk about eating right, but when the fork meets the food, they would rather be going for the gusto. The marketing plan for the Heart Attack Grill may be bordering on sinister … but it works.
Basso’s critics say encouraging people to indulge openly in self-destructive behavior is a shameful theme for a business. His response is that freedom of choice without outside interference is the foundational principle of America—that those who want to dictate how others should eat are way out of line with the intentions of our Founding Fathers.
When you get right down to it, though, isn’t the Heart Attack Grill only a reflection of the real problem in this country?
We live in a time when knowledge and ability are greater than at any other time in history, yet we have become the victims of technology rather than its beneficiaries. We have become used to getting what we want, when we want it, without having to suffer the consequences. You don’t have to train hard and suit up to play football anymore; just grab a six-pack and a pizza, sit down in your easy chair and pick up the remote control. That big screen television gives you the thrill of playing without the bruises and hard work of preparation.
My grandfather raised most of his own vegetables, kept chickens for fresh eggs and meat and went fishing on a weekly basis. His food not only tasted good, but was chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals. Never did he use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on his crop soil. He rotated crops, practiced companion planting and used organic methods to build up the ground. Every year, a portion of his land would lie fallow, feeding both wild game and soil with the cover crop. And his story wasn’t unusual in those days. Large gardens were popular, and what you didn’t grow yourself, one could easily obtain from a local farmer.
In just a couple of generations, we have become a people who are dependent on the grocery store. We purchase our foods according to the picture on the package, not according to the nutrients inside. We want everything easier, quicker, tastier and less expensive. And the food industry giants have accommodated our wishes. They concentrate on producing items that look and taste good. Nutrition has become an afterthought. Now, we are all—our children included—reaping the results.
Anyone who doesn’t want to eat the cholesterol-laden fare at the Heart Attack Grill can easily avoid the food: just don’t go to the restaurant. That same advice will suffice in a whole bunch of other situations, although carrying out the plan may be a little more difficult.
The answers we seek are simple, but the path is hard. Why? Because we want it our way. Rather than be led by wisdom, we hope to grab hold of the truth like it is another commodity to be exploited and wasted. In the end, though, wisdom always has the final say.
And that’s the whole point: Your diet is up to you. It is not restaurateurs like Jon Basso or officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who ultimately decide what you are going to eat and whether or not you will get off your butt and get some exercise. It is you.
And every time you make that choice, you are teaching your children how to make theirs.