Glad you're out of the hospital. I always enjoyed your columns. I for one hope Fry Girl sticks around, as long as it doesn't kill you. Don't go the way of Booze Pig- my other favorite column.
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
I could blame my editor for my year of eating dangerously. After all, it was her idea. But let's face it, as a fledgling writer whose most recent contribution to the world of journalism was several blog posts about drinking during the day — a series that had been tagged as being too Bukowski-esque (minus the misogyny) — I needed the support and encouragement to try something new. Well, not that new. Writing about fast food at New Times had been done before by Dave Walker, a.k.a. Cap'n Dave, with much success. (If you've really been around this town a while, you might recall Cap'n Dave's run for governor in the '80s.)
Now it was my turn at the hamburger helm.
Safe 'n' scrumptious
• The Chuckbox Burgers: One of the few joints in the Valley that serves up its burgers from a mesquite charcoal grill. 'Nuff said. (202 E. University Dr., Tempe, 480-968-4712, thechuckbox.com)
• Hana Dog and Lava Tots, from Maui Dog: Fresh, homemade toppings and a unique combination of spicy and sweet make Maui Dog a unique tropical treat. I think I just wrote their first jingle. (3538 E. Indian School Rd., 602-464-3063, mauidogrocks.com)
• Green Chili Burro con Frijoles, from Rito's: Once you find this legendary joint, grab the napkins and hang on; this fiery burro's burstin' with flavor. (907 N. 14th St., 602-262-9842)
• The Gyro Picado from George's Famous Gyros: Like a kick to the Greek groin, this spicy delight is pure gyro euphoria. (7620 E. McKellips Rd., Scottsdale, 480-874-1354, myspace.com/gfgyros)
• The Jerk Chicken Sandwich, from Chaka Chaka: A huge hoagie jam-packed with flavorful ingredients including a fried banana slice — and at six bucks, it's the best deal in town. (1009 S. 7th St., 602-561-3110, eatchakachaka.com)
• Culver's Custard: Creamy, eggy, and made fresh daily, this better-than-ice cream treat out of Wisconsin makes a Wendy's Frosty taste like chilled chalk chunks. (culvers.com)
Hazardous to your health
• KFC's Double Down: Please don't make me go back to that scary place. (kfc.com)
• Chocolate-covered scorpion: You can douse it with chocolate sauce, but it's still a predatory arthropod someone found in a shoe, and the taste makes you wish you'd been stung instead. (azstatefair.com)
• Taco Bell's Cantina Tacos: These street tacos should not be eaten, but placed on a street and run over repeatedly. (tacobell.com)
• The Whataburger 5-3-1: A square salt lick disguised as a burger and a $5 price equals a numerical nightmare that adds up to zero. (whataburger.com)
• Burger King's Fire-Grilled Ribs: The box said, "Straight From the Grill." I would have accepted "Straight from Hell" or "Left on the Grill." Dehydrated and DOA. (bk.com)
We came up with Fry Fatale, then Burger Broad, but Fry Girl seemed to click. I thought it was going to be easy. C'mon, fast food? Burgers and fries? How hard could it be?
My first attempt at a 400-word column sucked. It took a week, and my husband asked me whether I was writing a term paper. I may have thrown the cat at him for that. My second attempt went too far the other way, omitting connecting words and using short, staccato sentences, like in a James Ellroy novel. Gulp.
It got easier, but it also got weird. The restrictiveness of my youth coupled with my ongoing food obsessions and natural curiosity made the world of fast food mine to devour and conquer. I flooded my e-mail inbox with Google searches and welcome letters from every fast-food loyalty club I could sign up for. I trolled the Internet in search of sites where fast-foodies like me gabbed and gushed about the latest and greatest greasy grub. If I spied a fast-food commercial speeding by on my DVR, I stopped, rewound, and watched intently. During the day, I'd have three or four drive-thru bags playing co-pilot in my passenger seat. By night, I found myself cruising the streets in search of a new burger joint or greasy spoon. "Hey, man, you got any new McShwag?"
Then there's the continuous eating. With fried fare no longer a sometimes-treat, I now consumed it the way most people look at Facebook. A cavalcade of burgers, burritos, fries, nuggets, tacos, shakes, dogs, subs, sandwiches, and desserts, not to mention breakfast and, yes, carnival chow. Some I couldn't wait to try (new hot dogs), others I wasn't so sure about (anything from Taco Bell), and there were still others that scared the hell out of me (a chocolate-covered scorpion).
Initially, I approached every greasy meal with delighted anticipation, but like a plumber, when you've flushed enough shit through the pipes, sometimes you can barely take the smell. Like anything dangerous in life that's done willingly, there are consequences. A sweaty soda cup, fragments of fast food strewn across paper wrappings spotted with the same grease that coated my fingers, the knowledge of what I just willingly stuck down my gullet, feelings of denial, regret, and disgust — in some cases, writing the Fry Girl column felt like telling a bad morning-after story after a night with Ronald McDonald.
And, no, I'm not fat. No one's ever asked me that outright, but that doesn't mean they aren't wondering. I am not overweight. And, for the record, I'm also not anorexic, bulimic, a ghost, or a grizzly bear, nor do I have a hole in the back of my head. Fry Girl's fast food consumption followed two simple rules: 1) Don't eat it all, and 2) If you do have to eat everything (you know, when size is the selling point), make it the only meal of the day. Is it the greatest of guidelines? No. Have I done the "Honey, I'm just too full from fast food to join you for a home-cooked dinner. Can I fix you a Hot Pocket?" on many occasions? Yes. Would I rather say I burned everything off thanks to training for an iron man triathlon or that I am indeed a grizzly bear? Yes and hell yes. Grizzly bears are cool.
My dirty little secret about being Fry Girl? I wasn't just Fry Girl. I have another job, one that is completely the opposite. I push organic food. That's right, the good stuff. Natural and nutritious noshings that wouldn't be caught dead peeking out of a drive-thru window, served atop Styrofoam, or pimping themselves out on a value menu. So while Fry Girl was taking down the latest burger big shot, mild-mannered Organic Girl was singing the praises of fresh, local produce while munching on organic strawberries. Know thy enemy? In my case, that saying goes both ways. And while some may cry, "Foul!" understanding the two opposing sides of the food war has made me something of a dietary diplomat, 'cause let's face it, folks, few of us walk that straight a nutritional line. Every once in a while, the bad stuff tastes kinda good.
At least it does for most of us.
According to the Super Size Me website, one in four Americans visits a fast-food restaurant every day. In the year 2000, we spent over $110 billion dollars in them (that's up from a mere $3 billion in 1972). Fast food has been a part of American culture since White Castle started slingin' beef in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. White Castle's white porcelain enamel and stainless-steel décor, along with the innovation of allowing customers to see their food being prepared, became a purposeful perception changer to what folks then thought of the meatpacking industry (thanks to Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle). Along with the automobile, high-volume, low-cost, and high-speed burgers and fries continue to rank high in the U.S. product popularity contest. Having it our way is the American way.