Wednesday, April 14, 2010

KFC’s New Sandwich, the Double Down, Is a Food Crime

hyh-100412-kfcdoubledown-fd55384bb5f74422_large Americans don’t know how to eat. It’s no secret – we’ve written books about it. We’ve filmed documentaries chronicling our apparent dependence on factory food that’s been pre-wrapped, freezerburned or cobbled together from multiple meats. In the same way other nations have a national anthem, we have a national eating disorder.

Believe me when I say KFC’s Double Down, a bacon-and-cheese sandwich that substitutes chicken patties for bread, takes it to a whole new level. It’s an atrocity. And not just because it’s the nutritional equivalent of a hydrogen bomb (one alone is 92 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake). KFC successfully spun its food-crime into a media event.

Who should be more ashamed: Colonel Sanders or the legions of morbidly curious, myself included, who slouched into KFC and said, with shame or without: “One Double Down, please.”

I think the sandwich itself springs from two single questions. The first I can comfortably attribute to KFC leadership: wouldn’t it be funny if we replaced bread with chicken? Just, like, in general? The second I credit to the Colonel: How shall I end the world?

No bread, chicken instead, bacon in the middle, Kraft singles and some horseradishy mayo-sauce thing. That’s it. The breaded chicken oozes grease. The cheese is unabashedly fake, and in my sample, barely warm. Did the bacon come from a pig? It’s anyone’s guess. The emphasis is on salt, and you’ll taste every bit of its 1,380 milligrams of sodium.

As obscene as that sounds, NPR’s health blog, Shots, puts it neck-and-neck with McDonald’s Fried Chicken Sandwich. The Double Down wins in fat (32 to 28 grams) and sodium (1,380 to 1,360 milligrams). Surprisingly enough, the Double Down clocks in at 540 calories, lighter than the Fried Chicken Sandwich by 90.

But really, this is like comparing the explosive yield of two nuclear warheads. This sandwich is devastating. A sense of curiosity led me to invite my friend, Shawn, to experience the Double Down on Tuesday, April 13. I met him at our local KFC, which, like most KFCs I’ve ever been through, was empty, cold and felt vaguely dystopian. We ordered our sandwiches and sat down.

I plowed into mine without much thought – I was hungry, and the less thought I put into my lunch/crime against humanity, the better. The first bite is exactly as you would expect – warm, almost lukewarm, and practically squirting with grease. After the third or fourth, I found myself disappointed. It was exactly as it seemed: a bad idea. A fat-bomb. A nice joke, but a failure as a sandwich.

Shawn decided to film me eating. His mistake: I licked my meal for the camera. He literally gagged and lost his appetite. As I’d already deemed my sandwich a failure, I thought I’d at least make it a good story. So I ate Shawn’s.

Whatever sense of irony, sarcasm or experimentation you bring to the Double Down will be quickly obliterated. Only shame will remain. This is what the nuns told you masturbation would be like. I ate the second sandwich and immediately realized my mistake. I had to brace myself against my car before returning to work, not sure whether I was going to burp or barf.

By the way, the employed lunchers can forget about the Double Down. You’ll feel like every cell in your body is larded down. You might as well go home, crawl into bed and pity your digestive track. Which is exactly what I did.

While I was busy rattling of synonyms of “apocalypse,” Shawn found a better way to describe the Double Down: irresponsible. In an age where fast food chains are offering apple slices and mandarin oranges as alternatives to fries and onion rings (it feels political, but they deserve some credit), KFC offers a sandwich that sells itself on being an affront to common sense and good nutrition. It sold itself as a joke, and enjoyed a bum-rush of incredulous publicity. The folks at NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! liveblogged their meal. When’s the last time a sandwich got this much attention?

Even the Daily Mail, an English newspaper, gave it some ink.

All this comes after First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off a campaign to combat childhood obesity. I don’t care if the Double Down beats McDonald’s equivalent at the weigh-in – KFC’s monstrosity is a joke that punts its punchline in the face of public health. Now that I’m all self-righteous and preachy, watch me eat the damn thing.

And cry for me. All 1080 calories, 2760 milligrams of sodium and 64 grams of fat are currently simmering in my belly. While I’ll start working it off tomorrow, the shame is sure to linger.