I recently visited a local restaurant that specializes in hamburgers. I pretended to peruse the menu for healthy alternatives like salmon or salad, but my taste buds already knew how THAT internal debate would end.
After delivering water and bread, the waitress asked for my order. Without hesitation, I ordered a medium burger with the works—topped with American cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and grilled bacon. A side of crisp fries completed the gourmand repast.
Twenty minutes later my heart-attack-on-a-plate arrived. I poured ketchup on the meat and fries before slathering the bun with mayonnaise and mustard. I gripped the burger with two hands and anticipated the first bite with carnivoristic delight.
My Food Conscience picked that inopportune moment to make an appearance. The imaginary figure—nicknamed “Mac” in my mind—plays the role of Jiminy Cricket to my Pinocchio, reminding me of dietary rights and wrongs. For older readers, Mac looks like a pint-sized Jack LaLanne in his peak years before he started hawking juicers.
Grease dripped down my fingers as I brought the burger to my lips. “Ahem,” Mac interrupted. “Are you REALLY planning on eating a MEDIUM cooked hamburger? You remember all those articles about Mad Cow Disease, don’t you?”
I attempted to ignore his words while staring at the pink hamburger. “And another thing,” my Food Conscience continued. “You’re about to eat half a pound of red meat. Just how long do you suppose it will reside in your digestive tract?”
“To make matters worse, you ordered a Cheeseburger. You KNOW that you’re lactose intolerant. The processed cheese will keep us both up all night.”
“And don’t even get me started on the three strips of bacon that came with the order. Meat-on-meat—what WILL they think of next? Do I need to remind you of your cholesterol numbers? You’re north of 200, big boy, and just courting an all-expense-paid-trip to the Coronary Intensive Care Unit.”
He didn’t stop there. “I couldn’t help but notice the hamburger bun. White bread? What happened to your New Year’s resolution about multigrain?”
I quickly changed the topic, pointing out that the meal came with healthy toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Lettuce certainly counted as a vegetable, but I’ve never been quite sure about tomatoes . . . fruit . . . vegetable . . . who knows? Mushrooms actually come from the fungus family, but I figured the FDA might include them somewhere among the vegetable family.
Mac snorted in disgust. “Great choices, friend. Did you know that salmonella bacteria are found more on leafy vegetables than in ground meat? No telling where that slab of Iceberg lettuce has been.”
“Tomatoes are dandy—and they are considered to be a fruit and not a vegetable, genius! However, the ketchup covering your plate is actually red-colored sugar.”
“Don’t try to kid me about the mushrooms. The cook barely wiped the dirt off those fungi before sautéing the toadstools in a pound of butter.”
I pushed the mushrooms to the side of the plate and picked up a handful of fries. “Hellllooo!” Mac called. “Ever hear of high blood pressure? Those fries have enough grease and salt to dry up your blood. Dredge them through the ketchup, and you have the perfect combination of mega salt and sugar.”
I pointed out that I had self-righteously ordered a diet drink rather than carbonated candy. My Food Conscience shook his head in disgust. “Here’s a rule of thumb,” he announced. “Never eat or drink anything that you cannot pronounce or grow. Can you say ‘aspartame?’ When was the last time you picked some good old potassium benzoate off a tree?”
I sighed, wondering why the good Lord created bad food that tasted so great. In mid-reverie, I absentmindedly took a sip of water while Mac asked, “And did you see the latest reports on water quality?”
Enough was enough—I banished my Food Conscience back to wherever he lived when I was a teenager and could eat whatever I pleased. Alone again, I cleaned my plate without guilt or remorse. When no one looked, I sopped up the greasy remains with some white bread.
I sat back in sated bliss, convinced that I could not eat another bite. Then the waitress walked over and asked, “Did you save room for something sweet?”
After a moment’s hesitation, I decided it would be rude if I didn’t at least glance at the dessert menu.