The Social Experiment: Wendy's

This past weekend, my partner and I headed out of town for a bit of a "gay"cation. We got hungry on the highway so, despite packing the delish dish we made the night before for lunch leftovers on our trip, we literally spent 20+ minutes hunting down a Wendy's. You're probably wondering why, seeing as how I am a health coach and all.

Well, you see, when you stop eating food like that on a daily, weekly and even YEARLY basis, you start to wonder what other people find alluring about it. I wanted to know. I wanted to see what draws millions of people through those doors each day. And I wanted a damn Frosty! It was HOT!

So we went, for the sake of science. I had eaten Wendy's many a time in my youth, so I remembered it vaguely. Because we eat homecooked/healthy food about 98.9% of each day, I thought it was totally ok to step off-track to experiment. My girlfriend asked, "what are you doing to get?" I said, "well, a Frosty, and maybe fries--I'm a little apprehensive about the meat, I mean--they claim it's real..."

I wanted to see if this fast-food chain did IN FACT serve anything resembling real meat in their food.

Here was my experience/data collected:

1) We enter. It smells funny--like a gym locker or something.

2) The menu is small, crowded and confusing. There are posters around touting the "health benefits" of the slivered almonds in the salads on the menu. Nice try, I think. I remember hearing about how the combo meals are a better deal, but I can't get my mind off the Frosty. People move fast through the line and I realize there's a system here they know well--and I don't know it. I feel---like an alien. I reflect upon the fact that eating healthy makes me an outsider in my own country...

3) I order a chicken sandwich, fries and a chocolate Frosty. Ahhhh. The nostalgia from my childhood. The "food" arrives and I have paid in less than 2 minutes. Even the ketchup pumps are the same from when I was a kid. I realize the sudden STRONG craving for a Frosty might have been intimately connected with the fact that we were heading toward New Jersey...the state where I was born and raised...interesting...this is called deconstructing a craving...and I do it with my clients.

4) We sit, unwrap the "food" and I bite into the "chicken" sandwich. A small string appears in sight, right where I bit into the "sandwich". I think somehow a rubber band got into my "food" and I pull on it---it's stretchy like a rubber band but thinner, lighter. I put it aside as my girlfriend watches in horror. I say, "I'm conducting research---this is science we are eating, not real food". It seems the sandwich is a cut of chicken breast---the thing I (and others probably) anticipated when ordering. Upon pulling the fine threads of gelly-like material apart, I realize----

oh my goodness. This is the material they used to construct the entire sandwich.

It's not an actual chicken breast--it is a conglomeration of fillers, preservatives, colors and goodness-knows-what-else to construct something resembling a chicken breast.

5) The smell of the sandwich is now overpowering my senses and I can't eat something that smells like chemicals. I put it down and go after the "fries". Little more than freeze-dried potato powder browned to an overdone stale "crisp".

6) It is now that we are aware of the sound. This particular restaurant has installed large-screen tvs in several corners and if you aren't lucky enough to sit beneath one (like we are), there are massive speakers installed in the wall instead. My girlfriend aptly observes, "hmm. Large tvs with fast-paced commercials and sound during a meal--like in many homes today." We feel overwhelmed and anxious. We don't watch tv and certainly not during meals.

7) We get up to leave, as my girlfriend has now felt the effects of her "sandwich" and doesn't feel well. We take a look around at the families feeding this to their kids, feeding this to themselves---like the couple who drove over here to order baked potatoes. Those are simple enough to make at home, why come to Wendy's for that? :(

8) At least the Frosty was good; it's hard to mess up ice cream and milk. But you still can't suck the damn thing up the straw.

My social experiment didn't help me understand WHY people choose to spend their money on something that doesn't even taste good--but it helped me see how people who don't cook real food very often probably don't even realize that it doesn't taste real--and that it isn't real.

While it was a worthy use of my time to walk in the shoes of so many Americans, I'll stick to the shoes I'm wearing these days as a holistic health coach, thank you--very much.