The Double Down: your move, America

COLBY COSH: “You would get the impression that it was lovingly constructed from scorpions and poison”

by Colby Cosh

double downThe KFC Double Down makes me despair. Not because of the “sandwich” itself but because of the predictable reaction; in general, if you didn’t know that the thing was made of chicken, bacon, and processed cheese, you would get the impression that it was lovingly constructed from scorpions and poison. KFC is a division of Yum! Brands, Inc., and I’ll call your attention to the fact that even the tormented punctuation of this corporate name sounds as though it was devised by a sketch-comedy writer. Yum Exclamation-Mark Brands Comma Inc. used to be known by the less-friendly, more Vader-esque appellation of Tricon Global Restaurants; I am reasonably sure that this transition must have been scripted by Robert Smigel.

But which side in the war between soulless conglomerates and food puritans has irony on its side? KFC has literally rearranged the same ingredients that go into most every other grab-and-go entrée it serves, and gotten rid of the bread, which, guess what, might not be that good for you anyway. The sinister Elders of Tricon, who were surely lit unflatteringly from above in an austere modernist boardroom when they made the decision to create the Double Down, knew perfectly well that it would create panic and horror for no other reason than its configuration. The Double Down is, explicitly and unapologetically, a piece of food comedy.

And all the horrible people—for it seems virtually impossible to talk about food without being horrible—are reacting exactly as planned. The unapologetically paternalistic healthitarians, the grease-sweating Warcraft-playing fast-food reverse-snobs, the one-idea-in-their-whole-head theorists of food salvation, the paleos and the Pollanites, the narcissistic Nietzscheans who look at cheese as though it was about to go critical any second but will buy whatever’s new on the shelves at the GNC without so much as looking at the label…all the people, in short, who routinely insist on adulterating the pleasure of eating, and that includes, most of all, the types who’ve imbibed too much M.F.K. Fisher and who write pornographically about the “pleasure of eating” as if they were zooming a powerful camera in on an open mouth furiously masticating a mouthful of gnocchi.

The frustrating thing is that this multisided, Darwinian foodkampf is utterly necessary; nobody has the option of resigning his or her commission. We have no choice but to try and figure out how to reckon, as individuals, with the superabundance of nutrition. It is not a coincidence that the Double Down has been given a game-theoretic name. For the executives and accountants at Yum! Brands, Inc. that is probably the most exquisite part of the joke.




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The Double Down: your move, America

  1. I wouldn't eat a Double Down, but I don't eat KFC period because of the MSG. That, and I'm a food snob. For what its worth, the DD has significantly fewer calories and less fat than a Whopper, so I don't know what all the fuss is about.

    • I think the main issue is the amount of sodium ~1,380 milligrams. The canada food guide suggest 2300mg a day for an adult. That's about 2/3's of the recommended daily intake in one sandwich. If you have fries with it you are above the guidelines in a single meal.

  2. I'm the kind of person that scoffs at this then grabs my sunglasses to sneak out to get in line. I love the effect that these 'ridiculous' food items – baconater, double down – have on the self-styled foodies.

  3. Bah. That's diet food compared to my personal favourite:

    The turbaconducken

    A chicken, stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey…all wrapped in bacon.

    (Makes Homer Simpson slobbering sound…)

  4. "So I decided to ask Paul Campos, the author of The Obesity Myth, what he thought. The book, which everyone should read, argues that the health benefits of losing weight are largely imaginary; that we are using "health" to advance our class bias in favor of thin people, particularly thin women." Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, July 29, 2009

    "Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) were assessed in a sample of 1974 monozygotic and 2097 dizygotic male twin pairs. Concordance rates for different degrees of overweight were twice as high for monozygotic twins as for dizygotic twins. Classic twin methods estimated a high heritability for height, weight, and BMI, both at age 20 years (.80.78, and.77, respectively) and at a 25-year follow-up (.80.81, and.84, respectively). Height, weight, and BMI were highly correlated across time, and a path analysis suggested that the major part of that covariation was genetic. These results are similar to those of other twin studies of these measures and suggest that human fatness is under substantial genetic control."
    http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/256

    I read Jane Galt often and she wrote a lot about weight last summer and I thought it was fascinating. Two things that I remember: a person's weight has more to do with genetics than willpower and 'healthy' meals often have considerable more calories than the Double Down or things like it.

    I don't remember if it was Jane Galt or not but I remember reading this article about weight/genes and people being so thin in the past because food was expensive and people could not afford to eat as much as they liked. Food has become cheaper over the past twenty years so people are getting bigger because they can afford to eat as much as they crave. The obesity 'epidemic' might just be people finding their natural weight.

    • So a bunch of new genes appeared making everyone fatter?

      • The genes have always been there but people could not afford to buy enough food to increase their weight substantially. Now that food is cheap and abundant, people can eat as much as they like and genetics are taking over.

        • Not exactly. We can thank those genes for having a homo sapiens species at all, given so many centuries of scarcity. We were designed to starve. Now we are stuffing our faces, and watching three different NHL playoff games on our 42-inch HD screens, one hand in the popcorn, one hand around the beer. The genetics are not taking over. The unspent calories are.

      • I went to high school in the Saguenay region of Quebec in the late 70's. It was remarkable to see the sons with their parents. The sons were around 6 foot tall plus or minus. His dad would invariably be 5'4", and his mom 4'11". I, at 5'8" felt tall.

        Very simply, the young had ample food during their growing years. Their fathers and mothers didn't. It showed.

        Derek

    • Yeah, I thought about Oswalt, believe me. Funny bit, but also an example of the "This food is arranged incorrectly!" instinct.

  5. "We have no choice but to try and figure out how to reckon, as individuals, with the superabundance of nutrition."

    Surely you must mean the unequal distribution of nutrition? There are quite a few places on the planet that are free of "superabundance" while grotesque waste occurs in North America.

    • Great point.

      I would refer to this as a "superabudance of calories", not of nutrition. The word 'nutrition' implies some food value beyond just calories.

      The "unequal balance of nutrition" also nicely describes the nutrition gap between high-calorie/low-nutrition diets of the American poor vs. the high-nutrition diet of America's upper middle class and the rich.

      • You're confusing the term nutrition with the idea of "good nutrition." Fat is a nutrient. Can you derive sustenance from a Double Down, such that if you had to, you could live only on however many a day make up your caloric requirements? Yes; anything edible has nutritive value, even if far from the ideal content of it.

        • I'm using some loose language, but it's pretty common to refer to 'empty calories' in this context – a meal containing massive calories with only a trace of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

          A person trying to subsist on this would indeed meet their caloric requirements, but would start seeing symptoms of scurvy after some time.

    • But those are two separate problems, unless you see mass-airlifting Double Downs to Chad as a mutual solution. Famine and subsistence diets are not a NEW issue for the species. The unlimited year-round availability of cheap food is.

      • "But those are two separate problems, unless you see mass-airlifting Double Downs to Chad as a mutual solution."

        We can only hope that the Conservatives propose this in the name of international aid. If only to see the comedic histrionics that would follow such a proposal from the various interest groups.

        • Now now, if the Tories were air-dropping junk food in developing countries, they would go with Tim Hortons over KFC.

      • As a student of the world, Colby, would you not agree that famine is LESS AND LESS an issue across our species? Diabetes and heart disease are becoming increasing health problems in many parts of the developing world.

  6. There is just nowhere to hide in this column. I scoffed at the healthitarians and the reverse snobs. I howled at the narcissistic Nietzscheans. But then came the furious masticators.

    Busted.

  7. Isn't this just a fast food twist on the classic Chicken Cordon Bleu?

    • We have French Fries, Americans have Freedom Fries. We have Chicken Cordon Blue, Americans have Double-Downs :)

  8. Again I am forced to wonder if the claimed public reaction actually exists to the extent posited, or if it just makes for better reading to pretend it does.

  9. First time I saw the commercial, it made me despair, too. I didn't know whether to be attracted or revolted. Total existential dilemma.

    • First time I saw it was April Fool's day. Didn't believe it for a second.

  10. In junior high/high school, there is a reason younger men are so homophobic. They are uncertain about their own sexuality and want to erase any doubt. When food snobs deride the double down, you have to wonder whether deep down inside they doubt their own desires for a wheatgrass smoothie. Junk food really is yummy – its practically programmed to be. When many of the same people watch Mad Men, surely they have a pang of envy for an era where smoking and red meat were permissible middle class activities.

  11. KFC doesn't even taste like chicken.

    • EVERYTHING tastes like chicken! And at KFC, they even make their ketchup taste like chicken :)

    • That's the point. If I wanted chicken I would go to the supermarket. If I want KFC (every 4 years that KFC smell lures me in), I'd go for KFC. What is so bad about variety?

    • That's probably because its still really just a chick, those babies are 38-42 days old when they're slaughtered. Similarly, veal and beef taste quite different.

  12. You know, if I wasn't so kind hearted, I'd almost think this food item was engineered to create the predicted backlash. Thus, driving hordes of angry anti-snobs to KFC where they will wave their "Double Down" flags of defiance in the faces of their imagined foes.

    Much like people erecting giant nativity scenes in their frontyards to combat the "War on Christmas".

    • Piously snobbish comments like this make me want to live on the Double Down for the foreseeable future, actually.

      Or perhaps that's just my troglodyte making excuses for himself. Hard to say.

      • I myself am going to go for it and try one. But Gaunilon, if you try to actually live on the Double Down for the forseeable future, said future would be forseeable alright, foreseeably short!

        • Ah well. Better to live 5 years like a lion than 100 years like a lamb, no?

          • So you would be either 65 or 160 when you kick off? ;-)

          • LOL, nice try.

          • Ha! Fun to guess, no?

    • It's "Joe the Plumber" of fastfood.

  13. Kudos, Colby, for taking a few well-deserved shots at the slow food, food puritanism movement that’s so prevalent particularly among the yuppie urban upscale set these days. As much as I appreciate nutrition and quality food, some of the food puritans are truly irritating demagogues. There’s a good article related to this issue in a recent Atlantic Monthly, where Caitlan Flanagan is highly critical of this movement in California towards “school gardens”, this incredibly paternalistic program where the objective is to turn ghetto kids into slow-food foodies. Utterly daft. In some circles, the slow-food and related movements are so extreme and doctrinaire as to be, basically, cults. With all that that entails.

    • "As much as I appreciate nutrition and quality food, some of the food puritans are truly irritating demagogues."

      Maybe there's too much fat and salt in your diet that you can be "irritated" that some people have a negative opinion of this consumer glop and are engaged in activities to counter it that *don't* compel you do anything. Unless you live in California, of course, which, as we all know, is the cause of and solution to, all the World's problems.

      I eat this crap and I enjoy it. I still reserve the right to call it crap without having to be accused of being a cultist.

      • I quite agree with your last sentence. There is a difference between having rational nutritional awareness (which I heartily endorse) and being a demagogic, paternalistic quasi-kook. My point was that there are a number of people these days who don't appreciate the difference. That was the main point of Ms. Flanagan's article, which I heartily recommend. Some of the kooks currently trying to get Vancouverites to cultivate chickens en masse in their backyards — I'd also put them in the latter category.

        • Especially because the bylaw allowing one to keep chickens in their back yard also states that theose chickens cannot be killed, so the city is spending 20 grand on a chicken reitrement village (no kidding). That said, industrial food production is a bad thing, 90% of the time.

          • I agree — this is a classic case of correct identification of a problem (i.e., problems with industrial food production), wrong "solution" (people in the city of Vancouver breeding backyard chickens en masse).

            I think it might have been Gary Mason who wrote about this in the Globe recently. And the thing is, he's the farthest thing from some right-wing, reactionary crank. He's quite sympathetic to the existing regime in Vancouver council/City hall. But he (rightly) dumped all over this proposal. There are so many problems with it. Sanitation, health concerns, noise, having to either hire a boatload of new bylaw enforcement officers or completely overwork existing officers; and so on. And the fact that the supporters are citing "security of food supply" as a justification — Jesus, why don't you dig a bunker and fill it with canned food, ammo and firearms while you're at it?

    • Serious question: What is the problem with the movement in California towards "school gardens"?

      • Serious answer: Nothing at all. When that economic basket case of a state implodes, at least a few people might be able to grow their own green beans and tomatoes.

      • Phil CP: read the article I cited. The problem is that it's gone way beyond just growing gardens in schoolyards, and has it as the centrepiece of the entire school curriculum. The woman who is at the heart of the whole program is not a professional educator or teacher, she's a celebrity chef. It's an example of a philosophy and ideology (in this case, slow/local food movement) taking over a school curriculum.

        • Thanks for the clarification!

  14. I miss your point?

  15. A related point is that the foodie fascists, however well-intentioned they may be, have a completely unrealistic attitude towards what we can expect from people who inhabit the lower socioeconomic strata. Most foodies are either quite well off, or at least hail from the college or university educated classes. It’s often (correctly) pointed out that eating at MacDonald’s is damn cheap. I often hear foodies retort that “oh, well, you can get cheap nutritious food at this or that farmer’s market” etc. What these people don’t grasp is that MacDonald’s is both cheap AND convenient. Some poor person may have no car — or no time — to drive to the local farmer’s market, etc. MacDonald’s, by contrast, is everywhere.

    • That's the problem, especially in the US. The reason McD's and other fast food is so cheap is becaus the gov't subsidizes the hell out of corn, soy and meat production. It is irrational for a hamburger, fries and pop to cost less than a salad.

      • Yeah, I think Food Inc. did an excellent job of explaining that situation. Corn, corn and more corn. That was a real eye-opener.

    • Fast food is not especially cheap. It costs $6/meal, roughly, at most fast food places. If somebody eats generic breakfast cereal each morning, and two fast food meals for lunch and supper, they will end up spending $12 or $84/week. For a family of four that runs over $17,000/year. Hardly what I would call cheap.

      Fast food is consumed because it is convenient, not because it is cheap. That doesn't mean your class logic is wrong, however. One of the biggest divides between working class and upper middle class folks is in terms of time and energy. The former are more likely to work in jobs where they are constantly busy, for longer hours, and less pay. I think this is also why we are increasingly seeing working class folks turning away from socialism. Socialism is about the redistribution of wealth, but really should be about the redistribution of well-being. As well-being is increasingly tied up in non-economic factors, socialism ceases to serve the working class.

      • Excellent points, as usual, hosertohoosier.

  16. That gnocchi image…. dude.
    Gotta hand it to Cosh – the man can definitely write.

    I also like the categorization as "Food Comedy". That's exactly right – KFC is banking on the notion that although this really isn't any less healthy than their usual fare, it has an aura of complete and total rebellion against pc nutrition fads. They're trying to replicate in the fast-food market what "The Dangerous Book for Boys" did in children's literature (albeit without the salutary end-results). And since the KFC market demographic probably doesn't include too many pc nutrition-nuts, it's not really all that big a gamble.

    • It reminds me of how McDonalds released the Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle a week after Super-Size me came out. It was a perfect way of demonstrating the two different target markets.

    • And what was a recent Harvey's slogan? Something fashionably anti-PC like: "Meat. Fire. Good."

  17. There is nothing more spiritually satisfying than a stupid self-destructive activity that appeals to all our worst instincts: the KFC Double Down is another valuable opportunity in that field and should be cherished.

  18. I don't even know why Cosh bothered writing this. Isn't all of this covered under the now-standard "let the market decide," that applies to everything except the careers of certain classes of people?

  19. Any similarity that this abortion and food have in common is purely coincidental.

  20. Interesting post Cosh. But your writing is getting harder to read all the time. It's more like Shakespeare every day :-)

  21. I don't even know what Cosh said – all I know is that I wish I didn't like real food so much. If I could get crap like this into me, and have it stay down, maybe Jillian Michaels would have to beat it out of me – now that would be good!

  22. Help, Andrew Potter! I need some advice, here. Is it more authentic to crave the Colonel's greaseball depicted above, or to recoil in horror and retreat to my community garden arugula? I am at a loss and await your instructions, life coach, sir!

  23. Thank you Mr Cosh.

    I have never had this much fun reading about "fooding" before!

    "furiously masticating" indeed!

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