Food blogger Jason Kelley couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the television commercial for KFC's newest Double Down sandwich.
A breadless mass of bacon, cheese and gooey sauce mashed between two slabs of fried chicken, the Double Down was "perhaps the most insane 'sandwich' I have ever seen," Mr. Kelley wrote on his site, FoodGeekery.com. "My mind is boggled."
Until now, the Wendy's Baconator - with its multiple beef patties, heaps of bacon and cheese, and lack of vegetables - was the sandwich to beat, Mr. Kelley said from his home in Panama City, Fla.
"I felt that KFC threw down the gauntlet. … At this point, I feel, to compete, another fast-food franchise would have to just serve up a quarter-pound ball of cheese and bacon."
Although KFC has no immediate plans to introduce the Double Down to Canada, the chain began offering the sandwich across the U.S. on April 12, signalling an escalation in the fight for North American supremacy in gluttony. But in an era of heightened concern over health, it may also mark a greasy, bacon-topped, cheese-dripping, backlash to the movement toward no trans-fat, low-sodium, good cholesterol, and organic diets.
"It seems like between the health-food industry and the news, all we hear about food is that there's something wrong with it," said U.S. cookbook author and health advocate Christina Pirello. "I think what's happened is [that]in the name of entertainment, we've started to go the other way. You know, 'Let's show them the fattiest, most awful food we can cook.' "
If Wendy's threw down the gauntlet in 2007 with the Baconator sandwich, many blame the likes of Food Network television host Paula Deen for pushing past the boundaries of dietary common sense with fat-drenched, simultaneously crispy and oozing recipes such as deep-fried, bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese.
Still, others point to the McDonald's Mc10:35, an off-menu, do-it-yourself hybrid of Egg McMuffin and McDouble that has recently garnered near-mythical status online (getting its name, not as GQ.com jokingly claimed "because that's how long you have before the cholesterol-infarct happens," but because of the time of morning when creating such a merger is possible).
Meanwhile, food porn site ThisIsWhyYoureFat.com has made an online sport of exhibiting extreme junk food creations.
"It's like this weird arms race," Mr. Kelley said. (He tried the Double Down and was unimpressed. "It would have been better ... [if they had made]a normal sandwich of it.")
At a time when North American obesity rates have reached new heights (according to Statistics Canada, 17.2 per cent of Canadian adults were obese in 2008), Ms. Pirello says both consumers and industry are to blame for the onslaught of bad-for-you food and the backlash against healthy, wholesome diets.
She has a particular bone to pick with Ms. Deen, host of Paula's Home Cooking. The celebrity's unabashed glorification of buttery, deep-fried foods such as Fried Ravioli with Marinara Cream Sauce and Paula's Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich prompted Ms. Pirello to write an article in The Huffington Post last week titled "How Can Paula Deen Sleep at Night?"
"There is a definite degree of social responsibility here," Ms. Pirello said. "I think the more that we are brainwashed, through marketing and through these types of shows, the more we lose our way and we lose touch with what real food is."
Mr. Kelley said the offence against sensible eating is much worse when it comes from the fast-food industry, as it makes heart-stopping foods easily accessible to the public.
"When fast-food companies do it, you're going to have people eating this weekly, daily. To me, that's where it becomes a problem," he said.
Mr. Kelley said his wife found the Double Down delicious. He quoted her on his site calling it "the best thing ever. ... It is like a party in my mouth."
Obesity specialist Yoni Freedhoff of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute sees the push for extreme junk foods as more of a shock tactic than a real threat to healthy eating.
"There's certainly plenty of people who really are not particularly concerned with what they're eating as far as health [goes] and that's okay because everyone is allowed to accept a certain amount of risk into their lives," he said. "Some people might do it by not wearing seatbelts. Other people might do it by not wearing helmets when they go skiing. Some people may do it by not paying attention to what they eat."
In the case of the Double Down, Dr. Freedhoff questioned whether the sandwich is anything more than a marketing ploy. After all, he said, it has generated a huge amount of buzz for KFC.
And while the availability of high-calorie foods makes it difficult for people to control their weight, he does not believe the food industry should be held responsible for people's dietary decisions, he said.
"As far as I'm concerned, the restaurant industry, their job is to satisfy their shareholders. It's not to make healthy food. Now, if consumers were to start demanding healthier food, the restaurant industry would start delivering healthier food."
Individuals and the government should be held accountable instead, he said, noting that it's up to lawmakers to introduce measures such as mandatory calorie postings and regulations on sodium levels in food.
"Ultimately, our government's job is to help to take care of us. [That's]not the restaurant's job."