On a recent scorching day, I was riding my bike to an appointment, feeling parched. I had an urge to drink one of those semi-frozen concoctions known on “The Simpsons” as a “squishy.” I’ve heard them called “slurpees” and “icees,” and I recall my notoriously strict anti-sugar parents allowing my brother and I to have one before we commenced a long train trip to see the grandparents. (The slurpee machines back then dispensed only bright red cherry flavor, and they featured a contented bear as a mascot.) When it’s hot, nothing’s more refreshing, you think.
As if placed there by providence, I came upon a Burger King, which had a sign advertising icees prominently displayed near the entrance. I stopped and went in.
This was not the kind of restaurant I normally visit. The food at this type of place gives me a stomachache, which is exacerbated, I reckon, by my knowing how vile is the stuff I’m consuming. Once, on a trip to Panama, a rancher from Wyoming I met at a beach educated me on the (miserable) quality of meat that ends up as hamburger, and I’ve been skeptical of the stuff since then. Plus, it’s fattening, high in cholesterol, etc. It had been some time since I perused a Burger King menu. Thanks to a big advertising campaign, I’m aware that the world leader in fast-food franchises, McDonald’s, has been repositioning itself as a healthy — or at least healthier — alternative to its competitors. I was also vaguely aware that every other chain has added salads and other low-fat alternatives to their menus, though to what extent I didn’t know.
Icees, I discovered, now come in three different flavors. (I chose cherry on childhood memories grounds.) I also discovered that Burger King’s business is built upon peddling three main food groups: salt, sugar, and fat. One could be forgiven for assuming that the chain’s core customer is a pothead in search of copious portions of things fried. Who else but someone gripped by the munchies would avail himself of this stuff? I looked around the place. Most of the diners looked poor. One fellow was counting out small change, trying to raise a stake for a Whopper Value Meal. Another was hunched over a napkin covered with fries, which he consumed one piece at a time, savoring each ketchupy bite.
Just as I began to muse on the class differences that cleave our allegedly classless society, I looked out the window at the drive-thru lane. It was filled with people driving Lexuses, BMWs, and a nauseating assortment of SUVs. They did not appear to be ordering salads.
I paid for my icy melange of corn syrup, sugar and water and departed, more certain than ever that the senses — particularly involving taste and feel — are more powerful than knowledge.