June 25, 2010 -- To public health advocates, a new sandwich from restaurant chain Friendly's must seem like a cruel practical joke -- the Grilled Cheese Burger Melt.
The sandwich is a burger with all the trimmings, wedged between two grilled cheese sandwiches. The entire Burgermelt meal, with fries, tips the scales at 1500 calories, 97 grams of fat and a stunning 2,090 milligrams of sodium.
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One blogger dubbed the dish "death on a bun," and experts agree.
"It's deadly," said Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's not the kind of thing people should be eating. In fact, it's the kind of thing the Surgeon General says don't eat."
The Grilled Cheese Burger Melt is not even the highest calorie item on Friendly's menu. The restaurant also has a breakfast dish called Caramel Cinnamon Swirl French Toast -- a cinnamon bun split down the middle, fried in egg, served with ice cream, cream cheese, caramel topping and whipped cream. That's 2,090 calories for breakfast, which already exceeds federal guidelines for an entire day's worth of meals.
Life Imitates Satire
A few years ago, Saturday Night Live poked fun at Americans' ceaseless appetite for these meals of mass destruction. In a commercial for a fictional restaurant called "Taco Town," the show jokingly imagined a three-layer taco, wrapped in a pizza, surrounded by blueberry pancakes and deep-fried to finish it off.
But now, reality seems to be catching up with satire.
Friendly's new burger is the latest salvo in what seems to be a runaway race to come up with the most outrageous sandwich, in defiance of alarming statistics about obesity in America.
It's "in the midst of our health care crisis of high rates of heart disease. It's nuts," said Jacobson. "And the companies are showing no corporate responsibility whatsoever."
Friendly's defended its product in a statement: "As the place where 'ice cream makes the meal,' we offer our customers a diverse selection of delicious and innovative menu items, including salads, vegetable sides, wraps, lots of ice cream selections for every time of day ... and our newest sandwich -- the Friendly's Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt. We provide choices to our customers, along with full nutritional information, available in our restaurants and online for all menu items to help them make informed decisions."
'Double Down' Sandwich a Huge Success for KFC
Friendly's is hoping to match the success of Kentucky Fried Chicken's 'Double Down Sandwich,' which has bacon and two slices of cheese sandwiched between two fried chicken filets.
"They appear to be pandering to a few heavy-eating teenaged males or college males who think this is great fun, but their arteries are clogging. They may not realize it," said Jacobson.
The Double Down has 540 calories and 1,300 milligrams of sodium. While it was being test marketed, demand for the Double Down proved so strong that there were reports of people driving across state lines to try it. Americans purchased some 10 million of the sandwiches in the first month they were offered nationwide.
"Marketers know that there is an infinite appetite for these kinds of products, so they're going to just keep piling it on until finally, consumers say, 'OK! You went too far. I really want a salad!'" said Drew Neisser, a marketing expert from the advertising firm Renegade.
Consumers Design Own Monster Products
But American consumers have yet to make that call, and demand for monster burgers is so strong that some are even devising their own super-sized burgers.
A McDonald's burger has gained a cult following on the Internet, even though it isn't even on the menu. It's a concoction of McDonald's dollar menu products, consisting of a double cheeseburger with a spicy chicken sandwich in the middle, and it's got a profane nickname that can't be printed here.
Many have posted videos of themselves ordering and eating the sandwich on YouTube, making it an 800-calorie viral and culinary sensation.