by | Jul 28, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Since the act of eating a fast-food cheeseburger involves a series of voluntary behaviors — you must decide you want McDonald’s, you must go there, you must take money from your pocket and you must lift the burger to your lips
— it’s hard to see how anything that comes from eating that cheeseburger could be someone else’s fault.

But that doesn’t stop lawyers.

The latest round of I’m Stupid, Therefore I Sue is now under way. It involves lawyers who are suing fast-food companies on behalf of obese clients. In one such case, a New York attorney is representing several fast-food eaters, all men in their 50s with assorted medical issues. He has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“They knowingly sell food that is harmful,” Samuel Hirsch told me last week,
“and they need to be responsible.”

Well, he is right about being responsible.

But he has the wrong party.

Duh: Eat more, gain weight

It’s true that fast food is hardly healthy. It’s true that too much of it is bad for you. But the same can be said of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Mrs. Field’s cookies, Nathan’s hot dogs or, for that matter, the fettuccine Alfredo your Italian mother cooks.

The sin is not the ingredients; it’s the frequency with which you eat it. Hirsch says his clients eat fast food “four or five times a week, for meals.” Well, duhhh. No wonder there’s a health problem. But what needs to be changed here is not the food; it’s the behavior. The eating — and the suing.

Hirsch says his clients “didn’t know” fast food could cause health problems. Oh, please. You have to be deaf, dumb and blind these days not to know that cheeseburgers and fried foods are unhealthy. No. I take that back. There is so much information available that even those who can’t see, hear or talk in America can still know the ill effects.

Milk shakes? Chicken McNuggets? Potatoes stuffed with bacon and cheese? These are not diet foods, folks. And only someone living under a rock thinks having french fries with every meal doesn’t come with a price.

Which doesn’t mean you can’t eat them. We all do. And if you want to stuff yourself four or five times a week — hey, they’re your arteries. Who knows? You could still outlive the vegetarian down the block.

But that is a chance you take. Going after the companies that produce this stuff is changing the rules at the end of the game. And it merely transfers the love of one indulgence to another — money.

Open the floodgates

Which, in the end, is what this all will be about. Fast-food chains make lots of money. Burger King, just last week, was sold for $2.3 billion. That’s billion. Certain lawyers see that and say, “Well, they won’t miss a few hundred million.”

And so they cobble together a couple of willing victims and they go to court and call the TV stations. And if it all works out, the multinational corporations decide it’s not worth the embarrassment and throw a chunk of money the lawyers’ way. Or even better, it gets to a jury, as the tobacco industry lawsuits did, and look out, the floodgates open.

But there was a big difference with cigarettes. They contain an addictive drug, nicotine, that the industry lied about for decades. It truly is hard to quit smoking once you’re addicted, and the tobacco business made a fortune on that fact.

It is not hard to put down a cheeseburger. But it is apparently too hard to walk away from behavior that should be embarrassing in and of itself: blaming everyone else for your problems.

It’s funny. Fifty years ago, we knew much less about nutrition, yet we wouldn’t think of suing our local diner. Now we know so much more, and we’re looking for someone to blame. Perhaps we have indeed become addicted to at least one fast-food element: We’re super-sizing our greed.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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