Monday, January 11, 2010

In-N-Out Burger

This past week I was invited to be a table leader for a study regarding portfolio assessment that was being conducted by Ed White and funded by McGraw-Hill.

Part of the invitation was to go to Phoenix, Arizona where the study was conducted and where McGraw-Hill had their January Sales Meeting.

I said yes for several reasons: 1.) I'm genuinely interested in the study and its results; 2.) I knew it would look good on my resume; 3.) The day I left it was 11 degrees in Ohio and 77 in Phoenix; 4.) It's been my lifelong dream to eat at In-N-Out Burger.

Like most Midwestern families, I grew up eating Happy Meals. Fast Food was a just part of my culinary experience as as kid, and I embrace it. I'm positive the McDonald's hamburger was responsible for addiction to my all-time favorite comfort food: a burger and fries. I probably would have continued to embrace fast food if not for two things: reading Fast Food Nation and becoming extremely ill after eating some bad Taco Bell.

Since both of those experiences, I haven't eaten fast food--McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Taco Bell. (I do eat Chipotle and will eat Subway if it's the only option.) And I haven't really craved fast food either. But I think about it. And wonder. Especially about Taco Bell.

I still have a soft spot for Taco Bell in my heart.

When I learned from my friend Jen that there was an In-N-Out Burger by the hotel in Phoenix, I knew I had to eat it. No choice.

Back in my grad school days, when some days I ate three or meals of fast food alone, my buddy Ken told me about In-N-Out Burger. He's from Cali. I trust the palates of peeps from Cali. His descriptions of the juicy burger, the tangy fancy sauce, the crisp onion has stuck with me for almost ten years.

To get a taste of that burger I was willing to renounce my no-fast-food pledge.

Because there aren't many cabs--supposedly--I was forced into taking a hotel town car to In-N-Out. I should have walked it because it probably only two miles, but each way in the town car cost me $5. But I didn't care. That's how badly I wanted In-N-Out. I made the driver go through the drive-thru because I wanted to photo document the experience in private. What if eating fast food made me violently sick? I couldn't risk any public accidents.

A Double-Double meal with onion, fries, and coke was $6.04. I gave exact change.

I carried the sweet smelling bag up to my fourth floor room, locked the door behind and went out on the patio to enjoy my guilty pleasure under the clear, sunny sky.

I nibbled on a few fries first to get ready for the first big bite of the burger. The fries I could take or leave. I'm guessing I should have gotten them "animal style" but wasn't prepared for that. I didn't think the fries were salty enough and they had a bit of a cardboard taste. Could it be that my taste for fries has gotten snobby? Possibly, maybe, yes.

The photo you see is the first bite. I took it myself. I think it's repulsive. I have three chins. My jaw is unhinged. I look dazed. There's no good side when you're stuffing your face with 2 patties of meat, fancy sauce, some random veggies from God-knows-where, and two buns.

Eating fast food isn't pretty.

However, the first bite was actually wonderful: perfectly salty, tangy, moist, crisp, chewy. It was everything I imagined. Every bite after, though, declined in pleasure until there was half left and the fumes from it all made me a little nauseous. Don't get me wrong. I loved every single bite, and it was a joy to be eating something I have sworn off for so long. But I hated how my stomach felt bloated, how my cheeks felt swollen, how my mind felt dulled after half the burger. It's nothing like the high, the lightness, the energy I get from eating pan-seared kale.

The whole time I was eating my fast food meal on the patio, alone I kept thinking, I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. (Yes, often when I am alone I think of things in terms Lord of the Rings.) I came, I ate, I conquered. Now I will abstain from fast food for the rest of my life. Yes, that moment was worth it. But not. I felt gross all day in a way that eating 8 courses of local, fresh food at Revolver never has made me feel. I felt tired and groggy in a way that a simple pb&j sandwich and apple has never has made me feel. I felt sick to my stomach in a way a simple bowl of soup never has made me feel.

I firmly believe giving up fast food has helped me maintain my goal weight, has given me more energy, and has guided me to the splendors of the freshest fast foods--veggies and fruits--that I wouldn't try in the past.

To all those In-N-Out Burger fans out there, I'm not knocking the joint. In fact, I proudly live vicariously through you as you eat your way through your next Double-Double. I'm just saying that for me it was awesome but not awesome enough for me to eat it ever again, let alone every day. There's just so many other dishes and foods I must try that I know will stay with me just a bit longer, that won't be so in-n-out.


  1. Thanks for this. You absolve my guilt about not liking In-N-Out when there are three in a 5-mile radius from our house. People really are nuts about it, and I don't think it's worth the hoopla. It's my least favorite kind of burger (thin and over-sauced) and I've only had good fries there once. I do like their milkshakes, though not as much as I used to. And I too hate the way my body feels after eating fast food.

    I admit that I still stop at McDonald's sometimes (even though I've read FFN and know how terrible it is), but I've learned that the hamburger Happy Meal is more than sufficient for a hungry adult. That being said, we recently got Juliette a Happy Meal after a late morning doctor's appt. We ordered the apples, thinking that they were the healthier option. They were nasty. I couldn't figure out why they tasted so weird, but they're soaked in some solution that adds a ridiculous amount of vitamin-C but is obviously a preservative. Gross, gross, gross. Maybe I'll give it up forever, too.

  2. Over break, we had to stop at a BK at a rest stop because it was the only food available. We got chicken, because we thought it would be "safer." I felt so gross all that night and the next day. Why I was able to tolerate fast food when I was younger, but now not, is a mystery to me. I don't miss eating it either, especially with so much other great food out there waiting to be made and shared. There is nothing like real, home-made fries either, btw.
    I really liked reading this post!