Monday, August 23, 2010

My Other Car is a Cup of Coffee

Bigger is better, right?

Sure it is!

Especially when it comes to food and beverages. In a world of KFC Double Downs, IHOP Cheesecake Stuffed Pancakes, Friendlys Super Duper Pooper Burgermelt, or Burger King's 5-whopper-burger pizza burger, Americans are  delivering a crystal clear message to the food and beverage industry:

Our asses aren't big enough. (stop.) Our pants aren't tight enough. (stop.) And our arteries aren't clogged enough. (stop.) Please send more butter! (dies of heart attack).

And the food and beverage industry is saying: "Oh yeah? More? Sure! To the laboratory!" From this dialogue, the innovation passing our faces and noses everyday is practically inspirational. Buns being replaced with hamburgers. Bacon being wrapped in bacon. Cakes being deep fried and served with liquid cake dipping sauce. It's like the fast food folks have been waiting for an excuse to serve a double pizza sandwich since their founding days.

As someone who has always struggled with his weight in the face of NORMAL unhealthy food, this recent sexification of absurd Franken-fat food has me appalled. It's almost as if the years of egg whites only, watch your transfats, mind your carbs, up your fiber, watch your sodium has finally backfired. And Americans, who probably never lost weight eating french fries made in vegetable oil versus standard oil have decided that clearly all this healthy talk is just plain nonsense - and are embracing burger patties that are bigger than their already huge thighs.

And our blog culture is fanning these fanny flames. Whatever fast food restaurant comes up with the most horrifying concoction of the month is guaranteed a ton of articles, some reaching as high as respectable print publications and even television. From this fame comes greater penetration to everyday people who aren't particularly searching out this information. Those people then NEED to try the horrorfood, whatever it may be. Whether to be funny, or because six chicken breasts in the ass of a fried pig actually sounds tempting.

And then there are beverages.

Large cups of soda are nothing new: 7-11 has been converting horse troughs into drink containers and running out of similes for "Big Gulp" as they go. If something is available in a large cup, you can be sure that an extra large cup is a negligible amount of change more. At movie theaters, they have underpriced their 64-ounce soda so much that it is an affront to your intellect and economic sense to get anything smaller than the "aquarium-sized" option.

And then McDonalds went ahead and bought one of the largest billboards just off of Times Square to advertise their gigantic $1 sweet tea. And a note to all of you: it's not blown up for the sake of the billboard, it's actually 440,000 gallons of sweet tea for $1.

Bigger apparently means better. But the key is that it also now means cheaper. If you want organic, healthy food to better your body, you're shit out of luck in the wallet department. The healthier it is for you, the more it costs. However, if you're in the mood for something fried, drowning in cheese, and filled with more cheese... well, that'll cost less than a pack of gum!

It's sad. It's scary. And it's making people fatter by the day.

But there has always been one safe harbor in the corporate Food and Beverage industry: Starbucks. They held themselves above the fray. When trends went in one direction, they gladly sat back and remained the consistent voice of class in chain businesses that are all over the fucking place. When other places went around selling flavored coffee beans, Starbucks threw up their siren hands and said "nope, that results in poor quality beans. Won't do it." (Please note, they now do that too.)

In fact, maybe it's NOT so surprising that Starbucks has caved once again. Years ago, when I worked for them, they said they would NEVER advertise. They now advertise everywhere. They said they would never push the brand into odd categories (please see: Starbucks ice cream, liqueur, and caramel macchiato flavored condoms and dental dams.)

Anyway, clearly you know where I'm going with this. Apparently the 20/24 hot/iced ounces of the Venti beverages at Starbucks just ain't enough any more. Fat America doesn't like riding their segways or waddling back to the coffee place for a second Frappuccino. They want more to drink, and they want it all at once.

Presenting: the Trenta.

Sure it's 31 tasty ounces of iced coffee or tea. For now. Watch them start squashing cinnamon buns into these larger cups the second they realize there's an audience for it. Why, if they could find a way to turn a cup into frappuccino, and then fill it with a different frappuccino, topped off with a straw made from a caramel macchiato biscotti... you can bet they'd be selling that as soon as the technology allowed.

But wait. Let me give Starbucks this much credit: their conservative jump of 11 hot ounces and 7 iced ounces is really not that horrifying. In fact, in a world where restaurants are trying to figure out how to fry lettuce and inject full hamburgers into salad dressing, this increase is sort of an anorexic blip. It is also a classy weight gain, which I credit to Starbucks' odd quasi-italian quasi-hippy branding police. It's not the Wham Slam Monster Cup. It's not the SUPER SIP. It's the Trenta. Which sounds cute and unassuming. Like Venti's slightly heftier sister.

While it's not the worst thing to happen, it still isn't good. How far will it go? What will happen when people demand Trenta frappuccinos? Or Trenta breve iced lattes? Or ask that two Trentas be placed top-to-top, creating a drum-like vessel of 62 ounces? Also - what would it be called?

But these concerns may not be all that important. Because, at the rate (and quality) we're eating these days, we may not be around to see next year anyway.

It's time for lunch!
- J.

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