I have a certain code of what I deem ethically acceptable, here in the world of Eating Badly. Marketing fast food items as somehow “healthy” when they’re actually devoid of nutritional value — I have a problem with that. Not making the ramifications of poor diet clear — I’ve got a problem with that too. But you know what? When it comes to the Heart Attack Grill, well, I just don’t have a problem with those guys.
It was announced the other day that the Las Vegas-based restaurant (formerly Chandler, Arizona, where they closed up shop) had lost its second “official spokesperson” when the guy, John Alleman, was slain by a heart attack. Of course it was a heart attack. What else? It was probably in the guy’s contract. It even occurred in a thematically appropriate place, as the guy sat at the bus stop outside the restaurant, presumably having just eaten.
But to say that this 52-year-old didn’t know what he was doing is fallacy. The Heart Attack Grill, for all its bombastic craziness and lard-cooked fries, couldn’t possibly be more up-front about how dangerous it is to dine there on a regular basis. Their burgers are called “bypasses,” for God’s sake. The fries are called “Flatliner fries.” They sell unfiltered cigarettes and real-sugar Coke from Mexico. They’re not trying to hide anything.
What can we even accuse them of, besides assisting in a particularly delicious-sounding form of suicide? The restaurant’s owner, Dr. Jon Basso (an actual former physician, somehow) practically tells those that enter that they’re taking their lives in their own hands. Sure, he spins it in the direction of the hip by calling the customers “the avant-garde of nutritional risk takers,” but you can call it whatever you want. “You might die” is “you might die,” however you say it. I fail to see what other responsibilities he has to the people dining there that he hasn’t already acted on.
I can’t help but think that Basso knows that if you’re going to operate a restaurant like the Heart Attack Grill, you pretty much have to expect stories like this to crop up now and then. When you offer unlimited free food to guys over 350 lbs, as the Grill does, you get to spin the roulette wheel of fate whether you like it or not. And I imagine that for every person who stops patronizing the restaurant after a public death, another one will file up to check it out specifically because of the supposed thrill of decadent, food-borne danger. Stories like this don’t hurt the Heart Attack Grill because the ownership doesn’t try to run from them. They turn into the skid.
America has some very serious health issues of heart disease and obesity right now, all of which can only really be combated through cultural change on a national level. One gimmick restaurant in Las Vegas, the home of all gimmicks, can hardly be the face of the enemy. Especially when they’re so up-front about their own unhealthy aesthetic. If people want to go kill themselves with cholesterol at the Heart Attack Grill, they’ll do so knowing exactly what’s in store for them. The rest of us face a much more difficult challenge of attempting to lead healthier lives in a society that makes unhealthy choices far too easy.
But if you’re wondering if I would try a Bypass Burger if I was in Vegas…I sure would. Once. Because I live dangerously — and eat badly.
What do you think, sirs?