Burgers Made Me Dumb

The downside to working as a food writer

Illustration: Jay Taylor

Long before Super Size Me, the 2004 documentary about a McDonald’s binge, I knew that a steady diet of hamburgers would systematically destroy my heart, my liver, my cardiovascular system, and my sex appeal. But no movie or medical study could prepare me for what it would do to my brain.

For 65 days this summer, I ate basically nothing but burgers. A lot of them were excellent (see Under the Bun: The Best Burgers in Chicago); some were not (see my refrigerator, second shelf from the bottom). All of them were beef, however, and the onslaught of red meat did what drugs and alcohol and fatherhood could not: It made me stupid. Since my “research” began back in April at Flub A Dub Chubs, a hole in the wall on North Broadway, I’ve spaced my grandmother’s 90th birthday, hit a parked car across the street from Jury’s, and spent an entire workday with my fly open. Then there was the little incident in Indiana involving sunscreen and a toothbrush. But let’s not get into that.

Armed with nothing more than a C in high-school biology, my laptop, and a history of cyberchondria, I sought medical answers online. Fifteen minutes later, while finishing my leftovers from Kuma’s, I concluded that I was not permanently stupid—I had developed a mild case of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. CDS (a.k.a. brain fog) can be caused by anything from mercury poisoning to constipation and leads to confusion, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. It also appears mainly in dogs. The warning signs described online sounded familiar: aimless wandering (did this at Epic Burger), inappropriate vocalization (Moody’s), and sudden loss of appetite (Boston Blackie’s).

One night, a frozen turkey fell from my fridge and bonked my noggin, and I barely felt it. I had literally become a numbskull. That’s when I knew, without the aid of scientific proof: Saturated fats had eroded the connections between neurons in my brain.

To keep such connections flexible, the Alzheimer’s Association website recommends mental challenges such as jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, or sudoku. The Alzheimer’s Association is, in my opinion, more reputable than CDSinDogs.com, so I gave it a shot. After successfully conquering my toddler’s 30-piece Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaw in just under four minutes, I moved on to sudoku. Confused, I ended up playing tic-tac-toe against myself in the boxes. (I cheated and still tied myself.) Forty-four minutes into the crossword puzzle, I got distracted while Googling a clue about Norman Fell and spent the rest of the afternoon watching Three’s Company bloopers on YouTube.

Tail between my legs, I returned to CDSinDogs.com, where I read about a wonder drug called Anipryl, sometimes prescribed by veterinarians for CDS. I don’t know any vets, so while drooling onto my plate at TopNotch Beefburgers, I called up my brother-in-law, a professor of emergency medicine at Penn. He asked for my symptoms.

Sluggishness, sweats, irritation, confusion.

“That sounds an awful lot like menopause,” he said. “Has your vagina been particularly dry lately?” Then he hung up. Next I consulted a gastroenterologist I play basketball with. Would it be smart and/or ethical for him to prescribe me Anipryl? I asked. “Or,” he said, “you could just stop eating burgers.”

Three weeks and another 23 burgers later, I finally did. My recovery so far has been excruciatingly slow.

These days, I celebrate small victories, like the fact that I can once again carry my kid in from the car without getting winded. Trouble is, I keep taking him to the wrong apartment.

Share

Advertisement

comments
5 years ago
Posted by Sanserif

This was hilarious. Thanks for the good read.

5 years ago
Posted by Kirzen

Well, either its the burgers... Or you're getting stupid.

As much as that's a rather inflammatory thing to say, and doesn't seem to make any sense other than some random meat eater busting your chops. The fact is that you haven't even bothered to give us anything to compare your current mental stupor to.

If you were a regular Sudoku fan before you started your burger binge, or could sit down and finish the NYT's sunday crossword in a single sitting before you started chowing down on a lot of red meat, we might be able to make the correlation that the meat has indeed 'gone to your head'.

If in fact you could tell us that you've 'recovered' after dropping the saturated fats out of your diet, and with a little bit of mental exercise you're managing to keep better focused, complete tasks more effectively and efficiently, or are quicker of wit, then we could possibly correlate that to your diet change.

Instead, you don't tell us how you were 'before' the saturated fats, and you have nothing to offer us from after changing your diet to exclude them, leaving the entire article a bland, pointless piece of conjecture. I understand that "fat's aren't cool" is current status quot, but that doesn't mean sloppy journalism should slink by.

5 years ago
Posted by jejones3141

Can you say "post hoc ergo propter hoc"? I guess he can't... so by golly, maybe he _is_ getting stupider!

5 years ago
Posted by Ellenjay

Once you can do 5 levels on this game to 100% then you can officially count yourself cured...
http://orb.ginetix.com
and have a burger once a week after that for purely recreational purposes.. :-)

5 years ago
Posted by Chris Lytle

Jeff,

You have already admitted you are “dumb.”

I'm writing to say I agree wholeheartedly (no pun intended) with you.

If you believed at the outset that eating hamburgers for 65 days “would systematically destroy my heart, my liver, my cardiovascular system, and my sex appeal,” then you are indeed dumb for taking on this project.

Chicago magazine is irresponsible and complicit for choosing your dangerous odyssey for its cover story. Putting a picture of a “fully-loaded bacon cheeseburger” on the cover and devoting ten pages to your mouth-watering descriptions of those 30 “deadly” burgers is nothing short of reckless endangerment of your readers.

Class action suit, anyone?

If that weren’t bad enough, you give your readers addresses and phone numbers of the restaurants that purvey this dangerous food.

I’m surprised the advertising department didn’t co-opt your story for yet another Special Advertising Section. Think how easy this would have been to peddle it to some hospital’s cardiology division.

Do you want us all to die?

You write Hot Chocolate’s burger is “pretty small by America’s Lipitor-busing standards, maybe six or seven ounces, but every element of Mindy Segal’s gourmet cheeseburger sings.” For a food writer to mention a cholesterol-lowering drug in the same sentence as a hamburger implies you believe what you are doing is not good for you or the reader.

Fortunately, you are dead wrong about saturated fats.

In "Good Calories, Bad Calories" Gary Taubes writes, “Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.” I found Taubes’ book after watching Tom Naughton’s film Fat Head. Like Morgan Spurlock, Naughton ate fast food for 30-days. He just didn’t eat the fries or the sugar-laden sodas that Spurlock downed in "Super-Size Me" Naughton lost weight and improved his blood chemistry.

It is obvious from your praise of the grease in Five Guys paper bag that you like your fries. If you’re feeling dumb, you might want to look at all of the carbohydrates you downed while eating all of those buns and fries.

It’s the buns and fries that are the culprits. Taubes writes, “By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume the leaner we will be.”

If you don’t have time to read 467 pages, view Taubes’ lecture at Dartmouth here http://www.dhslides.org/mgr/mgr060509f/f.htm

Jeff, you spent 65 days eating burgers. Taubes spent five years researching obesity. He’s an award winning "Science" magazine writer.

How dare you give me medical advice?

Stick to food writing. You’re good at it. IN fact, I’m going to try at least five of the burgers you wrote about. I won’t be ordering the fries and I will be putting part of the delicious buns aside and eating my burgers with a knife and fork.

I agree wholeheartedly you are dumb, but that has nothing to do with eating hand-patted, grass-fed, grain-finished ground beef. You are dumb because you spent 65 days doing something you thought was dumb and dangerous. You are dumb and irresponsible for suggesting we eat even one of these burgers despite the horrifying risks.

And you are dumb because you, then, write about how dumb you are.

Despite the horrible medical advice, the advice on the burgers is first rate. Thanks for writing "Under the Bun."

I agree wholeheartedly you are dumb, but that has nothing to do with eating hand-patted, grass-fed, grain-finished ground beef. You are dumb because you spent 65 days doing something you thought was dumb and dangerous. You are dumb and irresponsible for suggesting we eat even one of these burgers despite the horrifying risks.

And you are dumb because you, then, write about how dumb you are.

Despite the horrible medical advice, the advice on the burgers is first rate. Thanks for writing "Under the Bun."

5 years ago
Posted by ThReeMix

Wow. Some people just do not have a sense of humor... Nicely done...

5 years ago
Posted by pnjunction

Oh this is a humor piece? It's not funny.

5 years ago
Posted by Amac

Well I thought it was funny.

“That sounds an awful lot like menopause,” he said. “Has your vagina been particularly dry lately?”

5 years ago
Posted by sleek

Yes, phunnie

5 years ago
Posted by blackie

rhat aussie must have been paid for his add's. work eric.

5 years ago
Posted by mhw

Chris, he performed an experiment with the hypothesis that the results may be negative and had the will to do it himself. It may not follow the exact method, but this is what we call science. You may think it's dumb but many others would find it intriguing and exciting. I bet you're not the life of the party. Class action suit? Medical advice? Really?

Nuance guys, get some.

5 years ago
Posted by rnikoley

"Saturated fats had eroded the connections between neurons in my brain."

Interestingly, there's all sorts of buzz right now about the effects of coconut oil (about 90% saturated fat) in the treatment of Alzheimer's resulting in marked improvement of cognitive skills.

Google it.

I also blogged about it here:

http://freetheanimal.com/2009/08/alzheimers-and-ketone-bodies-from-coconut-oil.html

Submit your comment