These portions are huge—Frankenstein. This food isn’t natural—Frankenstein. Fast food chains should be held accountable—Frankenstein.
The name Frankenstein is often invoked when talking about huge, unnatural, and just plain monstrous creations; the disturbing creations of today’s fast food industry are no exception. But, the question is, why Frankenstein? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written almost two hundred years ago, and when Shelley was writing it, she obviously didn’t have McDonald’s in mind. However, despite the time between the publication of the novel in 1818 and today, there are striking similarities between Shelley’s Frankenstein and the fast food industry. This paper will first explore how society uses Frankenstein to describe fast food, and then it will answer the question why. Why Frankenstein?
When fast food items are bequeathed the title of Frankenstein, it is because they are they are strange and unnatural. On TheWeek.com’s list of “Frankenstein fast foods,” Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco is described as a “‘God-defying food sodomy’” because of its unnatural use of Doritos chips to form the taco shell. On the same list, KFC’s Double Down Sandwich—a sandwich with fried chicken instead of buns—is christened a “fried-chicken-meets-sandwich mutation” Another freak-of-nature fast food creation, the McDonald’s McRib, is dubbed “the Frankenstein of fast food” because of its “restructured pork patty pressed into the rough shape of a slab of ribs”—“pork” being a term used very loosely here. All these creations combine foods that seem strange or unnatural together, and thus they are labeled Frankensteins.
However, strange and unnatural are not the only qualities of a fast food Frankenstein; fast food creations also warrant Frankenstein status when they are monstrously huge. The Carl’s Jr. Philly Cheesesteak Burger is so huge that it is considered “a calorie bomb,”—or in other words, “a day’s worth of calories” in one burger. Burger King’s Pizza Burger is called a “Frankenstein looking creation” at TheBoken.com, and its gargantuan size makes the reviewer seriously question, “are you still alive after you eat this thing?” And, running at 12 inches long and 1400 calories, the Carl’s Jr. Foot-Long Burger is deemed a “mondo-caloric” Frankenstein “monster burger.” If a fast food creation is abnormally massive, it automatically dons the Frankenstein title.
The reason so many use Frankenstein as a metaphor for fast food is because both fast food creations and Frankenstein’s monster are perverse. Fast food’s strange appearance and substance assault society’s definition of “food,” while the monster’s strange appearance and substance assault society’s definition of “human.” For example, in addition to the creature’s abnormally large stature his “yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath,” his eyes are “watery” and set in “dun white sockets,” his complexion, “shriveled,” and to top off the look, the creature has “straight black lips.” It’s no wonder society thinks him a monster with a face like that. Moreover, it’s no surprise that the monstrous appearance of fast food elicits the same response from society today. The Doritos Locos Taco illustrates this phenomenon; society deems the taco creation a “‘God-defying food sodomy’” because a taco shell is not supposed to be bright orange or taste like a Doritos chip. The strange substance of the creature, and of fast food creations, also plays a role in society’s disgust. Victor says that he wants to “bestow animation to lifeless matter,” and to do so, he “dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave.” Victor makes his creature out of dead body parts. Stolen dead body parts, to be exact. Fast food creators employ the same technique: they take random parts and throw them together to create a bizarre fusion of what one hesitates to call “food.” For example, KFC’s Double Down replaces its buns with fried chicken and, as a result, society calls it a “mutation.” The McDonald’s McRib, takes “unmarketable pig parts, like heart, tripe, and stomach” and restructures them “into the rough shape of a slab of ribs.” The McRib and the Double Down, like the creature, are a hodgepodge of parts. The appearance and materials of both fast food and Frankenstein’s creature violate the norm, and that makes them monsters.
Additionally, the growing portion sizes in the US—which are spurred on by fast-food chains—threaten society as much as Frankenstein’s monster. Victor Frankenstein constructs his monster with the intention of creating a “proportionally large” being—a being of “gigantic stature.” Because the monster is so much larger than a man—about “8 feet tall” —he is easily able to kill whomever he pleases, without so much as breaking a sweat. The monster describes William’s death as quick and effortless—he tells Victor, “‘I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet.’” The creature effectively kills four people throughout the novel, without coming close to getting caught because he is too huge to be controlled by Man or his laws. Likewise, the large portion sizes of fast food are an uncontrollable threat to society. An article in the Journal of Public Health Policy claims that “the sizes of food portions, especially of fast food, have increased with rising rates of overweight.” A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association backs up this claim with results that state that “portion sizes vary by food source, with the largest portions consumed at fast food establishments and the smallest at other restaurants.” Burger King’s Pizza Burger, the Carl’s Jr. Foot-Long Burger, and Philly Cheesesteak Burger are proof positive of the monstrous portion sizes in the current fast food world. The Carl’s Jr. Foot-Long Burger is three times the size of a regular burger—a 12 inch long burger-sub creation of 850 calories. Likewise, the Burger King Pizza Burger is “four times the size of the chain’s Whopper,” which is already a larger-than-average burger. The Pizza Burger is served on “a nine-and-a-half inch sesame bun,” and is a whopping—pun intended—2,500 calories. Just like the monster is huge compared to other humans, these fast food portions are huge compared to other foods. The monstrous size of these meals parallels the monstrous size of the creature; and both, because of their size, are a danger to society.
Many people also invoke the name of Frankenstein when talking about the accountability of fast food chains in the obesity epidemic. Some claim that the fast food industry’s Frankenstein creations are to blame for the rapid increase in obesity. In a lawsuit against McDonald’s, federal judge Robert W. Sweet calls some creations “‘McFrankenstein’ foods that are altered during processing,” yet then states that consumers “cannot blame McDonald’s if they, nonetheless, choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald’s products. On the other hand, consumers cannot be expected to protect against a danger that was solely within McDonald’s knowledge.” Sweet’s ambivalence toward the fast food industry’s accountability demonstrates that the question of accountability cannot be answered. Are consumers to blame for buying the monstrous fast foods? Or is the fast food industry responsible for creating them in the first place? Though there is no clear-cut answer, fast food chains never admit accountability; Baierman of Desonesto.com writes: “I guess Carl’s, KFC, Friendly’s and the like, figure they bare little responsibility for America’s fatness. It’s our personal responsibility … They are in it for the profit.”
Society wields the name Frankenstein in debates about fast food accountability because the fast food industry is just like Victor: they never accept accountability for their monsters. In the novel, Victor tells no one of his creation, and consequently, four people die. Victor knows he is responsible for their deaths; after William and Justine are killed, he states, “I had been the author of unalterable evils.” Yet he still tells no one. Victor may accept accountability for his creation privately, but publicly, he remains blameless. However, is it all his fault? The creature has a mind of his own—he makes his own choices. So who is responsible for the damage to society—Victor or the creature? This same question is echoed today with regards to fast food chains. Are they responsible for their fattening creations, or is society responsible for choosing to eat them? According to the ironically named Judge Sweet, society is responsible for the rise in obesity, with one exception: “consumers cannot be expected to protect against a danger that was solely within McDonald’s knowledge.” Likewise, the citizens in Frankenstein cannot be expected to protect themselves against a monster that was solely within Victor’s knowledge. Both the fast food industry and Victor Frankenstein withhold information to keep themselves free of blame.
The name Frankenstein is often invoked when talking about fast food, even if those that invoke it have never read the novel. However, through a critical reading of Frankenstein, it becomes obvious that the similarities between Frankenstein’s monster and fast food are actually complex, detailed, and grounded in textual evidence. Frankenstein’s monster, like fast food, is large. Frankenstein’s monster, like fast food, is unnatural. And Frankenstein, like the fast food industry, conceals his accountability. Though the resemblance of Frankenstein’s monster to fast food, does not speak to Shelley’s prophetic ability, it does speak to Frankenstein’s ability to transcend time. The Frankenstein metaphor, perhaps like the monster himself, lives on.