Published on: February 19, 2013
Last week, we reported on the sad story of John Alleman, a 52-year-old man who died of a heart attack the other day. In some ways, the heart attack was unexpected - Alleman was 180 pounds and at least from outward appearances, in decent shape.
Here, in part, is what I wrote on Friday:What made the heart attack so ironic was that for more than two years, Alleman ate at least once a day at a Las Vegas restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill, which has as its slogan, "taste worth dying for," and sells high-calorie, high-fat meals including Double Bypass Burgers, Flatliner Fries, Full Sugar Cokes, and Butterfat Shakes. Reports also are that the Heart Attack Grill would give free meals to customers weighing more than 350 pounds.
Let me be clear about this. I think that Alleman had the right to eat anything he wanted.
I think that the Heart Attack Grill has the right to sell anything it wants - and you certainly cannot accuse it of misleading labeling.
There are some who are saying that the Heart Attack Grill should be shut down. I'm not sure why. The restaurant didn't kill this guy. If anything, he committed suicide ... though it certainly was complicit is his death.
But what really bothers me about this is something that cannot be legislated. It is the exploitive nature of this restaurant, that it seems to delight in catering to lowest common denominator instincts. The restaurant certainly isn't alone in this - we live in a culture that does so. Think reality television. Think Donald Trump. Think anyone named Kardashian.
The best that the owners of the Heart Attack Grill could do with their lives is sell, among other things, a three-pound hamburger that had more than 9,000 calories, and give away food to people who are morbidly obese.
Heaven knows what these people would do for a living if heroin were legal. Probably open a store and sell it to most people, but give it away to people with track marks on their arms ... I think people should eat what they want, and I'm all in favor of gastronomic indulgence.
But there is something about this story - and what it says about our culture - that just makes me sick.
Lots of emails responding to this story and commentary.
One MNB user wrote:There are many who say the place should be shut down, but if that was the case then any place in the USA can be shut down as well. The stores that sell Cigarettes, Alcohol, Fattening Foods, Sweets …. Fast food joints that serve horse meat, Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast….Yes the list goes on and on…. Sorry, except for the people who die with a bad heart or set of genes, we are in charge of our own destiny most of the time. Do we ban everything that is bad for us?…. NO….. You make the choice how much is right for YOU…. And get credit or pay the price for what happens…. Even after you are gone….
MNB user Tom Dobat wrote:Really??????
You stooped so low as to compare the owners of a this restaurant to that of a drug dealer? Certainly the idea of serving these huge burgers and marketing themselves they way they do may not be in the best taste but are they really any different than a liquor store or a casino or the fast food hamburger chains for that matter?
They are in business giving people the choice, nobody is forcing these people to eat there! Why are we all so quick to place blame on everything but ourselves these days! We all make choices and some of us make bad choices and some make good ones.
If a man looses everything he has time after time at a casino is the casino no better than a heroin dealer?
If we are going to try and prevent people from doing the wrong thing then we better prevent business's from selling fast cars, motorcycles, cigarettes, alcohol, and close every casino in the world! Because if any of these things are not used with moderation and caution then they are as deadly if not more so than a huge hamburger!
From MNB user Dennis Barthuly:OK – so the guy eats food that’s not the most healthy. As you stated, it was his choice…
We are Americans – we delight in our ability to make unfettered choices as free citizens.
Same holds true for having a cocktail or glass of wine – we make the choice on whether we partake or over-indulge.
While we can hold manufacturers/purveyors responsible for the quality and transparency of what’s in their products, we can’t hold them responsible for the level of our consumption.
Is GM responsible for the guy that drives his new Corvette at an excessive speed and causes a fatal accident?
There are too many people in this country ready and willing to blame someone other than themselves for the choices they make.
We all need to stand up and take responsibility for OUR actions.
MNB user Mark Delaney wrote:Normally right with you on these stories but have to say I’m not sure I agree on this one. No one in their right mind can enter an establishment with a name and menu like that and think they’re doing something good for their body and being in Sin City one could argue it’s marketed to folks that are not there for business but rather to celebrate something or just ignore life for a brief period of time as that’s certainly what the Strip is built for. ( too much time anywhere on the strip will likely kill you ) His regular patronage of the place – while a shame – was completely in his control and his choice. Would I sleep soundly owning a place like that – no – but I don’t push my moral code on anyone else ( as warped as it is ). In a sense, this is similar to Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts – while I think 64 oz. of soda a day is a fast track to an early grave I didn’t agree with that either – but the Styrofoam ban I can get behind as that affects the planet we leave for our kids. Same with smoking in bars and restaurants – those habits affect others nearby so I guess that’s where I draw the line. My sympathies to his family but I’m quite sure that the majority of the strip would disappear if we started to legislate common sense…..
Don’t eat beignets – too much sugar and dough…..
From another reader:He died of a heart attack. That’s all we know. Right now this is nothing more than headline. Assumptions are being made that it was caused by his diet i.e. eating at the Heart Attack Grill. He may have had a history of heart disease in his family. Heck, he may have been married and dating two woman on the side, owed $300k to a loan shark for covering his gambling debt, and he was under water and 4-months behind on his mortgage, all of which could create enough stress to kill you. If these were true, the question is what put him over the edge….the burger or the mistresses. Now we went from a headline to an NBC Dateline special.
And another:The Heart Attack Grill found a niche and is enjoying some success. You reported yourself that its burgers are fantastic.
People are put off by the name and the fact that they give free food to the obese, but it can be argued that both would encourage healthier lifestyles through the use of reverse psychology. People, who are put off by this company, are latching onto this story because they seem to believe it supports their claim that The Heart Attack Grill is responsible for people’s poor choices, or as you stated are complicit in the man’s death.
I’m sure that if the media wanted to they could find several examples of people who lived ‘ideal’ lifestyles and died young of heart attacks or heart disease. My brother-n-law is an example of this. He was 56, ate right and was in great shape. Last year, he literally died on his bicycle while on one of his regular rides.
I’m tired of all the push to regulate everything. Talk about lowest common denominator. I’m in favor of education but leave me alone to live and die as I will.
A funny line from MNB user Scott Svarrer:It’s a shame he died so young, but no one put a bun to his head.
I did get one email from someone who actually seemed to have read my commentary:Your piece on the Heart Attack Grill reminded me of one of my favorite sayings, ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’
Apparently, when I wrote last Friday that I wanted to be clear
about the fact that "Alleman had the right to eat anything he wanted" and that "I think that the Heart Attack Grill has the right to sell anything it wants - and you certainly cannot accuse it of misleading labeling," I wasn't nearly clear enough.
So let me re-=emphasize those two points.
I was not calling for the legislation or regulation of anything. And I noted that the Heart Attack Grill certainly was honest about its labeling.
But I am perfectly happy to stand behind my essential argument - that we live in a culture that seems to exploit people's weaknesses. I'm not so much talking about Alleman here as I am about the stated policy of free food to anyone over 350 pounds.
To me, that is just appalling. It shouldn't be legislated, it shouldn't be regulated. But it seems morally and ethically reprehensible. And yes, sort of like giving free heroin to an addict. (A bit of hyperbole? Sure. But defensible hyperbole.)
There's a broader issue here. It just seems to me that sometimes as a culture, we don't strive to be the best we can be and to appeal to the highest common denominators. Instead, we prey on people's foibles, we celebrate and ridicule them on reality TV shows, we give free, fatty food to morbidly obese people ... and then we call it entertainment, we call it free enterprise, and then we wonder why some people think that American exceptionalism may not be as exceptional as it used to be.
(I use as my guide in this area my friend Norman Mayne, who once told me that while he appreciates the fact that his Dorothy Lane Markets are so highly thought of, and even legendary in the business, the most important thing to remember is that each day they have to earn those adjectives all over again. So it goes, I think, for the notion of exceptionalism.)
I know it sounds like I am on my moral high horse here, and I don't mean to be. I'm as capable as being petty and negative as anyone, and I do it with a little bit of a soapbox.
It's just that I read the Heart Attack Grill story, and it makes me think that we can do better.
Not because we have to. Not because we are forced to. But because we can. And maybe, because we should.