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Fat is back as Mega Mac hits the streets

Rupert Cornwell
Saturday 17 April 1993 23:02 BST

FORGET the low-fat McLean with its 90 per cent meat content and dash of seaweed additive. An old-style fast-food glutton, Bill Clinton, is in the White House, and America's dietary habits are on the skids. For proof, look no further than the Mega Mac, the burger to end all burgers, which McDonald's is about to launch on a salivating world.

The monster - no less than a half-pound patty swimming in the familiar sea of ketchup and relish - dwarfs every Big Mac, Whopper or triple-decker yet devised by the industry. Mega Mac is being test-marketed in the Washington area, and if trends in US eating are anything to go by, it is a guaranteed winner.

To the dismay of doctors, vegetable farmers and low-cholesterol-spread manufacturers, the health food obsession of the Eighties now seems a thing of the past. Fat, triumphantly, is back.

Since 1983, according to one regular annual poll, the overweight contingent has risen from 58 to 66 per cent of the population. After years of steady increase, the proportion of those taking regular exercise is starting to decline. Bacon sales are up; meat loaf and gravy is once more the featured special on a host of diner menus; and even long-reviled butter is daring to show its face again.

Big, of course, is nothing new in American meals. For all the low-calorie fuss, the US deli sandwich is still a mouth-stretching blockbuster. Servings in ordinary US restaurants remain defiantly colossal. And the nation now has a president who, by his own admission, is a sucker for every Dunkin' Donut ever made.

Nothing, however, speaks as loudly as the virtual demise of the McLean, and the impending arrival of Mega Mac. The 1991 introduction of the McLean was McDonald's paying homage to an era. The New York Times hailed it as a 'breakthrough for the American public'. Alas, the American public did not see it like that. The seaweed connection was one factor; so was the irritating wait for a McLean, which had to be fresh- cooked; worse, the taste was insipid, low on that unquantifiable 'mouth feel', the Holy Grail of the fast-food industry.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the McLean has been a flop, accounting for just an estimated 2 per cent of sales at the average McDonald's outlet. The product has not been withdrawn - imagine what a Times editorial would say if that happened - but if you want one, you've got to look hard. No such problems are likely with the Mega Mac.

(Photograph omitted)

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