When KFC announced its new KFC Double Down sandwich on April 1st, we thought it was a joke. I use “we,” here, in the sense of “We would not like to watch Tyler Perry’s House of Pain,” or “We thank you for the prize package, but we’re just going to go ahead and sell the Segway,”—that is, in the sense of we who do not weigh 300 pounds. Frankly, we are not sure that thing is even a sandwich. The generic hallmark of the sandwich is bread, and the absence of bread is of course the Double Down’s claim to fame. Where the bland, ambitionless Whopper wastes your time with a bun, the Double Down puts bacon, cheese, and something called Colonel’s Sauce between two pieces of fried chicken. Which is great news for anyone who A) has a gluten allergy or B) wants their food to look like it’s eating food.
At 530 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium, the KFC Double Down will definitely kill you if you get it in your mouth. Presumably, the first few hundred customers who eat them will flap their arms in mute horror as their jaws and then their necks turn clear, at which point they will stumble blearily into the KFC parking lot before collapsing into piles of grease-soaked tissue to be picked apart by seagulls, who will also die. “Turn clear like a wrapper and die!” was, I assume, the Double Down’s original slogan. Since then, however, KFC has replaced it with “The KFC Double Down is real!”
That is not a claim that one normally has to make about food, but the Double Down is no normal sandwich. “This product is so meaty, there’s no room for a bun!” cheers the KFC website. First of all, mmmm: product. I want to think that the Double Down touched off a massive epistemological argument in the KFC offices over whether it was a sandwich, and “product” was the only term everyone could agree upon. Second of all, the absence of bun from the KFC Double Down is clearly not a consequence of space considerations. By definition, the bun goes on the outside of the sandwich, so all space bounded by neither meat nor cheese nor condiments nor hand nor car nor restaurant is available. We know this, just as we know that, without the substitution of chicken for bun, the Double Down is a bacon and cheese sandwich with sauce. It’s not something that a hungry person would normally eat, which is obviously the point.
The Double Down is a plea for attention, and KFC knows it. The very name of the product evokes a panicked person who has gotten himself into an intractable situation and decided that the only way out is to do more of what got him there. This vertical stack of sandwich-like compounds is like something mid-nineties Dennis Leary would invent to parody fast food. In its juxtaposition of bad with worse, in its deliberate assault on the one part of the sandwich that did not contain toxic levels of grease and salt, the KFC Double Down is not so much food as conceptual art. Which is a genius plan, because now I want to eat it.
I have not eaten at a KFC since roughly 1995. Partly that’s because I lived in New York, where fast food restaurants are horrifying bulletproof containment units for the crumbling edge of humanity, and looking in to one of those combination KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Huts was like looking in to an aquarium where all the whales have Down Syndrome. Mostly, though, it’s because not eating fast food anymore has become a symbol of what I consider a general improvement in my person. Basically, I’m an elitist. I like bacon cheeseburgers, but I also like my food to not make high-pressure jets of acid shoot out of my rectum, so since high school I have gradually trained myself to eat leafy greens instead of fries. I guess I don’t enjoy it, exactly, but I do it because I want to live.
Do you think the guys who run KFC are any different? When they leave their board meetings or their interventions to address the Colonel’s laudanum addiction or whatever, do you think they tell their drivers to pick up a two-piece breast and wing meal on the way home, or do they have their personal nutritionists make them salmon fillets with dwarf asparagus? Like the rest of us who grew up loving fast food but would also like to breathe without making a wet slapping sound, the executives at KFC have learned that a person should be careful about what he eats. Unlike the rest of us, that puts them in kind of a tough position. What do you do when you’re KFC, a company that America used to love but has now become synonymous with the phenomenon by which our once-great nation grows so lazy and obese that Chinese people ride us around for sport? You’ve already gotten rid of your mascot and changed your name, so there’s only one thing left to do: you double down.
The KFC Double Down is supposed to be gross. Short of an uncooked slab or pork fat between two slips of paper that say “fuck you” on them, it’s the worst thing they could serve us. By replacing the bun with fried chicken and then making the contents of the sandwich, I dunno, bacon and cheese or whatever, KFC acknowledges that no sensible person regards eating there as a good idea. In doing so, they encourage us to eat the Double Down ironically. Suddenly, the borderline-poisonous nature of their food isn’t a liability—it’s the whole point. If the new KFC menu item were some sort of Southwestern Chipotle Chicken bullshit, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. As it is, the introduction of this grotesque parody of a sandwich has finally allowed KFC to transcend food. They don’t make chicken now; they make social commentary. The Double Down is a great way to to say that you are against caution, against puritanical nutrition-ism, against a society that demands you not get fat. Come Monday, I’m going down to KFC and pay $6.99 to put the Colonel’s words in my mouth. Also salt.