Sunday, April 17, 2011

Epic Big Mac Journey is No Whopper

CORRECTION: Don Gorske will eat his record-breaking sandwich on May 17, 2011. Please disregard May 12 as being the big day. Hey, I'm human. Nonetheless...


If all goes according to plan, May 12, 2011 will be a historic occasion for the McDonald's corporation. That's the day Don Gorske of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin will consume his 25,000th Big Mac and gorge his way further into fast food folklore. You heard me right.

According to this picture taken last December, Gorske was at 24,710 Big Macs, presumably at day's end. At his current clip of two Big Macs a day, he would need to take an additional 145 days from the time of that photo to reach the next plateau of burger mania, which would be May 12, 2011. It's a milestone that's as gut-wrenching as it must taste.


Gorske's decades-long craving for the McDonald's staple item started back on May 17, 1972. According to him, the first place he went after buying his first car for $500 from his father was a local McDonald's restaurant on 699 South Military Avenue. He bought a new sandwich called the Big Mac, and he ate three of them for lunch. He returned there twice later to consume a total of nine on the day. He has further claimed to have eaten a total of 265 Big Macs from that day on for a month, which is roughly 8.5 per day. When he cleaned out his car after this time and discovered 265 empty sandwich cartons, he decided that his newfound passion was worth preserving. He started keeping receipts and written records of every Big Mac he's eaten, where he ate them, and when he did so. After a few years, Gorske's daily Big Mac consumption went down to five, and ultimately down to just two by the end of the 1970s.

His time in the public eye has been sporadic, to say the least. He first received publicity in 1987 after a friend urged him to talk with the local media upon hearing that Gorske had eaten 7,350 Big Macs at the time. It wasn't until 1990 that Gorske began receiving national notoriety, which was when he consumed his 10,000th Big Mac. In 1997, twenty five years to the day of Gorske's first Big Mac, he was a front page cover story for The Reporter in Fond du Lac, claiming he had eaten 14,837 Big Macs in that time. This led to (brief) worldwide fame, dozens of interviews, and even an appearance on the nationally syndicated daytime talk show Oprah. By November 2001, Gorske assured himself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records when he ate his 18,000th Big Mac at Fond du Lac High School. At the time of his 'official' record-breaking burger, math students there calculated that Gorske had consumed "the equivalent of 800 heads of lettuce, 820 onions, 1,900 whole pickles, 563 pounds of (processed) cheese, almost 100 gallons of special sauce, 14.5 head of beef and 6.25 million sesame seeds" [1]. Talk about super sizing!

Due to the improbable nature of his long-term infatuation with a singular fast food item in the most obese nation in the world, Gorske's milestones have been criticized and documented more heavily in the past decade than ever before. His 19,000th different sandwich came in March 2003, and number 20,000 came in July 2004. The last burger to receive public attention came in August 2008, when he ate his 23,000th Big Mac. Earlier that year, Gorske published a detailed memoir of every Big Mac he ate up until that point – all 22,477 of them. Through the years, Gorske has also made additional television appearances on The Jimmy Kimmel Show and I've Got a Secret as the "Big Mac" guy, among others.

In all, there have only been a handful of days Gorske was unable to get his hands on the famed sandwich. One of those occasions happened on the day his mother died in 1988, and she asked him not to eat a Big Mac shortly before she passed away. He respected her request, saying that he "always keeps (his) promises". Another time, he traveled over 600 miles to find a McDonald's while on vacation, but to no avail. How that's possible is beyond me. On a few other occasions, overtime or heavy snow kept him from getting his daily fill. To sidestep these issues, Gorske has resorted to keeping a surplus of Big Macs in a freezer and reheating them when all else fails.

His diet is even more unusual considering that he seldom eats anything but Big Macs. According to Michael Spurlock in an interview for his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, 90% of Gorske's solid food intake are Big Macs [2]. Today, he's known to eat two yogurt parfaits on an almost equally daily basis, but he's cut back on the fries, an old custom of his, to about once a month. That still doesn't mean he's a monogamous gourmand of the Golden Arches. Once, in July 1984, Gorske received $5 from a bet he won just for eating a Whopper from Burger King. After that, he took his winnings and bought his standard order from McDonald's. He also mentioned that his (distant) second favorite food was lobster, and he's even eaten other foods once in a blue moon, from pizza to prime rib, but they "just (weren't) the same" [1]. Then again, if you ate the same thing for an extended period of time and preferred just that item, nothing else would even come close.

Through it all, Gorske has been married for about 35 years now. He met his wife, Mary, in September 1973 and proposed to her three years later to the day in a McDonald's parking lot, fittingly enough. A month into their marriage, he asked his wife if she would stop cooking homemade meals so he could continue eating out at McDonald's. She complied, thinking that it was a phase he would soon pass. It never did, but his wife has been supportive of his endeavors, even to this day. In addition, the couple has two sons who are all grown up now, one of whom worked at the same McDonald's restaurant where his father ate Big Mac #20,000.

No doubt the longevity and overall unhealthy nature of his lifelong desire begs one simple question: how in the world is he still alive?!

The Fond du Lac native, who looks like a spitting image of John Lennon with a moptop (albeit with longer hair), is reportedly in fairly good health. At six feet two inches tall, he has maintained a weight of anywhere from 170 to 190 pounds over the years. He attributes this to a high metabolism and an active lifestyle, walking as much as 10 miles a day. Additionally, Gorske works as a correctional officer for the Wisconsin State Prison in Waupun, as revealed in Super Size Me, which burns off all the more calories due to the high stress environment. He's also known to work upwards of 1,000 hours of overtime annually, feeding both his appetite and the household he supports.

Which makes Gorske an even bigger anomaly.

Medical experts are highly cautious towards people who consume fast food on a predominant basis. Dr. Joseph Bellissimo, a cardiologist for the Wisconsin Heart and Vascular Institute, acknowledged that in spite of Gorske's healthy outward appearance, his arteries inside may be dilapidated and could fail him at any moment with his current diet. In a 2001 article, the doctor cautioned that "With some people, it is hard to know if they are healthy or not. Lots of people are (without symptoms) until they have their first heart attack and die. Their first symptom of heart disease is that they die. And that is their last symptom, too." Dr. Patrick McBride, then a cardiologist for the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, also said that "One third of the people in Wisconsin are the kind of people who would easily gain too much weight from this kind of diet." Gail Underbakke, a nutritionist at the University Hospital, put it more bluntly: "The average Wisconsinite cannot eat that way and get away with it."

For Gorske, it's a tasty way to cheat death.

But just because he won't change doesn't mean he's oblivious to change. He keeps meticulous records on every Big Mac consumed, which he attributes to his obsessive-compulsive order (you don't say?), so he knows what it's like to see modifications made to and about the sandwich. When he had his first Big Mac attack in 1972, they cost $0.49 each. In 1997, two of the sandwiches cost $3.97 with tax. Today, in 2011 and nearly four decades later, two sandwiches cost $6.38 with tax. (Trust me, I did it.) The size of a Big Mac, generally speaking, has also gotten larger with time. Researchers at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill found that the average fast food hamburger weighed 5.7 ounces in 1977, and 7 ounces in 1996 [2]. A standard Big Mac today weighs 7.5 ounces.

For anyone wondering by now, a typical Big Mac in this day and age has the following nutritional value:
*540 total calories
*260 calories from fat
*29 grams in total fat (45% recommended daily value [DV])
*10 grams in saturated fat (50% DV)
*1.5 grams in trans fat
*75 milligrams of cholesterol (25% DV)
*1,040 milligrams of sodium (43% DV)
*45 grams of carbohydrates (15% DV)
*3 grams of dietary fiber (13% DV)
*9 grams of sugar
*25 grams of protein
*260 IU of Vitamin A (6% DV)
*1 milligram of Vitamin C (2% DV)
*250 milligrams of calcium (25% DV)
*4 milligrams of Iron (25% DV)

Speaking of steadily increasing numbers, Gorske will be 58 later this November. His is a lifelong commitment that, as gross as it sounds, doubles as a grotesque tribute to the human will. How he's lived to tell the tale nearly 25,000 Big Macs later makes a mockery of typical medical reasoning. It's a fixed obsession that started out as a simple lunchtime order and has evolved into a gluttonous compulsion that's as American today as baseball and apple pie. Or should that be baseball and Big Macs? Who knows.

Either way, Don Gorske truly is... the Mac Daddy.


Picture courtesy of WorldsGreatestHamburgers.com

(Additional) Works Cited
[1] Hesselberg, George. "Big Mac Man Defies the Laws of Nature." Wisconsin State Journal 2 Dec. 2001: G1.

[2] Parvaz, Dorothy. "Size Does Matter - A Q&A with the 'Super Size Me' Filmmaker Over His 30-Day McBinge." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 20 Apr. 2004: C1.

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