The public health crusaders at the Center for Science in the Public Interest sure know how to get the media’s attention. After a teasing social media campaign that promised to reveal the “worst restaurant meal in America” (based, no less, on scientific analysis), the early-morning announcement was something of a letdown.
Are you ready for it? The worst restaurant meal in America, according to CSPI, is...the Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal.
The ho-hum reaction isn’t because the CSPI findings aren’t alarming. The Long John Silver’s limited-time offering, which includes fried fish, hushpuppies and onion rings, packs 33 grams of trans fat. You might as well just mainline rubber cement.
“It’s easy to find fast-food meals with more calories,” says a CSPI press release. “The Big Catch has ‘only’ 1,320—but when it comes to clogging arteries…the Big Catch is by far the ‘Worst Restaurant Meal in America.’ ”
The high dudgeon continues (it must have come as a relief to the CSPI press office that it was Long John Silver’s that ended up at the top—er, bottom—of the heap, providing plenty of salty sea allusions): “Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal deserves to be buried 20,000 leagues under the sea,” says CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “This company is taking perfectly healthy fish—and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil. The result? A heart attack on a hook. Instead of the Big Catch, I’d call it America’s Deadliest Catch.”
What, no reference to “walking the plank”?
What’s really more shocking than the revelation itself (since it probably doesn’t come as a jolt that a plateful of deep-fried anything isn’t going to be good for you) is how much Long John Silver’s is allegedly understating the amount of trans fat in its food and overstating (like so many fishermen) the size of its catch.
Instead of the seven- to eight-ounce fillet of haddock promised in the chain’s promotional material, CSPI researchers found that once they removed the layer of breading, the fish itself only weighed in at an average of 4.5 ounces.
“It’s more like 60 percent haddock and 40 percent batter and grease,” says Jacobson. “Nutrition aside, that’s just plain piracy.”
And while Long John Silver’s doesn’t post nutrition information about the Big Catch meal because it’s a limited-time offer, it’s hushpuppies and onion rings are on the chain’s regular menu, allowing researchers to compare their findings to the chain’s own listings.
“While Long John Silver’s claims its Hushpuppies have 3 grams of trans fat, CSPI’s lab tests found 3.7 grams. A much bigger discrepancy was found in the Onion Rings. While the chain claims an order contains 7 grams of trans fat—still a huge amount—CSPI’s lab tests found 19.5 grams of trans fat,” according to the press release.
But here’s why CSPI’s big reveal doesn’t exactly break like a tidal wave: We’re talking about Long John Silver’s. The chain itself is something of a throwback; it doesn’t exactly represent trendsetting in the fast-food marketplace. That’s why its former parent company, Yum! Brands Inc. (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) desperately unloaded the chain to private-equity investors a couple of years ago. Yum! wanted to focus on international expansion; as the sight of plenty of Long John Silver’s distinctive buildings rotting away in suburbs across the nation attest, their decorative thick-twined ropes and sail flags left to tatter in the elements, there doesn’t appear to be much domestic growth potential for the chain.
The findings just reinforce what a lot of people probably already believe: that the food at Long John Silvers is sooo 40 years ago (even that monochrome color palette of deep-fried browns seems to belong more to the rust-colored tones of your average 1970s basement rec room). “Who even eats that stuff anymore?” we ask, before scarfing down another slice of the Crazy Cheesy Crust pizza we just posted a picture of on Instagram.