It was not the 1,996 calories in one go that made Zoe Williams fail a food challenge for the first time
The doughnut burger is 1,996 calories of junk upon junk. The poison-blogger Guido Fawkes called it the Death Burger. It was mid-afternoon when I went into my first Hungry Horse, on a roundabout in Telford, and I was starving. I actually started on the chips before the photographer had got his lenses sorted. "Don't eat those!" said his eyes, beseechingly. "You'll never finish the burger!" He had only just met me, and couldn't have known that I finish everything.
Two burgers, each an inch thick; instead of a bun, two sugar doughnuts with the authentic stripes of the chargrill; bacon that looked and tasted like a vial of synthetic bacon-smell had been put through a 3D printer; melted cheese; a relish that must have been conceived on some kind of chilli-heat spectrum but had been deadened by more sugar.
Two kids in the booth next to ours poked their heads over the partition, and looked down at us as if we were two creatures in a box. "Are you on a date?" asked Jack, six. "How come you've got that big burger and he hasn't got anything?"
"It's not a date, we're just seeing if I can finish it," I explained. His sister, Kimberley, eight, raised her eyebrows. "It's basically a challenge?"
You can say that again. It was impossible to eat. I couldn't use a knife and fork because of the vertical axis - it must have been seven inches tall - but if I'd dismembered it, well then, it would have been just two burgers and two doughnuts. I could have bought those myself in Lidl. The only real option was to pick it up and squeeze it until it was the size of your mouth. The doughnut glaze got into the grooves of my fingers like builders' dust. Trickles of fat ran down my palm.
The burger derives from - where else? - the US, where apparently a burger with doughnuts instead of a bun was invented by Luther Vandross, in a Georgia restaurant where they also imagineered the hamdog (a hot dog, wrapped in minced beef and deep fried). People keep going on about the fat and the salt, but were it just for those, this would simply be a large burger.
George Bush's favourite pizza, as revealed in 2007, was the cheeseburger pizza - 1,600 calories according to Dominos - but attempting to recreate it at home, I couldn't get it below 2,374.
Person eats too much - that is not a story. Person defies all the laws of sweet and savoury, like losing the ability to tell right from wrong - this is the story. There was a time when it would have been considered unnatural to put a doughnut on a burger, so unnatural that it could have been a prank or a plot from a sitcom. And now, well: "Do many people actually finish these?" I asked the waiter. "Yes," he said, stoutly, a little bit defensive. "All the time."
The burgers are very overcooked, which I'm just going to guess is so that when people feel sick afterwards, everybody can be sure it's not food poisoning and relax. The bacon and cheese make their usual kind of sense - at any quality point, there is always a logic to putting bacon and cheese on beef - until you combine them with the doughnut. Then, that very modern, distinctive, Krispy Kreme-esque combination of sugar, dextrose and corn syrup swamps everything.
The rest of the flavours were no longer legible, and the meat just became a texture. It could have been anything, a food, a DIY substance, a packaging. Jack popped his head back over the top. "I'm just going to have a bit of sweetcorn, rice and nuggets," he said, tactfully.
Sugar started to be added to savoury foods in the early 70s, when fat got its bad name. More was added later in the decade, when cheap high-fructose corn syrup was discovered. Steadily, its preservative function was noted as a distribution benefit - the way you could stick a beige food on a shelf apparently indefinitely without have to refrigerate it - and breads became more and more sugary.
Now if you spend a week in America without a kitchen of your own, you notice your mouth perpetually coated in this high, thin flavour, so that you never know an honest hunger, only a lackadaisical emptiness.
The high tolerance for sugar-in-savoury has become unshackled from its low-fat origins, to bring us the outrageously high-fat, outrageously high-sugar meal. I gave up on the last quarter. It's the first food challenge I have ever failed, and for hours afterwards I felt like I had eaten something with an unknowable half-life that I might keep on digesting for days or weeks.
I'll tell you what, though: I'd go back to Hungry Horse. It was friendly, like a warm bath. The rest of the food looked fine. The only person eating anything ridiculous in there was me.
Zoe Williams tries the double donut burger - with chips. Photograph: Dave Evitts for the Guardian