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How Much Wurst Can it Get?

David Wongs novel, John Dies at the End, reveals the importance of food within our
lives in both its glory and lowliness. John and David, rather than eating a salad in between their
outer world excursions, consistently consume fast food and beer at unreasonable hours. Food,
which was once just a necessity, now becomes an excuse and a common luxury. The focus on
deception and overindulgence of processed meals exposes societys etched corruptness on an
everyday necessity and nature. This corruptness, which was previously unrecognizable to John
and David, becomes a hot topic of discussion as they encounter horrors previously unknown to
their world. Both the novels characters and audience believe that monsters are those that creep
and crawl out from the depths of hell and reign terror, but the monsters in the novel on the other
hand are disgusted at our natural oblivious attitude towards food. The inclination of satisfying
our stomachs and our minds prevents individuals within a society to clearly think about the
process and damage that is undergone. There is always a constant and bountiful supply of food
which helps veil the onslaught that occurs in the natural world. Wongs inclusion of the horror of
food in his novel creates a growing sense of panic within our community. By mentioning the
downside of a variety of easily accessible fast foods and restaurant chains that people are
familiar with such as Chinese takeout, McDonalds, Dennys, frozen burritos, and bad beer, the
audience becomes much more emotionally affected because the drawbacks of these commodities
are common and popular within our society.
The horror of food begins as soon as David Wong steps foot in a restaurant called They
China Food!, and it becomes especially prevalent when the oddness of the restaurant is noted in
the name itself. Wong uses an unusual play of horror or rather the introduction of an unfamiliar
feeling. They China Food! is owned by two brothers from the Czech Republic who didnt

know a whole lot about China or food (Wong 24). The subtle contradiction of a Chinese fast
food restaurant which was previously a Mexican bar/grill and whose owners are Czech
Republicans immediately presents a strange feeling right from the beginning of the novel.
Wongs horrifying depiction of food rips the protective layer of innocence right off many
fast food chains we might be accustomed with. McDonalds, for instance, is alluded to often in
the novel as there are four franchises in Undisclosed. From donning a happy mascot and a joyful
slogan, the citizens living in Undisclosed and even we know that there is nothing to fear about
McDonalds. David Wong, though, unmasks the food chain more than once to terrify both
himself and the audience. Ronald McDonald goes from the friendly and silly posed clown to
someone whose gut split raggedly opencartoon eyes pulsed with a terror about to boil over
into madnessa man being forced to eat himself (Wong 194). Because of the novels horrific
nature and the human priority of food, Wongs twists on innocent images like the one mentioned
above invoke a sense of terror in both the audience and David creating an even greater emotional
reaction. What seems to be normal and common to us is being twisted into a frightening image.
The familiar slogan is also replaced by a terrifying arrangement of words containing Davids
surname. It is almost as if the vision of Ronald McDonald eating himself was not alarming
enough. Wong needs to intensify it even more by intentionally referring to one specific person,
David.
Although the first encounter of gut-eating Ronald McDonald had extremely frightened
David, the second look seemed to say otherwise. The first McDonalds introduction was a scene
meant to terrify, but after David encounters the same McDonalds again, he becomes composed
enough to even stare down at the poster while eating two bratwursts at the same time. The fact
that David is able to consume the restaurants food while watching its mascot clearly commit

self-cannibalism is an indication of facing societys food industry horrors. Instead of shying


away from the horrors of food, Wongs insertion of this is a confrontation that completely
contradicts Davids initial reaction of fear and shock.
The two McDonalds incidents can also be considered one of the many important twists
on food in terms of horror. As Noel Carroll, a renowned professor of philosophy at Wesleyan
University, claims in his essay The Nature of Horror, the emotive responses of the audience
run parallel to the emotions of characters (52). If indeed emotions do run parallel, then the
shock David undergo by witnessing such terror must also be the same shock the reader
experiences. Wong emphasizes these feelings by relating it to something that both parties, David
and the reader, are familiar with or hold a strong connection to within their lives. The second
reaction contrasts the fearful response of the first. It is more of a confrontation that relays to the
audience the knowledge and the understanding of the process of food consumption. Even so, the
reaction of the first McDonalds encounter is the one that is seen quite often throughout the novel
and creates a bigger impact towards the audience. The story of Frank Campos Thanksgiving, for
instance, presents the vision of a turkey replaced by a human infant (Wong 29). This is one
prime example of a food horror in which Campos shock resembles our own because the image
of an infant cooked to golden brown is both unimaginable and terrifying.
Throughout the novel, there are a number of scattered food terrors, although not every
single one is equally as frightening as the others within the same context of fear. The prologues
meat man compared to the McDonalds excerpt, for example, cannot relate as they are on
different levels of horror. Rather than the meat man being a scary monster, he exposes the
unknown horrors of providing food. Comprising of various red and white meats, which are
assembled to form that of a monster, disassembles him, and all we see are innocent animals slain

in order to feed society. The meat man is an example of horrors in a deeper cultural context
while the McDonalds horror is an explicit fright scene used to parallel Davids fear to the
audience.
Besides simply exposing murder, the meat man also reveals to the audience the normality
of it. He is a monster that is born out of the slaughter of animals that Shellys father kept in a
freezer deep within the basement. In short, he is a living carcass of dead flesh. Is the true horror
of this scene similar to the fact that people hunt and preserve the meat like food trophies and
treasures? Upon discovery of the frozen stack of various meats, John and David progress like this
is no shocking discovery or disturbing truth. The truth of this reality is that John and Davids
indifferent reactions convey to the audience how immune we are to the butchering of animals.
This horror of food is not explicitly scary in a way that is similar to witnessing a decomposing
zombie, but rather, it is scary in a way that emphasizes our desensitized nature towards murder.
The use of food reveals to us the unknown. Otherworldly creatures berate the human
horrifying process of sucking the life out of innocent animals in order to increase their lifespan.
To these creatures, that is true horror, the fear of death which in turn provokes one to exhaust the
worlds resources and drive the extinction of everybody and everything (Wong 135). To them,
Earth is not a rational and fearless place to live in, but rather it is a Deadworld, man, its
alternate layers of rot and shit and rot and shit (Wong 135). The portrayal of Earth full of
horrors similar to hell where the monsters emerged from sends a cold feeling of fear down the
audience because it is not something expected or conventional. This Earthly horror, of course,
revolves around our advantageous way we use to obtain food in order to extend life.
To further emphasize the otherworldly monsters belittlement of humans and human
activities, Wong inserts a comparison between the common unwanted cockroach and people: A

cockroach has no soul. Yet it runs and eats and shits and fucks and breeds. It has no soul yet lives
a full life. Just like you (218). Cockroaches exist to simply reproduce in abundance and occupy
space. There is no important reason for their existence. To us, they are excessive, annoying, and
undesirable scavengers. Ironically, this comparison also means that we are excessive and
undesirable scavengers to the monsters. This is important as it helps expand on the topic of lowly
human consumption. Identifying humans as cockroaches is the same as calling them insignificant
and unimportant who exist by eating the rot that accumulates the Earth and live for no clear
purpose. By using a conventional monster whose whole being is just a disgusting and unnatural
creature and having them compare humans to the scum of the Earth creates a horror filled with
shock that is being conveyed to the audience.
The monsters find horror in our behavior towards food because we consume innocent
creatures in order to prolong our lives, but this can also parallel Korroks actions in his world.
He, who acts like God, consumes citizens who are born with a special wisdom and intelligence
from their own dimension in order to gain knowledge and become even greater in order to
continue his role as the overseer of both worlds. John and David are disgusted by this fact. The
image of Korrok ingesting innocent creatures in order to intellectually benefit is just like humans
ingesting innocent creatures in order to delay oncoming death. As Magistrale and Morrison, both
PhD professors from respected universities, claim in the introduction of Dark Night, Americans
spend vast amounts and money and spiritual energy insulating themselves against the random
intrusiveness of violence (2). There is no desire to know that the food on ones plate comes
from butchering a pig in the most inhumanly way possible. As a result, this encourages the food
industry to forever hide their murder in the dark. Because it is difficult for one to comprehend the
acts of evil that occur in their own world, Korrok is necessary. Wongs reference to this alternate

world allows the reader to make the connection and completely understand the horrors of food
within their own society by looking at the wholeness of another societys evils.
If one was to look at the knowledge society has pertaining to the origins of their meals, it
would be severely lacking. As stated before, many consumers do not truly acknowledge the
origin of the beef patty that is wedged in between the buns of their burgers or the process that the
chickens undergo to become nuggets. As Kentucky farmer and economic critic Wendell Berry
addresses in his essay The Pleasures of Eating, food is pretty much an abstract idea until it
appears on the grocery shelf or on the table (324). This truth is accentuated in Wongs novel.
John and David both do not think about where their bad beer or tacos and burritos come from,
instead, they just consume it as food with a mysterious origin.
As the world grows and continues to develop into something greater, the need for a larger
quantity of food becomes an urgent concern. The dirty secrets that go about in order to obtain
food is kept quiet, and many people do not attempt to discover them. David Wongs focus on the
horror of food in his novel opens the eyes of these people who are oblivious to their
surroundings. The similarities of our worldly consumption to Korroks are the primary evidences
supporting this horror of food basis. The novels horror context helps to reveal the truth about
food as it prefers to see reality flushed out into the open (Magistrale Morrison 2). Rather than
hide the truth, Wong attends to the things we take for granted and changes them into horrifying
pictures in order to remove the sugar coated blanket and expose right there, plain to see, real fear.

Works Cited
Berry, Wendell. "The Pleasures of Eating." 1990. What I Eat. Napa, CA: Material World, 2010.
324-25. Print.
Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and critic challenges the idea of processed foods and
the food industry in order to promote the idea of a healthier lifestyle and appreciation towards the
Earth for providing our meals. Many of Berrys arguments take the form of written essays,
novels, poems, and lectures for a variety of health and food related topics. To prove his thesis,
Berry relies on many types of evidence depending on the medium used, for example, pathos for
poetry, ethos for novels, and statistics for lectures and essays. The works of Wendell Berry are
aimed particularly towards an older audience, people with an old fashioned mindset; those who
are looking to change their dietary habits or become more green. The central purpose of his
works is to persuade the intended audience to accept and agree with his viewpoint on natural
sustenance and to value the Earths production of food.
Carroll, Noel. "The Nature of Horror." Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46.1 (1987): 51-59. Print.
Magistrale, Tony, and Michael A. Morrison. "Introduction." Introduction. A Dark Night's
Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction. Columbia: University of South
Carolina, 1996. 1-7. Print.
Wong, David. John Dies at the End. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2009. Print.