Friday, August 14, 2015

HopCat's "Crack Fries" Bother Me

(Note: This blog post was originally published as "Why Do People Think Crack Cocaine Is Funny" on The Fix's website on July 9, 2015.)

In addition to being a writer and a recovery advocate, I love food. I love to cook it and I love to eat it. So I'm frequently perusing the Internet for recipes, local restaurant reviews, and those ever-present lists that rank the best examples of certain categories of foods.

A couple of weeks ago, I was directed to such a list by an email I received from the Food Network. "America’s 10 Best French Fries," the subject line teased. As someone who's been known to enjoy a good french fry from time to time, I clicked through to see just which fries the Food Network thought stood above and beyond the rest.

When the page loaded, a photo of the first of the 10 best fries was staring me in the face, and they looked delicious. So I scrolled down a bit to see which establishment these mouthwatering fries belonged to. What I saw was a bit of a shock to me.

The fact that these fries were from HopCat, a small chain of beer bars that started in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2008, wasn’t a big deal to me. But what HopCat calls their fries made me a little sick to my stomach.

"Crack Fries."

They do look addictive, don't they?
As the Food Network piece parenthetically pointed out, the fries are "named for how addictive they are." I figured that was the reason as soon as I saw the name, but it didn’t lessen the impact on me at all.

With addiction being such a huge health crisis in the United States, it boggled my mind how any responsible restaurant could even think of naming an item on their menu after a drug that has ravaged so many people and ripped apart so many families.

So I took to Twitter to ask the question:

Does anyone else find the name of these fries offensive? Or is it just me? @HopCat ‪#AddictionIsntFunny #ImSensitive

I received a few responses from some of my followers in the addiction/recovery community, and they were equally offended. A little while later, I got a reply from HopCat:

When we started we honestly didn't think about offending. We just thought it was a good name...

Hm. So at least they admitted that they weren’t thinking. My next tweet to HopCat:

This might be a dumb question, but how 'bout just changing the name? There's NOTHING funny about crack or #addiction.

And their reply?

Not a dumb question, but we have no plans to change the name. We hope we can do some good by helping those in need

That part about helping those in need refers to the fact that HopCat told me on Twitter that--since March of this year--their Detroit location "has donated $1K from sales of Crack Fries to help treat drug addiction." According to the person behind HopCat's Twitter feed, that money goes to Mariners Inn, a Detroit shelter and treatment center for the homeless.

While I applaud HopCat's donations to help people suffering from addiction, I find the whole situation to be kind of hypocritical. The restaurant is basically exploiting addiction by naming their popular french fries after a highly addictive drug. Then they're taking a portion of their profits and donating it to an addiction treatment center. It’s almost like HopCat is saying, "We screwed up. We'd better fix this."

HopCat's "Crack Fries" got me thinking about crack in general, and how it's become a joking matter in our society. If something tastes really good, we say it's "like crack." If someone does something stupid or desperate, we call the person a "crackhead."

Hell, President Obama even made a crack-related joke last year. While talking about how much he'd miss the tasty pies created by his retiring White House pastry chef, the president said, "I don't know what he does--whether he puts crack in them, or…"

So why is crack funny?

The simple answer is that it's not. There's nothing funny about addiction, or any drugs that cause people pain and suffering while destroying their lives and the lives of those around them. Why crack has been singled out as the go-to drug when trying to be witty is completely lost on me.

It’s almost like "crack," which used to be a word with an extremely negative and unpleasant connotation, has become a euphemism for something that's highly addictive. And that’s completely messed up.

As I told the HopCat folks on Twitter, "Why didn't you just call them 'Heroin Fries'? Or 'Cocaine Fries'? Or 'Meth Fries'? Those names are no different." Ah, but apparently those names are different. Why? Because people wouldn't think those names are funny.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that HopCat's menu describes their fries as "Beer battered fries with a special cracked black pepper house seasoning." So maybe the "Crack" in "Crack Fries" has something to do with cracked black pepper, too. But I think we all know what they're really trying to do with that name.

I’m curious what others think about HopCat’s "Crack Fries," and about why we oftentimes just shrug it off when people reference crack cocaine when trying to be humorous. As the father of a son in long-term recovery, am I just being overly sensitive? Or do others feel the same way? 


  1. We're in the same boat here so I hope I won't offend you but I think you're being a little overly sensitive. I see your point and agree that there are times when the typical 'crack' comment feels wrong - for instance, the President of the United States clearly referencing crack in a joking, that's really off putting to me. To me, that could give young kids a green light to use. If the President can joke about it, it must be okay. However, I don't think anyone is thinking about crack cocaine when they are ordering or hearing about those delicious fries. As far as all those other crack jokes we hear...I don't think the majority of folks really hear what they are saying anyway. Those are offhanded comments that mean nothing, IMO.

    We've been to hell and back with our boys and I think there are battles that need to be fought on the addiction front but, for me, this is not one of them. Having said that, I respect your opinion and admire you for speaking out. I'm curious, did you ask your son what he thought of crack jokes?

    1. >I don't think anyone is thinking about crack cocaine when they are ordering or hearing about those delicious fries.

      Everybody is thinking that - if they've heard complaints sometimes they'll have pre-emptively latched onto the "oh it's about the cracked pepper" excuse, but it's clear what the real meaning is.

      Google "crack fries" and you get dozens of pages that mention that they're called that because they're "addictive".

      The thing is people aren't thinking realistically about crack with jokes like this - they're thinking about the "haha look how ghetto" Dave Chappelle-character style caricature of a crackhead. And that stereotype hurts folks who do or have used crack.

  2. Really? Did anyone force you to dine at Hopcat? Were you ordered at gunpoint to eat crack fries? Do you have anything better to do with your time than look for things to be offended by? I think you need to grow up and realize that the world doesn't exist to cater to your fragile sensibilities.

    1. Anonymous... I've never set foot in HopCat. So no, no one ordered me at gunpoint to eat anything. As far as how I spend my time, I do that by writing about addiction and recovery, trying to help break the stigma associated with those issues. Believe it or not, sometimes stigma is created by things like stereotyping, or by people joking about it. In case you missed it, I raised the possibility that I may just be overly sensitive on this particular issue; and the general consensus is that I am. So I accept that. Thanks for your opinion.

  3. My son was addicted to crack & now THANK GOD is just shy of 3 years clean from it. And I don't think the name of those fries is one bit funny --- and would wince to see that item on the menu if I went into that restaurant. I realize that most of their customers haven't walked in my shoes,.....but still,.....not a good choice of name for their fries -- not at all.

  4. Yeah, its not funny. But Michigan is perhaps the most racist place I've ever been in my life. Lots of affluence and privilege in SE Michigan esp., its not surprising to me anymore. Go to the dispensaries and every strain of weed "it's crack, bro," decent french fries are "crack," one can't help but associate the ubiquity of the word with how little those who frequent places like HopCat (trendy white hipsters) care about the people who have seen their lives and those of their relatives destroyed by crack and drugs like it (to say nothing of how the gentrification of Detroit, a city that is 83% AA, has played out). At this point its not even fashionable to feign caring about equity. Instead, lashing out at those who would dare challenge the evaluation of "sensibilities" is the order of the day.

  5. The parent company for Hopcat is called Bar Fly Ventures as well.

    Another attempt to make a funny reference to addiction.