Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The McDonald's Experiment

When I was in my late teens, I made a conscious decision not to eat at McDonald's anymore. This was for a number of reasons including not really finding the food that appetising. I was also starting to discover my own political and ethical views and decided I didn't like the way McDonald's marketed their, what was in my view, massively unhealthy food products to children. I decided they deserved no more of my money or custom. (My KFC habit took a little longer to die, however...)

Therefore, until yesterday, I hadn't eaten a McDonald's meal for about 10 years. The documentary Super Size Me and the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser kept me mindful of the fact that McDonald's is Bad.

So, what made me crack? Simply, a massive craving for a Big Mac. I cannot even fully explain why, especially given that I never even ate Big Macs when I used to eat at McDonald's.

And, how was the meal? Not bad. I quite enjoyed it in a guilty kind of way. McDonald's, it seems, is my forbidden fruit. It was a little on the cold side by the time I got it home (no longer do McDonald's provide polystyrene boxes for their Big Macs!) and I felt the special sauce overpowered the flavour of everything else in the Big Mac. Not that anything else tasted of very much. Except the gherkin. The gherkin was probably the best bit. The fries were goooood, though. There is something about the crispiness and saltiness of McDonald's fries that is very more-ish.

Buying the meal was interesting. I just asked for a Big Mac meal and was immediately asked if I wanted a large meal (I opted for a medium). According to the menu, you have the choice of having it with fries or a salad. Seriously, who orders a Big Mac with a salad? Not very many people, apparently, because I didn't even specify and got given fries. I chose to have orange juice as my drink in an attempt at having something healthy, though.

Another thing that has changed since I last stepped into a McDonald's is that they now print nutrition information on the boxes of their products. I was actually slightly impressed that my entire meal came in at about 800 calories; I was expecting it to be at least 1000. There's obviously quite a lot of salt and fat in the meal, though - but I guess that's what I was craving.

I have since been trying to work out why I have been strongly craving McDonald's for quite a while now and why I finally caved. At first I thought it couldn't be anything to do with advertising because I don't watch commercial TV and I don't listen to commercial radio. But then when I was walking into work this morning I noticed two McDonald's posters on the way. Also, often when I go into the shopping centre in town, I go past the open plan food hall, which includes a McDonald's.

One of the things discussed in Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is the associations made with food during childhood and how fast food companies exploit this to gain lifelong customers. Having been thinking about this recently, I've realised that I have quite a few memories associated with McDonald's and all of them actually make me feel warm and fuzzy and nostalgic. I remember The Little Mermaid Happy Meals; I remember birthday parties and getting to go 'behind the scenes' to see them 'cooking' the food; I remember Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. So, perhaps something triggered a nostalgic memory for me and I suddenly wanted a McDonald's.

Or maybe I am just greedy and crave sugar, salt and fat in large quantities.

Would I eat food from McDonald's again? Yes, I think I might, although I am unlikely to make a habit of it. It's not that I've stopped thinking certain things about the fast food industry are unethical; it's just that sometimes I really, really want a Big Mac. Like NOW. (See, I told you - greedy.) I HAVE BEEN SUCKED IN BY THE CORPORATE MACHINE. RUN, SAVE YOURSELVES. There's no hope for me now.

For an alternative look at fast food from the Super Size Mes of this world, check out the episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on Fast Food.