As the Pollan-championing liberal foodie chef restaurant-worker father that I am I hate McDonald's.
We all know the story by now. The evil corn fed billionaire corporation poisoning our country and milking our government (our hard earned tax money) out of millions and millions of subsidies and tax breaks all the while under bidding and ruining the family farms that their commercials portray as the suppliers of the very ingredients they are only pretending to serve us.
The food system in this country is more than just fucked up, it's puss-filled-cunts-fucked-up, or shit-and-AIDS-dripping-asses-fucked up.
In other words: It's bad.
And McDonald's, and fast food in general, is right in the middle of the conversation for as to why.
I'm not here to teach (this time), so if you have any questions on the subject I'd invite you to spend some time on any of these sites:
Or of course just google "corn industry" "fast food obesity" or what have you.
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.
But the fact is that most of us grew up on McDonald's. In my family at least, it was a special occasion place that we went to when we were being rewarded, or at least things were going good. I'll admit that my family was insanely poor, so eating out was a special treat, but in talking to the hundreds of people I've known in my life, especially in my younger, stoned-ier years, McDonald's was still a place we revered with special powers of deliciousness. Comfort food in the extreme.
Even since deciding to write this post the out pouring of fondness for a trip to McDonald's, or any other fast food place for that matter, in the youth of whomever I happened to be talking to was universal.
Nobody I talked to mistook fast food for gourmet, or even healthy. But a family trip in the car was generally remembered as good times, and fast food was almost always a part of that.
So what's happened in a few short years that's taken fast food from iconic special occasion, to hated root-of-all-evil in the world?
I don't know.
Certainly their image has been damaged by the many books and exposes on the matter, but we always knew we were eating shit when we ate there.
The growth of the gourmet culture has its part to play. We've become so hyper aware of what we're putting into our bodies that the idea of "mcnuggets" or "mcrib" or "mc-anything" makes us bristle with contempt for the un-local, un-sustainable mega-corporate nature of the faux food that we're being sold. But even so I've enjoyed the hell out of a double cheese burger or two in a drunken end-of-night-out frenzy to make the world stop spinning, and really, is anything in the world better for a hangover than fast food breakfast?
I'm sure the root-of-all-evil in my book, the 24 hour news cycle has a lot to do with it as well. In a bid to get viewers is there any thing in the world that the "news" channels haven't completely destroyed? As long as their own corporate masters aren't harmed in doing so (in other words Truth being revealed) no one loves a good "take down the big guy" story like the empty-headed idiots that still vote like it means something in this country.
No, make no mistake, the enemies of fast food are many, and all are right, but I can't help but feel like maybe we've taken it a little bit too far sometimes. I assume no innocence on the part of the masters of industry, and feel that they deserve everything they get, but maybe, just maybe, we've taken some of the fun out of going out to eat at a fast food chain.
It was with this guarded sense of forgiveness that I decided to take my own children to a local McDonald's after Thalia's ballet class last sunday.
I knew I was doing the right thing when I proposed the idea to them and Thalia said to me "Eww, I don't want to go to McDonald's, it's bad for you." I tried to explain to her that it's okay if you eat it just every once in awhile, but she wasn't convinced. It was my rightous obligation to undo the hippy brainwashing we as parents had subjected her to to make her feel this way. She's a kid after all, and kids LOVE McDonald's.
If McDonald's was the enemy to my 5 and 3 year-old's then I was going to let them in on a little secret, McDonald's could be good, and above all fun.
But no matter what I said to them to the contrary they both scrunched up their faces and said "ewwww."
Then I slipped.
In my desperation and determination to share with them a warm memory from my past, and to prove to them that going to McDonald's could be a fun rewarding experience, I stooped to the lowest level of marketing genius known to man, I offered them a Happy Meal.
What was stubborn opposition became a greedily accepted lamb-being-led-to-slaughter proposition of the promise of a cheap piece of plastic.
I immediately felt guilty.
I tried to talk them out of going. I said we should wait for Mommy to be there. I said she was right, we shouldn't eat there because it was bad for you. I back peddled as fast as I could, but to no avail, the kids were determined to get a fucking toy no matter what, even if it meant finishing a lunch they had just moments before been crying about how much they didn't want.
So with the shoe firmly on the other foot, and a sick respect for the evil genius of the Happy Meal one that I hope people are burning in hell for all of eternity over (not that I believe in hell, or eternity) we set off to now-queasily recapture the fond memories of my youth.
When we got there I immediately noticed how far away it was from the almost pastoral memory of the McDonald's of my youth. Granted an urban store is going to be different from one in a small town in Virginia, but without being snotty, let's just say that the clientele wasn't anyone I'd really like to be associated with, much less stuck in a room with for any period of time. I'll admit it's not McDonald's fault it was almost 50/50 homeless to not homeless, but still, it was alarming how just unhappy the people looked that were there.
So we ordered and were promptly served our chicken mcnugget big kids meal with fries (I mean if you're going to go to hell for being a bad parent, you might as well get them some fucking french fries), a milk (it's an even-lower level of hell for parents who will give their children soda) and my beloved double cheese burger(s) we sat down.
What I felt next wasn't a recreation of childhood joy, it was guilt tinted with sadness.
What was I putting in my children's bodies? The nuggets looked over fried in oil that hadn't been changed in too long, the fries somehow underdone and soggy. My burger served on styrofoam bun with cheese that wasn't even melted.
There was no happiness in this place.
People around us ate robotically, no one even bothering to take coats or hats off.
This wasn't an experience, it was a fueling station for junk. Even my children ate wordlessly with blank expressions in their eyes, determined only to finish for the promise of a toy, rather than for the enjoyment of eating a meal with the family after a ballet practice.
With meal grimly finished we quickly exited (it was easy since we already had coats and hats on) and the kids smiled for the first time outside as they were "rewarded" with their toys. The two cent piece of garbage that I used, and I assume millions of other parents have as well, to bribe my children to eat a crap meal that in the scope of everything actually takes away more than it gives.
I felt terrible.
Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I had planned to come home to Liz and proclaim proudly to her: "We went to McDonald's, and I don't care what people say it was great!" or at least: "We went to McDonald's and it was perfectly fine!"
But I didn't.
I didn't say anything.
I didn't want her to know.
It just so happens that we were having a friend stay over that night so when her and Liz arrived home we spent the evening catching up as we ate sushi for dinner. Sometime in the course of the meal, as we talked, and relaxed, and enjoyed ourselves, (in other words the complete opposite of my experience earlier in the day with the kids) Liz noticed the stupid little made-in-china doll that Thalia was playing with. Liz asked her where she got it and she told her "We went to McDonald's for lunch today!"
Needless to say, Liz looked over at me angrily and accusatory and said "WHAT!!??" I defended my decision saying I wanted to do something special for them, and went through the litany of excuses I've just discussed here. When the initial anger wore off she conceded to having the same feelings I had in her youth as well, as did our guest.
We talked warmly about special trips that we went on with just our mom or dad, or after a last game or recital being allowed to go to a fast food place and get ice cream, or dip or fries in our milkshake. Dates, jobs, hanging out stoned late nights in High School, so many of our memories were set in fast food restaurants.
Sadly, it's just not the same now.
Maybe we know too much, or maybe the industry's changed too much, but as hard as it is, as conflicted as I am about not wanting to be too much of a liberal foodie Pollan-wannabe, by wanting to share some of the happiness of my own childhood with my children, it doesn't change the fact that McDonald's, love it or hate it, is garbage.