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Published: Friday, 11/25/2011

Life in the fast-food lane

KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

Bad news. The McRib is gone.

Good news. The McRib is gone.

Clearly ensconced in Team McRib is a neighbor of mine who was delighted about the limited-time return of the boneless barbecue pork sandwich from McDonald's. He said he's consumed more than a hundred McRibs in his lifetime and plans to eat many, many more before death robs him of his beloved sandwich. That's a McFan.

I should talk. I'm the guy who tried to duplicate the Big Mac special sauce at home with a recipe I found online (bit.ly/hIE5Uy). It was close, but I added too many dehydrated onions into the mix, not factoring in that the onions would expand once they were mixed in with liquid.

Fast food is pervasive and persuasive, on young and old alike.

For my daughter's fifth birthday she chose McDonald's for her celebratory meal, when she could have picked almost any restaurant in the area. That's like telling a kid you're willing to send her to Harvard and her informing you, "No, thanks, I want to go to Odessa Junior College in Odessa, Texas."

We weren't thrilled with her choice, but we honored it because it was her birthday. Still, I can't help but feel like she's been indoctrinated into the cult of Ronald McDonald. It starts with a Happy Meal and ends up … well, with a 100-plus McRibs in a few years.

I don't mean to unfairly pick on McDonald's. My concern applies equally to all fast-food options. Like millions of families in this country and around the world, we know the drive-through is not our best option, but that doesn't stop us. It's convenient, I get that. But there's something about these foods that are addictive.

Documentary director Morgan Spurlock explored this in his 2004 film Super Size Me. For the documentary, Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's for a month. By the end of his experiment he gained a hefty amount of weight, his blood pressure was up, and he looked like he was about to keel over. I've seen heat-lamp burritos at gas stations that looked better than him. Spurlock's physical reaction to the fast food was enough to get his doctor and vegetarian girlfriend concerned. He survived the experiment.

In 2008, the documentary Food, Inc. touched on the terrible nutritional value of fast food and the resulting health problems manifested because of it.

Super Size Me and Food Inc. are terrific at giving TV talk shows material to digest for an episode or two. The directors come on these programs to plug their movies and frighten us with staggering statistics and images that make the audience and talk-show host gasp and even gag. It's effective, and by show's end everyone is so thoroughly disgusted by what they've heard and seen they promise to make significant diet and lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, the drive-through lanes remain crowded during the day. And by the way, when was the last time you saw a fast-food restaurant close because of slow business?

The truth is, things won't change because we don't want them to. Sure, we've complained enough that McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and other fast-food chains now offer sliced apples and oranges, and other healthy options in their kids' meals, and better-for-you selections for adults as well. But really, how many of us go to these places for a salad?

For Halloween, I dressed as a Big Mac. (Don't ask.) I lost count of the number of kids and parents who said they wanted to eat me or were inspired to go to McDonald's at the sight of me, a middle-aged man dressed as a hamburger. Even worse? I wasn't immune to the costume's tempting charms, as I found myself craving a Big Mac too. That's pathetic. Also, know that as I type this, there is a McDonald's sack on my desk from my late-night dinner. (Insert face-palm here.)

The good news is, we have a choice. The bad news is, we seem unwilling to make the correct one.

Just ask one of the "billions of customers served."

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on Twitter: @bladepopculture.



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