American Plate - Bite #89: McDonald's

Monday, October 2, 2017
Of all the Bites of this project, there may not be one as controversial as McDonald's, and as such, may not be one so quintessentially American. This country certainly likes to display both its benefits and detriments full-force, and McDonald's certainly encompasses both. Fast food has had a variety of reputations in American history, but its rise came right alongside the ascension of gourmet cooking. One was not a response to the other.

Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald opened their first restaurant in 1948, and the story of what happened to their business is pretty darned American as well. They set everything up. It was their idea to cook things in an assembly line fashion and to rigorously train their clean-cut employees in specializing in particular tasks. Once Dick designed the familiar golden arch logo, it wasn't long before they'd expanded to multiple franchises.

Their happiness was not to last. A salesman named Ray Kroc who sold them the milkshake mixers invested in their business, and bought it outright six years later. What the book glosses over is how much he screwed the McDonald brothers over in the process, the story of which is told by The Founder, a movie I keep meaning to get to.

Obviously, McDonald's has come a long way since then, expanding into a global phenomenon with specialized dishes in different regions. They've certainly had their share of public ups and downs. In the '80s, McDonald's was a godsend to beleaguered parents who just wanted something cheap and tasty to keep the kids happy, and the Happy Meal was a huge step towards ensuring brand loyalty early. Recently, though, examinations of McDonald's by things such as Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me have really hit the company in the pocketbook, and they've begun to struggle against competitors that tout healthier food.

O'Connell and I have a similar take on the matter, which is that McDonald's food may not be the healthiest thing on the planet, but it certain has a place in the American food landscape, and isn't a total blight. Admittedly, after reading Fast Food Nation, I only allow myself to eat at McDonald's once or twice a year (or on road trips), so those pics above were a rare treat for me. I also worked for a few years at McDonald's as a teen, and maintain that it taught me very valuable job skills; everyone should have to work at a service job like this when they're young.

On the occasions that I actually allow myself to indulge in McDonald's food, I'm always happy with the result. It's become fashionable to bash on them, but in my mind, there's nothing wrong with a good ol' fashioned Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with some of those iconic fries on the side. And when it comes to breakfast, there may not be a breakfast sandwich on Earth that can compete with a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese. Is it good for me? Hell, no. But I had one anyway, because that's what being American is all about.