There was a message last week from someone who is researching a documentary for Channel 4 about people who love fast food. She hopes that some of the people who use this site will be happy to talk to her about what their favourite fast food means to them. The link is here, if you’re interested (scroll to the bottom).
I don’t know whether I’d say I love fast food – though I must confess I have been known to eat a certain amount of the stuff. But I certainly do have a relationship to it, which this recent enquiry has made me consider.
I am old enough to be a fast-food immigrant. That is to say I remember the days before fast food reached these shores in earnest. I remember when Wimpy’s opened on Chiswick High Road (where the Burger King is now). Picky eater that I am, I was scared. A hamburger with heaven knows what bits on it would have been way beyond the pale, so my mother ordered me their Chicken Pieces (a far superior fore-runner to McDonalds’ Chicken Nuggets). I was upset about there not being any plates or cutlery, and I was wary of the food, but being assured it was just chicken, I gave it a go. It was good.
Around the same time (circa age 6), I remember a conversation my mother had with the mother of a friend of mine, while they were arranging for me to go and play at his house. “Does she eat junk food?” was the question, to which my mother replied in the affirmative. I was horrified. I didn’t know what junk food was, but I knew I hadn’t heard of it, and that it sounded horrible, and that therefore I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. How could my mother condemn me to such a fate so readily? Of course, when it was explained to me that it’s a name for lovely things like beefburgers and chips and crisps and chocolate, I changed my tune. In the event, I think that was the afternoon I first ate KP Skips. In pretty flower shapes.
I soon progressed to hamburgers (with no nothing on them of course). It was an easy transition to McDonalds when they opened their emporium up the High Road, and though I was sad to see Wimpys go, I took the Burger King that replaced it in my stride (sesame seeds notwithstanding). Before these three, fast food in West London consisted of, on weekends only, Spud-U-Like in Shepherd’s Bush, and sometimes chips from the chip-shop in Richmond. But these didn’t have a Mr Wimpy or a Ronald McDonald standing around outside handing out balloons and paper hats and so on. Spud-U-Like had a potato-face on the fork-handle which I liked, but the old-skool rather lacked the party atmosphere of the new arrivals, so no competition really, for a 6-year-old. (Interestingly, while I would eat a Wimpy or McDonald’s hamburger, I found home-made ones horrid.)
I think there was a KFC, but that was not for People Like Us. Still isn’t, as far as I can tell. The few times I have eaten there, I am overwhelmingly struck by the lack of respect held by that institution for its customers. Poor quality design, poor quality environment, poor quality clientele, plus they try and palm you off with poor quality merchandise that you wouldn’t feed to a dog. Even one that does like chicken.
Which brings me on to my next point. I have elected to eat in a KFC on occasion, as opposed to somewhere more…salubrious, but the reason for this is not because I love the food. It’s because I know I can bear to eat some of it. Bearing to eat it is not the same as loving it, although when you end up being so grateful for things you can bear to eat, the boundary can get blurred there a little bit. Even if KFC (or fast food in general) were all I ate, it still wouldn’t mean that I loved it necessarily, only that it was the lesser (to me) of a range of evils.
The fact is that I feel a better feeling, of a greater more satisfying wholesomeness, when I eat fresh proper food that’s made from scratch. If could really choose freely, that would be all that I ate. Of course, there are questions of time constraints and convenience, but for me there is also the rather major restriction in terms of the variety of foodstuffs I can deal with. So I appreciate fast food as a reliable option for a limited palate. It’s well within my comfort zone, shall we say, and beggars can’t be choosers. But I think it’s fair to say I love fresh food more. More variety, more taste, more goodness. I don’t really see how anyone with a free range of eating and a normal IQ could ever possibly say they loved fast food.
I once saw Billy Connolly in stand-up, doing a joke about McDonalds. He said he reckoned they put something in their food to make it addictive. Little did he know. Turns out all their food is artificially flavoured and scented. To make your brain think it’s something that it isn’t. To make your brain think it’s more delicious than it is. They have whole vast laboratories dedicated to this task. The body doesn’t lie though.
Another thing I have fast food to thank for is a large part of the extension of my eating repertoire. I have blogged previously about how McDonalds taught me to cope with ketchup, which led to pizza, which led to all things tomato-based. They also taught me to love mayonnaise, and to cope with finely chopped onions, and with the odd stray piece of lettuce. It is precisely because it is fast food that it carries an incentive to take it as it comes.
I would also like to take this opportunity to raise a few points on the BK-McD’s dichotomy. Burger King (obviously) is not as good as McDonalds – it seems greasier and less uniform, and also the bun has sesame seeds – though they don’t bother with onions which is good, and their mustard is far superior (speaking as one who doesn’t actually like mustard, or eat it in any othe context). Prior to 1999, both their french fries were good, until silly old BK decided to “invent” a new kind of stay-hotter-longer french fry, which is edible, but minging, compared to the gold standard of McDonalds. I don’t know whether others share this view…
But it can’t be denied also that fast food carries a certain stigma in these modern times. High fat, high salt, low fibre. The environment. Oppressive business practices. Supersize Me. Which is why going on television to tell the word I’m Lovin’ It would not be something that I personally would relish. Especially because most of the rest of the world don’t realise that as selective eaters, our food choices are often more pragmatic than indulgent. I enjoy some fast food, yes, but in context.
I can conceive of people out there who never eat any fast food. They don’t have to. They can get by without it. Good for them, I say. But can they conceive of people like me?
Your mileage of course may vary. So tell us: What’s your stance on fast food? Necessary evil, or beloved staple?