The parable of the Golden Arches

11 12 2009

There once was a blogger who decided that, after a long hiatus from eating at McDonald’s, he would finally go back and see what it was like. After all, he had heard that it serves salads now, and has tried to go with some healthier items on its menu. He wanted to see if the hordes of people who went to McDonald’s instead of all of the other eating options available were on to something. Maybe there is some profound cultural experience that he had been missing by turning his nose up at this stuff.

Sadly, he went back, and all he experienced was what he had experienced before: overly salted, fried food with all style and no substance. There is the smiling Ronald McDonald, the Hamburgler, and the bright, appealing energy of a franchise that can do no wrong. But still, he thinks to himself, is this really nutritious? Should people be eating this stuff? Is it really giving the people what they need, or are they just settling for something that is leaving them in their uncultured, undeveloped habits of food and dining?

So our good blogger decides to write a post about it. Yes, he makes it a bit snarky, and borderline mean, but he tries to tie legitimate criticisms into his inflammatory rhetoric. Besides, he was posting it close to Thanksgiving, and he was more concerned with the real food, like turduckens, fresh greenbeans, and mash potatoes that his new found Louisiana Creole family was preparing.

Quite suddenly, however, the criticisms started rolling into the comments section of his humble blog. They ranged from those who upbraided him for his elitist attitude, to those who were fanatical enthusiasts of McDonald’s who think it is the best thing since industrially-made, airy, sliced bread for Big Macs:

“How dare you attack such a venerable institution of our American culture?! Don’t you know that McDonald’s is all that most people can afford, and all that most people would want to eat anyway?! What gives you the right to imply that McDonald’s food is crap?!”

“McDonald’s is a great place, and I don’t know why you are attacking it. I used to have my birthday parties there as a kid. I go there after a night of partying and have some chicken McNuggets to get recover from my drunken stupor. And they always have bathrooms open so that when I am driving in a car, I know where to go when nature calls.”

“McDonald’s was ordained by God to feed the hungry masses. Your attacks on it are downright shameful!”

But that wasn’t all. Just when he thought that the nasty comments were dying down, a representative of Burger King, whose name rhymes with Sark Mae, decided that he needed to get other fast food devotees appalled over attacks on a worthy competitor in the business. His attack on the attack proceeded something like this:

“This vicious food cattiness is shameful. McDonald’s is a legitimate business employing thousands of American workers and serving a quality product to millions of American consumers each year. This is an attack on the small business owner. Doesn’t this horrible man know that most people who start a McDonald’s franchise are hardworking entrepreneurs who have to struggle to make it in a restaurant scene with so many dining options? He is taking food out of their children’s mouths with his calumny and detraction! Indeed, no good deed goes unpunished! And he shows utter contempt for the working class, thrifty McDonald’s customer who is just trying to stretch her dollar and give her family a memorable eating experience at the same time. If it were up to him, working class people would have no places to eat at all. And the worst thing about it, this terrible man is badmouthing an honest franchise without giving it a chance to respond.

Despicable.

[On the margins:] Buy the new Junior Whopper”

Of course, the blogger stood back amazed at the mess he had made, and even had second thoughts about writing his thoughts down in the first place. But then he realized that no one really addressed the real question: isn’t it problematic that all people want to eat is McDonald’s, that this stuff still sells, and that, in spite of protests that McDonald’s leads people to other culinary adventures such as trips to the local Eritrean or Vietnamese restaurant, most people tend to stay at the level of fried, greasy, McDonald’s food? Indeed, wasn’t that the point of what he wrote in the first place: the quality of the food, its nutritional value, and the fact that McDonald’s has no impulse to serve the people better food. It thrives on the fact that it is, well, McDonald’s DAMMIT, and why should it change a thing that consumeristic, culinarily lazy Americans would want to buy?

The problem for him was one of food culture, and he felt perplexed that people would take it the wrong way. To him it was blatantly obvious that McDonald’s is crap compared to his mother’s fried beans and fresh tortillas on a Saturday morning, his grandmother’s giant pot of handmade, Christmas tamales, or his adopted family’s dark, rich gumbos or crawfish étouffées. He didn’t know why people were objecting that the masses couldn’t eat stuff like that anymore, and McDonald’s is the only thing that people could swallow, and that he couldn’t expect people to learn to cook and eat all of that old fashioned, complicated stuff… But the blogger was still perplexed. Why not? Aren’t you just feeding into a culture where the lowest common denominator reigns supreme? Aren’t you just trapping people in a vicious cycle? And what of his own efforts to share recipes and culinary memories on his blog and other places with people who may not have had such slow homecooking growing up? Again, he was perplexed.

But most people who had read his thoughts read them with a McDonald’s agenda, and continued to munch on their Quarter Pounders and large fries, affirmed in their self-righteouness that this is what the food gods want, and that no one should dare attack the quality of their fried, unhealthy, mass produced food.

Qui aures habet, audiat.


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36 responses

11 11 2020
ping land

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11 01 2012
eminem

It’s funny McDonalds use to be the place to go to get crappy food for a very cheap price. Now you go in there and spend as much money as buying a meal at the food store, even the price of a good pizza.

24 08 2011
village vets

I am looking to start a blog, though I don’t know which is the best way to go about this. Some of my friends recommend buying a domain from iPage, and then using WordPress. However, I feel that this is limiting. My next option is through TypePad as it appears to have the level of control desired, though this is relatively expensive.. . So my question is as follows: Which one is a better idea? Which one would you personally use?. . Thank you..

25 12 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I am always right. Why else would you be reading? Why else would I have written this in the first place?

In any event, my last thought on this is:

To American Catholics (and modern Catholics in general): Please do not mold Catholicism to the shape of your own ignorance. So much of what modern people show is a “display of the will not to know”, to cite a recent passage from a Pierre Hadot book. People seem to think that all that they need to know must be necessarily at their fingertips, as convenient as a McDonald’s meal, as accessible as a Google search. That just shows how much is wrong, not just with religion (which is a veritably incestuous intellectual world in our day and age) but with humanity in general. Which is also why I very rarely discuss politics on this blog, which for me, has taken up the Marxist mantle of being the “opium of the people”. The only thing worse than observing helpless people trying to change a broken social order is watching the same people do so without knowing that their efforts are so futile.

That is my cheerful Christmas thought for the day. Peace out.

23 12 2009
Warren P.

I was hoping the parable would read more like this:

“Look, he said, I don’t like to eat at McDonalds, and I don’t much like the people to do, but I do think I was rather an ass, saying what I said before, so could people please forgive me”.

Instead it sounded more like:

“Look, I’m always right. Can we move on here?”

W

14 12 2009
Maxim

Has anyone considered the idea of a blogging franchise tailored for mass-consumption, quality-controlled so the customer knows what he will be getting the moment he walks through the door; none of this erudite, layered stuff, we need something full of fat and salt, that will appeal instantly to the appetite. There could be prepackaged themes, “value meals” for those who don’t want to expend the effort to connect the dots themselves, a dollar menu for those who can’t take anything heavy, and the “happy meal” post; light, in a bright, fun package, with some kind of popular entertainment wrapped up in it, especially designed to appeal to children of all ages. Just an idea.

14 12 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I was reading on one Catholic blog how the blogger quite honestly came out against people thinking that her blog was her “apostolate”, but asserted that it was for entertainment purposes only. I thought this was a good way of putting it. For I think that anyone who writes for this electronic forum should be well aware of the amount of authority bestowed on him by the Church, which is none. I too will say that the purpose of this blog is “entertainment”, a sort of waste of one’s “otium” by people with too much education and not enough to do with it. And why not? If I address theological subjects, that is just because God made the heavens and the earth, and we cannot escape speaking of Him. But I have no pretensions to teach anyone with authority, and if you think I somehow have them, I would ask that you stop reading right now.

On the other hand, as I have told you, the Scott Hahn rant was a continuation of my Theological Mercenaries post. Thus, as you allude, if Shea feels people should give him money since he is entertaining and informative, that is their prerogative to give him that money and thus save him from having to get a real job rather than continuing to milk his “star” status. But if he feels himself an “anointed apologist”, anointed by the “public opinion” of a certain set of middle class suburban Catholic converts and “converts at heart”, then I would ask him to question whether he is using the Gospel as a spade to guarantee him and his family the American middle class standard of living (though from his appeals, it doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe he should reassess his priorities). Again, it is people’s prerogative if they want to give him money for his efforts, but if we are thus subjecting Catholic discourse to the rules of the market, then I feel that I should not be hung out to dry if I question the shape that this discourse is taking. Or is the market a new infallible magisterium (to some American Catholics, it may well be)? Then again, you could always just give your money to Perez Hilton if you find him more entertaining and informative. It’s a “free country”.

14 12 2009
AG

Often, the underlying problem re. unhealthy diets, lack of grocery stores, etc. is that people don’t know how to cook. It’s way cheaper to fix rice and beans, but it’s shocking how many people don’t even know how to cook rice, even those who would have all day to do so if they knew how. Basic “this is how to feed yourself” skills were not taught, and some even brag about how they don’t know how to cook, as though that’s a virtue (and not just the result for some of being highly affluent). And that’s my two cents on the side issue.

I think Arturo hit on a topic that some people feel very passionate about – junk food and who/why/how people consume it – but the comments here are also interesting because I think a few of the comments reflect what happened in the Scott Hahn thread: people skimming a post and then deciding to write their own strange barely tangential thoughts and/or rants, whether or not it actually engaged the substance of the post. (And oh how appropriate that Mark Shea wrote negative comments about Arturo’s post and then would post the same day asking his readers to send him money.) I don’t see that so much as people acting “stupid,” as much as a feature of much of Internet discourse. People who comment on fora on the internet are often very eager to throw their opinions in, whether or not they address the issue at hand. Thus, there were alot of comments on that thread that had very little to do with what Arturo posted, and certainly none of the detractors even made an effort to address the core issues of Scott Hahn’s questionable presentation and his hustling book-selling. Call it lack of reading comprehension, which with cooking seems to be very poorly taught nowadays.

13 12 2009
Sam Urfer

I think it’s fair to say that often, writing on the internet does not convey tone or mood very well. Which was partly the cause not only for the overly-literal food focused responses here, but also for the indignant responses to the Hahn piece earlier.

13 12 2009
random Orthodox chick

And your health prospects are bleak if all you have is junk left. In “Unnatural Causes” a city health official (he might’ve been in Atlanta) said that he could know what part of town a person is from, what job he has, and his income, and can predict when that person should expect to die.

And forget bussing to greener pastures. The city buses around here can’t get contracts for most of the surrounding areas, for reasons that are pretty easy to infer.

12 12 2009
random Orthodox chick

“I would think the reaction of the first set of readers to this post, readers who totally missed the irony and intent, would clue you into the fact that your style of erudite, layered writing doesn’t meet the needs of all…”

This hardly proves the point.

I, for one, appreciated the style and found myself both laughing and cringing at some parts (and this post actually crosses confessional lines in its criticisms…unfortunately). I find works that seek to get past the bare minimum to be beneficial and refreshing.

I’ve never understood the minimalist approach when it comes to exposition on faith or why it is necessary beyond the introductory phase. You’d think you’d want to “feed the hungry” as much as possible. I wouldn’t think bare-bones would keep anyone’s attention for too long.

12 12 2009
FrGregACCA

Such as, Tom? I’m not doubting this at all, but would like more details (and, if possible, general sources as well).

12 12 2009
The Shepherd

Interpretation fail

12 12 2009
Tom

Arturo:

I would think the reaction of the first set of readers to this post, readers who totally missed the irony and intent, would clue you into the fact that your style of erudite, layered writing doesn’t meet the needs of all, and that maybe a more clearly, less subtle “simplistic” apologetics and writing is just fine for a lot of people. It may be just a start, but it’s important.

I also think you underestimate the pressures that those who give people like Hahn platforms place in terms of dumbing-down their content. EWTN is a notorious magisterium-within-a-magisterium, and the things they will not permit to be mentioned on air or in books they sell on their website would astound you. Anyone who has dealt with them on this score has many stories to tell.

12 12 2009
Leah

The only decent supermarket (a Publix) in the heart of Atlanta’s inner city is closing December 24, because of “economic concerns.” Merry Christmas, indeed.

12 12 2009
random Orthodox chick

Still, issues on how this nation treats inner-city working-class, like in the comments, are still near and dear to me. But yeah, that Scott Hahn thing, too.

12 12 2009
random Orthodox chick

Forget Whole Foods. A Meijer, Kroger, or Family Fare what have you would be nice. “Healthy” doesn’t have to be organic or free-trade, just actual food that won’t expire in a week and a half.

12 12 2009
Fearsome Comrade

Ha! Fooled me! The funny thing is that I have run across discussions about cheap food that literally went very much along the lines as your parable.

The square fish is the evolutionary predecessor of the chicken nugget!

12 12 2009
Leah

I’ll relate everything everyone has said by mentioning that the fish sandwich was created by McDonald’s to capitalize on meatless Fridays in Catholic areas in the late 1960s. I am creeped out by the notion of square, breaded no-name fish, which is why I haven’t patronize the Golden Arches in more than eight years. Still, I think the post makes some good point whether it’s interpreted as food or American Catholic religious culture.

12 12 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Yeah, the post is actually about the Scott Hahn fiasco from a couple of weeks back. But way to creatively read it. “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”

Ironically enough, I actually like eating at McDonald’s. I don’t anymore because AG thinks it’s gross. But we have occasionally been known to get their fish sandwich on Fridays.

So no, this post was not about food. Though I would be the last to make up the apologias for McDonald’s that the hypothetical interlocutors make up in the parable. McDonald’s is garbage food. I just happen to like garbage food. I just don’t want to have the theological equivalent of a Big Mac in my head.

12 12 2009
Babushka

Umm…we are not actually talking about food here, gang…

Methinks the original article was not read by some of the responders.

I’m glad to not go to McD’s anymore. Where I go, we eat freshly cooked lamb. Mmm, substantial stuff, that.

12 12 2009
Maxim

I find the best thing to do when traveling is to go to a grocery store, buy bread rolls, lunch meat, maybe some cheese. Lots cheaper, lots better. I get about 10 sandwiches for about $10; three Value Meals will put you over that.

12 12 2009
Matthew N. Petersen

I’m pretty sure you’re right.

12 12 2009
The young fogey

I thought it was about the NO too.

11 12 2009
Michael

Perhaps Arturo, you might want to give your readers a lesson on how to read and interpret parables.

11 12 2009
Adrian

This was originally a funny (if nasty) post, but the comments have turned it into a hilarious and fascinating exercise in irony, accidental dramatic irony, humor implosion and other fictional and metafictional questions.

11 12 2009
brian m

See, here I thought you were talking about Dr. Hahn and his fast-food apologetics, or the Novus Ordo and its fast-food approach to liturgy. Apparently I was wrong?

11 12 2009
ben

Well my neighborhood Save-A-Lot not only sells beans and rice, but also votive candles. It’s next to a good carniceria where one can buy a decent lunch at Golden Arches prices.

These places aren’t too far from the Rancho Liborio and the Avanza markets.

You can get candles there too, and long distance calling cards with St. Martin de Porres on them.

11 12 2009
Fearsome Comrade

While it is true that it is possible to purchase healthy (and easy to prepare) food for less than fast food and processed food, the poorer areas of our urban centers often have little access to such food.

Speaking as someone who lives in the poorer section of the city…

The boutique groceries that rich and upper middle-class folk shop at to get their fair trade coffee and organic oat bread wouldn’t make money out here. There are no zoning laws preventing a Whole Foods from opening across the street from my apartment complex. It’s not a conspiracy to prevent the poor from having “access;” nor is it merely an unfortunate coincidence that could be solved with public transportation or something (actually, you can take the bus to the Whole Foods area if you want…but I’ve never seen anyone there who looks like they belong in my neighborhood). So why is there a Save-a-Lot? Why are poor people’s options for bread so limited?

Because I ain’t payin’ no six dolla fo’ no gallon o’ milk.

11 12 2009
Scott Morizot

Actually, there is an even darker underside to the issue of “what people can afford”. It’s hardly something that I’m alone in noticing. It’s noted in a number of books and articles I’ve read over the years.

While it is true that it is possible to purchase healthy (and easy to prepare) food for less than fast food and processed food, the poorer areas of our urban centers often have little access to such food. My city is better than some in this regard, but it’s obvious even here. I have multiple sources for meat, produce, dried legumes, rice, and other basic staples pretty close to my home. I could even walk to some of them. But in the poorer sections of our city, actual groceries stores are much more scarce and distant from each other. These are also the people least likely to own cars. That means they either have to navigate shopping via public transportation from stores a good number of miles away or eat from what’s available at the much more plentiful fast food places and “convenience” stores. And as I said, it’s not nearly as bad here as it is in some places around the country.

Now those who do have choices and still choose a diet based on that sort of food are not making entirely free choices as the highly processed foods are “spiked” with a mix of sugars, fats and excitotoxins designed to produce a neurological response.

Of course, I’m a celiac and can’t really eat at any fast food place anyway. But I was not fond of them before I was diagnosed. (Of course, a good part of that was that I tended to feel worse after eating there in a non-specific way. I didn’t have the severe gastro-intestinal reactions that some percentage of celiacs have.) But if you have access to them, a diet with a basis in rice, legumes, fresh green vegetables, and fruit with meat of various sorts need not be either expensive or boring. After all, the origin of many of the dishes that people like, whether Mexican, Cajun, Creole, or whatever, had there origins in ways to make inexpensive food interesting or palatable for those who couldn’t afford expensive or high quality foods.

11 12 2009
Fearsome Comrade

There are a lot of restaurants within walking distance of here. I will mention two.

One is a cajun restaurant that, given this is Kentucky, serves a very good etouffee. Price of lunch: $9

The other is McDonald’s, which serves crappy hamburgers, mediocre chicken sandwiches, and decent fries. Price of lunch: $4

There’s a reason I go to the latter more frequently. I realize I ought, from a dietary and cultural perspective, eat more expensive food. But a grad student’s got his wallet to consider. When I oversleep, or forget to buy bread the previous night, and thus don’t bring my lunch with me, I’ll hit fast food about 2/3 of the time.

The other 1/3 of the time, I’ll get the etouffee or the pita.

11 12 2009
Maxim

Same thing goes for intellectual culture.

11 12 2009
Opus the Poet

McD is good for what it is, cheap food served fast. Because of physics there is nothing that can beat frying for cooking food quickly. But you can’t make a steady diet of it, all that fat and salt will kill you eventually. I guess what I’m saying is that McD is good when you need it, but if you need to go to McD more than once or twice a week you need to look at your life and find time to cook. When I make beans and rice it takes about 5 hours, but only costs me about $1.25 in ingredients to feed 4 people. Cooking bread is similar in that time is exchanged for a better product that costs less in ingredients than purchasing the same thing from a store ready made. The thing is I couldn’t do that if I didn’t work from my bedroom and have the ability to stop working for a few minutes to a half hour to cook. So the 2 income home is the main reason why people have to eat corporate food. That in itself could be expanded into a book, much less a blog post…

11 12 2009
pebblekeeper

All I can afford? We caved and went inside after checking out the video box rental out front. It had been months since we had visited. Our bill came up to over $14.00. Do you know how much roast or ground beef or chicken I can purchase for $14.00? People need to get out and see that they can purchase food else where for 5 dollars each. . . ..

11 12 2009
Rob

This parable is from the Gospel of Thomas, right?

I mean, that means I don’t have to listen to it, right?

11 12 2009
Ben George

I expect that people will take this analogy to absurd conclusions in 3… 2… 1…

“I mean… what if McDonalds is all you can afford?!”

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