Thursday, 17 August 2006

In defence of the clown

I had a six-pack of Chicken McNuggets on my way home. Looking back to my post from the 29th of March, I can say that it has been 141 days since I last had McDonald’s and the difference is that this time it didn’t totally suck. The meat was processed beyond recognition and 10 minutes later my stomach was gurgling again but I enjoyed the actual dining experience. The counter staff were courteous, I hardly had to wait and it hit the spot I felt needed filling.

This maybe one of those implanted memories caused by misfiring neurons or simply a recollection hazed by the passage of time but I’m pretty sure I remember the first time I had Chicken McNuggets. It was at the franchise in Lower Hutt that is near all the used car yards; the same place I got growled at by the store manager because I worked out how to climb on to the head of the big purple Grimace shaky cage and was teaching all the other kids. We normally took the drive through option but for some reason we ate in on this occasion. I can still summon up the feelings of excitement and wonder from the time. Here was something new I’d never tried before and it was the one thing on the menu that wasn’t a burger.

I was clearly a cheap date when I was little but the point is, the 18 year-old taste that I’ve held on to was no where as good as the nuggets I ate today on the Melbourne Central train platform. Maybe we’re at the tip of a fast food renascence. Back before franchises and chain restaurants, your typical burger or pizza or leg of chicken was actually cooked on site by following a recipe rather than the modern assembly line approach. The meals were once good and fresh but then through business efficiencies the variation was smoothed out, homogenising the product to the extent that taste and nutrition were ignored by both the companies and the consumers.

Then our friend Morgan Spurlock came along, asked McDonald’s if they wouldn’t ‘Super Size’ him and suddenly the buying public woke up. Subway, sushi and salads start taking bites out of their market share so Big Hamburger jumped on the bandwagon, “We know our stuff used to taste like bag it came in so now we bring you food that is actually worth your while.” Admittedly, they were pushed rather than jumped. Make that thrown over the edge clawing and screaming but does that matter if we get better all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions between our sesame seed buns? Does this all add up to a return to the Golden Age of fast food?

Or perhaps I’m just on a nostalgia trip at the moment and Ronald & Co. are shovelling out the same stuff they always have and the only thing new and improved is the marketing department.

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