I found myself amongst the bizarre mass of people clustered around the departures board in Victoria station on Saturday night. Victoria at 11.15 is a sea of swaying humans, not a collegiate group but a band of brothers yearning for home.
Permeating the scene of the drunken swines was the rancid stench of McDonalds. Nearly every other person was clutching a brown paper bag as if it was a life raft in a shipwreck and gorging on the cheap burger in public without a jot of shame.
I repaired for a short at the less than salubrious Iron Duke. Dashing for my train as I had allowed the whisky to seduce me to reverie, I was joined by an elderly chap; he slipped on the platform and crumpled to the floor with his strained face, with a nose like a puce strawberry, creased in anguish and his right paw grabbing his left bicep.
Several of us stopped, fearing that the old chap was checking out on platform 3. But when we reached this stricken soul, we rapidly realised that it was a McDonald’s tucked into his inner jacket that he was saving as he rocketed to the ground not his exploding arteries!
I haven’t eaten a McDonald’s for eight years. It is not that I am such a prig that I abhor all terrible food – I am rather partial to a chicken wrap from “Eddies”, my local kebab shop after an evening in the White Horse. Nothing soaks up the booze like a stodgy heartburn-inducing takeaway. I know I shouldn’t but the drunken computer in my brain doesn’t.
But I can no longer bring myself to buy a McDonald’s. To me the swollen masses that salivate down the street towards the golden arches with glazed eyes and depressed slump look frighteningly grey – a perfect match for the salty sugary diet.
They shuffle in a tight queue waiting for the food that seems to smell exactly the same – chicken nuggets, milkshake, salad, or the ‘big mac’ sharing that fragrance. My overwhelming feeling is one of sadness that, for so many, this is the height of culinary pleasure.
In truth there are probably as many calories and fat in a steak au poivre or a large steak hache, served with pomes allumettes. If eaten each day I am sure the gourmet would become a swollen man with collar digging into his gargantuan neck but at least he knows that he’s chewing on 100% beef.
McDonald’s say their burgers are 100% beef. But before you decide if this is the same as restaurant steak, look up what CAFO (concentrated agricultural feeding operation) meat is, this is a method often used by a lot of farms supplying fast food chains.
Then there are the buns. I am reasonably successful amateur baker and love to make home-made bread using yeast, salt, sugar, flour and humble old water. That appears to be too normal for McDonalds, who list these ingredients to make their ‘bun’;
Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or canola oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, wheat gluten, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide), sorbic acid, calcium propionate and/or sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.
A worryingly large list of things that I have never heard of! And as for the taste, it is no competition.
I do worry that I see so many children as I walk past a McDonald’s. My memories of food when I was young are of baking cakes with my mother and eating gargantuan Sunday roasts with my grandparents.
And OK, I hold my hands up; I loved nothing more than a take-away burger and chips on the motorway on the way to and from boarding school.
But it was always a rare event rather than a regular part of my diet. I understand that it is convenient to nip out for a few burgers and that it appears to be a cheap way to feed a lot of people. But I firmly believe a child would get more satisfaction from making a burger from mince bought from the butcher and then eating it – moreover, despite what the populous may think, is actually cheaper to make your own.
With that off my chest I think i will pop down to my local pub and have, albeit a slightly overpriced, steak with my principles intact and my heart skipping with joy (not rapidly with saturated fat from a Big Mac!)