HAMburgers = money
“I just read that your hamburgers are made with 100 per cent beef so why is it called HAMburger when ham is made with pork?” a confused consumer asks on the McDonald’s website. The story, should there be more doughnuts out there, goes like this…
Josh Ozersky writes in The Hamburger – A History, that the earliest recorded ‘proto-hamburger’ was in an English cooking book from 1763. However, the first version that resembled the real deal we know today was created in Hamburg, Germany.
It came to America with German immigrants that had passed through H-town, and could be found on New York restaurant Delmonico’s menu in 1837.
By then, the Hamburger steak had already become much more than the poor-man’s street food it began as. Listed as the most expensive dish on the menu, a hamburger steak at Delmonico’s would cost 10 cents – twice the price of their pork chops, veal cutlet and roast beef.
Did anyone see that video of the cheeseburger dissolve in hydrochloric acid that was hanging around Facebook a while back? Or the pictures of the cheeseburger that hadn’t changed appearance in 14 years?
You’ve probably seen the gonzo documentary Super Size Me, right? And heard about Jamie Oliver kicking off at McDonald’s in the US for using ammonium hydroxide to wash otherwise inedible parts of meat into burger filler (or what he calls “pink slime”)?
Most of us are fully aware McDonald’s is alleged to have many dark sides, yet the consumer giant sells about 75 burgers per second worldwide, serving one per cent of the world’s population at any one time. That’s a lot of meat. The golden arches mean big business.
“Hey McDonald’s you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side”
McDonald’s – the mothership of human greed – has now been shoveling meat into British stomachs for four decades.
The first UK Maccy D’s opened in Woolwich in 1974. Since then, they claim to have injected £40.3 billion into the UK economy. During the London Olympics, one in five of all meals sold to spectators was a McDonald’s, equivalent to 2.5 million burgers.
The company has a daily global traffic larger than the entire UK population, and if it was a country, it would have a bigger economy than some actual countries, including Latvia and Paraguay. According to Forbes, as of this year it’s the sixth most valuable company in the world.
In Spring this year around 2,000 American McDonald’s workers and activists demonstrated outside the Chicago headquarters chanting ‘Hey McDonald’s you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,’ and ‘No Big Macs, no fries, make our wage supersize.’
Many had flown in from other parts of the country to show their frustration with their diminutive salaries, which starkly contrast those of the company leaders.
A report from think-tank Demos found that in the US in 2012 the pay “of fast food CEOs was more than 1,200 times the earnings of the average fast food worker.”
Disclosures made recently by fast food companies reveal that the ratio remained above 1,000 to one in 2013; it found that fast food CEOs are some of the highest earning workers in America, while the restaurant workers are among the lowest.
It’s not only the business itself that’s capitalising on the power of the golden arches.
Designer Jeremy Scott’s first runway collection for high-end Italian fashion brand Moschino (Autumn/Winter 2014) was much inspired by the fast food chain – to colliding reviews.
The collection from the exclusive label, aptly named ‘Fast Fashion – Next Day After The Runway’, was critiqued for mocking low-wage fast-food workers who couldn’t afford the pricey label.
He told the Guardian this year, rather ambiguously: “McDonald’s is part of our everyday lives – when I design I always pull from things that are significant to me.”
In the UK, burger sales are thriving and the company is planning on opening 400 new drive-throughs over the next ten years. US sales however, are declining. It’s been claimed that American youngsters are seeking out healthier options, believe it or not.
It’s even been suggested that this is the start of a fundamental shift in our eating habits. About time too. 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women, plus a quarter of all kids are either overweight or obese in the UK. In the US, more than two thirds of adults are overweight or obese.
In 2013 a gentleman in Utah rediscovered a 14-year-old McDonald’s hamburger in a coat pocket hidden away in a cupboard. It looked like new, apart from the pickle had disintegrated.
In 2010, New York artist Sally Davies bought a Happy Meal and commenced photographing the burger and fries, which she kept on a plate on a shelf in her flat.
Her Happy Meal Project is still ongoing – the latest photograph on her web page dates October 25, 2014 and documents day 1,660. No mould has appeared; the only difference is that the fast food is apparently now ‘hard as rock’ and the bun has shrunk slightly.
“I like the Happy Meal, I keep the toys and give them to poor people”
“Preservatives are used in some of our food only when absolutely necessary, to ensure the food is safe to eat. They will be used, for example, to prevent our bread and cheese from going mouldy and our pickles from spoiling,” McDonald’s explains on their web site. Well, your preservatives didn’t make the pickle last for 14 years, but at least the bread didn’t go mouldy!
I headed down to a few local Macca’s to see what the word is.
Doreen Tansley and Avril Jordan, both 78, have been going to McDonald’s in Angel every day for 25 years. They meet here and have an ice cream and an apple pie.
Sometimes Doreen comes in for breakfast: porridge with syrup or jam, or preferably a sausage and egg McMuffin. At first she used to go to the one that opened on Holloway Road in the ’70s – that’s how long she’s had this tradition.
Why McDonald’s? “I enjoy what they do,” she replies, seemingly oblivious or disregarding the bad connotations the place holds for many.
The girls aren’t alone. The figures clearly state that the British public are still lovin’ it forty years on, and it seems many are deeply attached with fond memories.
A gentleman who wants to remain anonymous has come in to McDonald’s for a coffee after having finished his shift in a nearby hotel. “I love it here. I love the atmosphere. Nice music and lots of space. The staff are very friendly.”
“I like the Happy Meal, I keep the toys and give them to poor people,” he tells me.
He’s hoping to one day win the lottery so he can buy the painting McDonald’s used to have on the wall in their now closed Shaftesbury Avenue branch. “I always used to sit in front of that painting,” he says.
Musie Tesfamichael, 26, eats at McDonald’s about two lunches a week. He normally eats the McChicken but is trying a Big Mac for a change. “I don’t really care about McDonald’s values. Everybody that complains probably still eats here,” he says.
It seems he’s probably right. Well happy 40th McBirthday – how the fuck are you still alive?
Featured photo by James Strange via Flickr