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June 12, 2011 1:03 AM   Subscribe

The two year long saga of how McDonalds engineered the perfect cottage cheese filet for the McSpicy Paneer burger. McD has a turbulent history in India where its processes, practices and products, successfully developed over decades, have been turned upside down and redesigned, often from scratch.

Previously on MetaFilter, the story of the 'non'-vegetarian vegetarian fries which disrupted their Indian operations. Comments referencing McDs in India over the years.

More on fries and potatoes for the Indian market.

A description of their menu items for the challenging Indian market.

Catering to local tastes around the globe.
posted by infini (116 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:27 AM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I always wanted to try the various whacky regional Mcdo offerings.
posted by oxford blue at 1:33 AM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


We had a Mcfondue burger over in Switzerland- was not good.
posted by leibniz at 1:36 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bland?
posted by oxford blue at 1:38 AM on June 12, 2011


The vegetarian burger menu consists of the McAloo Tikki Burger. It is a veggie burger which includes a patty made out of potatoes, peas, and spices. It also includes tomato slices, onions, and vegetarian mayonnaise

Sounds pretty good, aloo tikki is traditional Indian street food is it not? I am not a huge fan of Paneer but I'll eat pretty much any aloo or chana dishes any day of the week.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:42 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a precious irony in not being allowed to import seeds for a crop that, when it was first introduced to India, could have only come in the form of imported seeds. The multi-year effort that their fry saga required is, whatever I think of McD's, impressive.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:57 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


One afternoon in 2003 , my husband and I were walking around Connaught Circus in Delhi in need of a toilet. We saw a McDonald's and headed for it, naturally. At the entrance, a man in a crisp uniform with white gloves opened the tall glass doors to let us inside. The place was packed. I looked at the menu and a meal was about 10x what we had been paying to eat anywhere else. We left and got aloo tikki on the street. There's something vital missing in this story, but I can't figure out how to explain that of half a year's worth of stories, that's a standout example in my memory of feeling that something was really weird.
posted by droomoord at 2:25 AM on June 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


oxford blue, the japanese teriyaki burger is way to sweet. Now you know.
posted by dabitch at 2:41 AM on June 12, 2011


Why is the UK the only country not to get a special menu. They just make it the same, but smaller an shitter than the US. Trying to say something?
posted by Not Supplied at 2:52 AM on June 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


have been turned upside down and redesigned, often from scratch

Now this is the story all about how
My burger got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute - no, make it two years
I'll tell you how a clown learned to make spicy paneer
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:56 AM on June 12, 2011 [40 favorites]


oxford blue, the japanese teriyaki burger is way to sweet. Now you know.

Actually, it's just right.
posted by armage at 3:18 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am jealous. As a vegetarian it is always a pretty limited selection when you have just enough time and energy for fast food.
posted by Defenestrator at 3:20 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


in America, that is.
posted by Defenestrator at 3:20 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.

McDonald's has a reputation for being fast, clean, predictable, and inexpensive. India has a large middle class that probably wants exactly that when they are in a hurry (going to work, grabbing food at lunchtime, etc.)
posted by pracowity at 3:40 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is the UK the only country not to get a special menu. They just make it the same, but smaller an shitter than the US.

They're a bit different. The UK burgers have more BSE.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:41 AM on June 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Their spicy chicken burger here in China is really rather good. Proper chunks of chicken, rather than the homogenous nugget meat found in the US version.

Mayor Curley - thanks to the BSE crisis in the UK, I now can't give blood in multiple countries for life due to the fact I may be a carrier of CJD.
posted by arcticseal at 3:49 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


No exotic themed menues even for a limited time in the UK? As I recall we even got the McArabia here at some point. They'll do a new thing, make ads promoting it and test it on Swedish consumers. The advertising will tie into something like the world cup, so "try the worlds sandwiches" or similar. It's a never-ending campaign. Sweden is the european test market for lots of stuff, this is probably why we get it

Oh, and in the Netherlands they have (had?) a bitterballen themed sandwich.
posted by dabitch at 4:17 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh hang on, the UK has the Bacon Quarter Pounder. We don't. We have McFeast (salad and mayo). arcticseal ... and for the same reason, ie: hamburger-eating in the UK, I was denied giving blood for a few years here. I'm cleared now.
posted by dabitch at 4:20 AM on June 12, 2011


"We ruled out crumbled filling inside the burger," says Upadhye. "Even after that, there were many options. We considered a product with two thin slices of paneer with a chutney in between. There was also the option of infusing spices into the paneer at the processing stage. But finally we figured that a spicy, breaded paneer fillet gave the right 'bite' and taste."
To me the whole thing screams B-Ark
posted by eeeeeez at 4:21 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I wouldn't give for US McDs to carry the McPaneer and the rest. Where I live, the nearest Indian is either the Amy's frozen dinners in the grocery store, or Austin, which is too far a drive to do everyday at lunch, though it is tempting. McDs selling paneer would make me start buying it again.
posted by scunning at 4:40 AM on June 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The first sentence should have read "The two year long saag-a of how McDonalds engineered the perfect cottage cheese filet for the McSpicy Paneer burger."

I'm very sorry.
posted by hnnrs at 4:44 AM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


OK, former employee here. I'll answer any questions I can.

Firstly, McDonald's is not a monolith. There are over 400 "McDonald's" corporations in the UK alone. (i.e. McDonald's UK, McEurope's UK offices, and the rest are 1-5 restaurant franchises - unlike the other quick service restaurant chains, McD's deliberately doesn't allow huge impersonal franchises to be built to try to keep management local and involved). Corporate centre in Chicago enforces standards and a "core" menu but the rest is negotiable. Most countries are pretty much the same. Some are single franchises covering the entire country (Saudi comes to mind, I think).

For the menu and the various options, it really is a case of what local management want to try. The UK hews very close to the party line - because the senior management have a track record of moving upwards into Chicago and so they don't want to try anything radical. It took 13 years for them to approve a bacon roll for the UK breakfast menu for example. Contrast that to France (where top management see their promotion prospects into *European* head office) so they feel free to add beer to the menu.

I've tried some spectacularly good burgers inside the staff restaurant - but the final products have so much taste and texture taken away by the time they're focus-grouped to death that I really can't tell the difference between the various "premium" summer specials - it's a fact of life that the majority of the public don't like flavour or texture. Simple as that.

As I understand it (being EMEA-based when I worked for McEurope and McUK), India has always been an issue as McD's is obviously a mainly beef-based restaurant. Nearly everything has been re-set and redesigned to allow customers to be happy to walk in the door. Hence the Maharaja Mac (a lamb burger I wish would be sold elsewhere - it's lovely). Other parts are identical - I could take a UK-trained colleague and drop him into an Indian restaurant and he'd be preparing food in a few seconds (even the equipment is identical).

That said, people in the rich west forget entirely what Brands (capital B) mean and why they are important. We trust that anyone can go into any restaurant and eat a safe meal where what they ask for is what they get. Eat street food in Moscow and you run a gamble - as my colleagues did when I was there last to help implement a new pricing system and the entire team was sick for a week - it's a strange thing to tell your superiors in a food company that the team is delayed because of food poisoning... :-)

The same applies in Brazil where McDonald's is considered a very premium employer because it's one of the few ways to get a real job (i.e. taxpaying and legit - and hence qualifying for benefits and legal status with the government) without knowing the right rich patrons. It really can be a case of mafia-style who-you-know to progress - but McD's insists on the same procedures in Brazil as in other countries - so merit is rewarded, not family connections. The employees even run an evening every few months where they invite their families, close the restaurant to the public and serve only their relatives (for free) just to show how privileged (and lucky) they are.

Indian McD's are packed because the locals all know and trust that they'll get exactly what the ask for. That's a huge deal. They also know they're buying into a little bit of the hollywood glitz of the USA with a "real american" burger (yes, we all know you can do much better - but in Delhi? And clean?) Despite all the millions of articles written over the years about how street food is much better - even the locals would like to ensure they don't get random bouts of intestinal distress. McD's provides that, everywhere.

There's a huge amount of bullshit and downright lies spoken about McD's but the truth is that actually they drive up standards to western levels wherever they go. They don't bribe - and that causes them to struggle in most of the third world - especially in India. This is a huge public good - especially when ex-employees leave and start their own firms (as former colleagues in Moscow did). They take the higher-than-local-standards with them and usually insist on keeping the better ideas going - that helps a huge amount for everyone involved.

Oh, and the crap about BSE - you are far more likely to have problems with BSE in every other country in the world than in the UK - you have no idea of the terror that was felt in the whole farming food chain when they realised how bad things could be. I honestly am much happier eating UK beef than US beef - because I know the facts, not the jokes.
posted by Hugh Routley at 4:44 AM on June 12, 2011 [208 favorites]


Nice comment Hugh Routley, thanks for sharing the inside 'beef'. :P The crap about not being allowed to donate blood in Sweden if you have lived in the UK during certain years, which I have, is true though. Take that up with our version of the CDC if you want to.
posted by dabitch at 5:24 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm an American with a 2nd home in Mumbai. I'll admit to having tried McDonald's, just for the novelty of the local offerings. I never eat fast food in America, let alone McDonald's.
It was still McDonald's. :)
posted by aletheia at 5:48 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good for McDonalds. A lot of Indians aspire to live a Western lifestyle and going to McDonalds helps them realize that. I wonder how an Indian themed fast-food franchise would fare in the US?
posted by Renoroc at 5:48 AM on June 12, 2011


Renoroc: "I wonder how an Indian themed fast-food franchise would fare in the US?"

Around Sydney, aside from a few good restaurants, the bulk of Indian food is available fast-food bain-marie style. So Indian fast food, as a concept, seems to be doing well enough in the West—although it's certainly not a chain but rather a general approach.

Hugh Routley: " The employees even run an evening every few months where they invite their families, close the restaurant to the public and serve only their relatives (for free) just to show how privileged (and lucky) they are."

That's awesome. I mean, the underlying socio-economic forces aren't great, but one can very easily imagine the pride on some kid's face when they serve up their parents with a Mc Carnivale or what have you.

It's strange to talk about huge companies, or family of companies, being 'good' or 'bad'. I mean, companies are the product of so different people, legal frameworks, market pressures etc. I 'm not sure if any company can accurately be called good or bad. It's just like the old curmudgeon that secretly buys little orphans presents come christmas, things are rarely black or white.
posted by oxford blue at 6:04 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why is the UK the only country not to get a special menu. They just make it the same, but smaller an shitter than the US. Trying to say something?

Quorn Supreme. My grandad hadn't set foot in McDonald's in nearly 10 years and I made him go because they were marketing something to vegetarian me. No idea if everyone would find it vegetarian in the details (preparation, etc), but, damn it, I could eat at McDonald's like a 'normal' person and I was going to. (McDonald's briefly trialled veggie burgers in Berkeley (don't know where else), but they only lasted a couple of months.)

It sounded for a minute like these articles had answered the elusive question of the vegetarian-ness of McDonald's fries in the negative, but on closer reading, nope. So precisely what "natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*" is shall remain a mystery.
posted by hoyland at 6:07 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]



The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.


Others have mentioned this as well, but in many poorer countries, US-style fast food is a premium option. There are cheaper (and to my palate, tastier) options on every street corner, but nothing that offers the entire package of the fast food chains. Clean, fast, polite, and the restaurants look just like the scenes everyone has seen in hollywood movies. So places like KFC and McD's can end up being places you go on date night, for example.

I definitely recommend checking out the fast food chains when you travel, not just the US ones but also the local competitors. In an age of globalization where I can buy packaged Indian food in my local grocery store and you can buy tacos in Paris, fast food is a window into the syncretic world we live in.
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


The other thing that struck me about the article was their note on paying the dairy farmers. Regardless of who it is doing the buying, prompt payment from a big corporation like that has to improve the situation for farmers across the board. Certainly that's a good thing.
posted by dellsolace at 6:39 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The image of people going to India, asking some locals where they go for a special meal, being taken to a McDos and then losing it ("I WANT SOMETHING AUTHENTIC!") cracks me up.
posted by oxford blue at 6:40 AM on June 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Don't forget the design, McDonald's in Sweden, Finland and the UK go all out on design. I've recoiled in horror from American McDonald's ugly stuck in the cheap 80s look. They're supposed to sleek, mate.
posted by dabitch at 6:45 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Their spicy chicken burger here in China is really rather good. Proper chunks of chicken, rather than the homogenous nugget meat found in the US version.

Actually, the McChicken and Spicy McChicken use the same mechanized chicken breast fillet separation technique used by everyone else (Wendy's etc) to create uniform whole breast fillets. It's not pieces and parts of chicken fused like the McNuggets are. It's a single piece of meat.
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on June 12, 2011


Maybe what makes it tasty is the use of dark meat, not just the breast, which I don't think is used in the US if memory serves me correctly.
posted by arcticseal at 7:04 AM on June 12, 2011


dabitch, those pictures remind me of dotcom-era corporate breakrooms, but I understand what you mean about the interiors of most American McDonald's. Though there are a few around here that still have that plastic-fantastic look (that I actually associate more with the 70s), most of the newer ones actually resemble a high-traffic Starbucks in terms of design, lots of natural materials, deeper colors, muted lighting.

I end up there far more often than I'd care to admit but $1 sausage muffin, dammit.
posted by dantsea at 7:45 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how an Indian themed fast-food franchise would fare in the US?

Not a chain, but there's a place like that in Harvard Square called Chutney's that seems to be doing well. I think it would only work where people had some familiarity with Indian food already.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:46 AM on June 12, 2011


The Bulgogi burger here in Korea is heinous (At Lotteria, the also-ran, it's just as bad). As is the Shanghai Shrimp burger. Korean teens tend to eat here quite a bit, but they communally pile their fired into a shared pile in the middle of a tray, which kind of blew my mind the first time I saw it.
posted by GilloD at 7:56 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regardless of who it is doing the buying, prompt payment from a big corporation like that has to improve the situation for farmers across the board. Certainly that's a good thing.

Yes, I liked what they're doing regarding withholding a small portion of the money each month and then matching the total to offer it as a bonus during the festival season. A windfall like that is very useful to the farmers.
posted by infini at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whenever my siblings and I go back to Singapore, my parents ask us what we want to eat so they can work out an eating hit list. My sister and I always ask for local favourites: chicken rice, laksa, mee rebus, roti pratha, etc. My brother, however, asks for one thing only: the Burger King beef rendang burger, available only in Singapore and Malaysia, and consisting of two halal beef patties covered with a curry coconut sauce. It's sort of funny how for my brother, a Burger King burger tastes the most like home.
posted by superquail at 9:02 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The true test of good fries for me is how edible after they've gone cold. McDonald's are nearly inedible after they've gone cold. But piping hot with loads of salt, not bad!
posted by rmmcclay at 9:13 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am actually in India right now with my family. We have been to McDonald's here. One reason why Westerners in India go to McDonald's is that they know the food is safe. The big problem here in Bangalore is being able to trust any kind of food that is not cooked but has been touched by water. We know that if we see a McDonald's that we know all of the food will not make us sick. Also, as the article points out, very few of the foods taste the same. I like the Maharaja Mac, and our kids say that the chicken nuggets taste exactly the same, as does the ice cream.
posted by bove at 9:28 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most interesting. Particularly the insider info from Hugh Routley (thank you!). I still despise American McDonalds, but it seems overseas is really a different beast. The link with the different fare around the globe is pretty neat. And wow, that McLobster thing on a cheap hotdog bun is unfortunate.
posted by Glinn at 9:55 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how an Indian themed fast-food franchise would fare in the US?

Well, if Watchmen was any indication, it'll get wiped off the map by a giant exploding squid, and be subsequently replaced by Burgers 'n' Borscht.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Uhm, I am not quite sure that McDonalds isn't affected by food poisoning instances; anecdotal evidence can be found on the net with a simple google search for mcdonalds food poisoning. Yet I have no axe to grind against McD or any other company, it's just that I don't trust universal, PR-friendly mythological associations/equations such as McD=poison free food; that is, it's not by magic that McD reduces the instances of food poisoning, but probably by strict enforcement of procedures; it would be interesting to see if there is any loophole in these that could give a nice, even if somehow risky, extra profit for some franchisee.
posted by elpapacito at 9:57 AM on June 12, 2011


"any loophole in these that could give a nice, even if somehow risky, extra profit for some franchisee.pot CD-buying habit, I worked for a McDonald's run by a franchisee who wasn't so big on following cleaning standards, predictable low health inspection scores ensued. Corporate took the store back, operated it for about a month and brought standards up, then assigned it to a new franchisee.
posted by dantsea at 10:07 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh dear. So much for my HTML formatting.

Let me try again: McDonald's operators are franchisees leasing turnkey operations from the corporation. When I worked at one in the 80s, I saw the operation suffer w/low health and performance scores and the company had no problem terminating that agreement, taking over the store to make it better, then assigning it to a new franchisee about a month later.

So, there's really a lot of incentive to follow the procedures, because if not, corporate will take away your magical money-making machine and give it to someone else.
posted by dantsea at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I want to know how the words "pot CD-buying habit" crept into your first comment. That's a missed edit in search of a good explanation. :)
posted by hippybear at 10:14 AM on June 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


McDonalds always have clean loos in places where those are at a premium. That's one good reason to go to go to them. Plus it's interesting to see what other cultures want from a McDonalds or any large chain you're familiar with.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:22 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to know how the words "pot CD-buying habit" crept into your first comment. That's a missed edit in search of a good explanation. :)

Oh dear. So much for my HTML formatting.


'fess up, we wanna know
posted by infini at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Uhm, I am not quite sure that McDonalds isn't affected by food poisoning instances; anecdotal evidence can be found on the net with a simple google search for mcdonalds food poisoning.

People are notoriously bad at figuring out where their food poisoning came from. They tend to blame the last thing they ate, when it's much more likely they got sick from something the day before or earlier in the week. It's rare for food poisoning to kick in less than 4 hours after you've eaten contaminated food, the most common types take 8-48 hours to make you sick. In fact, the first two google hits for "mcdonalds food poisoning" are exactly the situation I describe, I wouldn't blame McDonalds for making people sick based on random people complaining on the web.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heh! It was "Back in the 80s, when suburban teens were still expected to get part time jobs to support their pot CD-buying habits..."
posted by dantsea at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2011


Heh! It was "Back in the 80s, when suburban teens were still expected to get part time jobs to support their pot CD-buying habits..."

*yawn* Next time take the opportunity to make something up!
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


McDonalds beef has been the butt of jokes for so long they have gone to the opposite extreme. I'd trust it as much or more than local grocery store beef. I don't trust McDonalds bread (buns), that's where all the crazy chemicals are hidden. So I just strip out the beef and cut it up into a 99 cent side salad with ketchup, very good and fairly healthy for a cheap quick meal.
posted by stbalbach at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Taste of India, Kati Roll, Fire n Ice are all Indian fast food chains in NJ/NY. I don't think any are franchised though, because e.g. A Taste of India in the Jersey City mall is way better than A Taste of India in Penn Plaza.
posted by subdee at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2011


I don't trust McDonalds bread (buns), that's where all the crazy chemicals are hidden.

Actually, McD's buns are all made by local bakeries and delivered very frequently and fresh to the stores. They aren't created in a huge central factory and distributed nationwide. That's why the buns are generally the one thing which you'll find may vary a bit from region to region (although there is a lot of standardization which goes on, of course).

This of course doesn't have anything to say about what the ingredients are.

Here's a .pdf which lists all the ingredients of everything McDs makes.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


If that's The Kati Roll Company near Bleecker then its not only superb (though not as good as the guys on the streets of Calcutta) but reasonably priced for its stuffing. But apparently they're Bangladeshi hence the beef version. Is it a chain?
posted by infini at 11:16 AM on June 12, 2011


And off the topic a tiny bit--the C. H. James Produce company was/is one of many produce suppliers for McDonalds and other fast food companies. C. H. James & Co. was started by the sons of a freeman of color after the Civil War in West Virginia--they peddled vegetables door-to-door.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:23 AM on June 12, 2011


I had a McCrabcake on the eastern shore of Maryland. It wasn't as awful as it could be, considering it was a fried ball of minced cat food.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:28 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is the UK the only country not to get a special menu. They just make it the same, but smaller an shitter than the US. Trying to say something?

You're thinking of canada, not the uk. You at least get a few special items, whereas we get a subset of the US menu.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:32 AM on June 12, 2011


Yeah, but Canada still has the chicken fajitas, which have been listed as one of McD's failed products. They're cheap and edible, but nothing special.
posted by maudlin at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2011


Maybe not a chain, but there's a Kati Roll in New Brunswick (New Jersey), too.
posted by subdee at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2011


(The one in New Brunswick isn't as good.)
posted by subdee at 11:47 AM on June 12, 2011


The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.

My mom recently visited some family in Pak/Ind.

She was telling me how some people (of course they were from the lower socio-economic strata) see it as "rich, expensive, HEALTHY" food. They spend a good portion of their money on McDonald's because its like Nestle and infant formula all over again.

Fuck you, McDonalds.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:51 AM on June 12, 2011


McDonalds beef has been the butt of jokes for so long they have gone to the opposite extreme. I'd trust it as much or more than local grocery store beef. I don't trust McDonalds bread (buns), that's where all the crazy chemicals are hidden. So I just strip out the beef and cut it up into a 99 cent side salad with ketchup, very good and fairly healthy for a cheap quick meal.

Its not cheap if it takes off days of your life.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:52 AM on June 12, 2011


Its not cheap if it takes off days of your life.

Well yeh, it will save you paying for the retirement home for a few days.
posted by Not Supplied at 11:55 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(But generally Indian is better in Central NJ than in NYC, I think.)
posted by subdee at 12:01 PM on June 12, 2011


> The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.

See also: Paris.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2011


dabitch, the "bitterballen sandwich" that you mention, is the "McKroket" that I think was mentioned in the last link of the post (which is currently down?).
posted by Ms. Next at 2:23 PM on June 12, 2011


Actually, McD's buns are all made by local bakeries

Did you look at the ingredients for the buns in the PDF? It has things like "Dough conditioners" made up of sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour. Plus many other unpronounceables. That's not bread. It's not even Wonder Bread. Looks like my shampoo bottle.

Its not cheap if it takes off days of your life.

Like I said, it's the stigma of McDonalds, not the reality of the red meat they use, which is good quality (except for the Angus Burger which is a Frankenstein of chemicals).
posted by stbalbach at 2:30 PM on June 12, 2011


In the ingredients for "Bakery Style bun" (gotta love the "style" qualifier ie. not actually from a Bakery?), it has "natural flavor (botanical source)" - that's what's been theorized to be the addiction chemical, the secret chemical McDonalds adds to food to make you crave it. Granted this is sorta in the realm of conspiracy tin hat, but why does bread need a "flavor" chemical, other than to impact a consistent McDonalds taste no matter where its eaten.
posted by stbalbach at 2:44 PM on June 12, 2011


(McDonald's briefly trialled veggie burgers in Berkeley (don't know where else), but they only lasted a couple of months.)

They were all over California during the trial run or whatever. I had a few from different locations. Partly out of curiosity and partly because I wanted to support that option as an ongoing product. Partially because I have a lot of veggie and vegan friends, and partially because it would be cool if mainstream USA realized you could have tasty, filling vegetarian food and it wasn't weird, hippy, snooty or expensive.

Iit was a pretty massive failure taste wise. Which is puzzling because it's really not that hard to do a veggie patty and if any chain could pull off a veggie patty, it would probably be McDonald's. Numerous brands exist already that are tasty that they could have looked to for inspiration - or simply bought outright. But no, they didn't.

I don't know if it was the patty itself or the lack of grease, fat and salt obscuring the actual taste of the buns and "veggies" - but the entire sandwich tasted like warm plastic. Bitter and acrid, chemical tasting with a weird rubbery mouth feel. Every bite was slightly alarming in how plastic and artificial it tasted.
posted by loquacious at 2:47 PM on June 12, 2011


I don't know if it was the patty itself or the lack of grease, fat and salt obscuring the actual taste of the buns and "veggies" - but the entire sandwich tasted like warm plastic. Bitter and acrid, chemical tasting with a weird rubbery mouth feel. Every bite was slightly alarming in how plastic and artificial it tasted.

You say that like it wasn't by design? I've often thought of the McD's veggie burger in the same mind as what I use to think of the EV-1 car marketing campaign.
posted by hippybear at 2:55 PM on June 12, 2011


unlike the other quick service restaurant chains, McD's deliberately doesn't allow huge impersonal franchises to be built to try to keep management local and involved

That's the stated reason. The actual reason is that if you keep your franchises decentralized, one or two big stakeholders can't start throwing their weight around and insist on changes in business policy or supply policy that threaten the corporation's revenue.

More succinctly, McDonald's can tell a five location franchisee "fuck off if you don't like it" and go back to counting money without ever thinking of it again. Much harder to do to someone providing revenue from 100 stores, especially if they get some of their equally-large friends in on it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


My objection to McDonald's has never really been the food, although that's never been a great attractor. It's the plain ubiquity of the stores. To stand looking at ancient Roman ruins in Italy on my first ever trip overseas, only to turn around and find a McDonald's behind me is something I'll never forget. The jolt faintly reminded me of a horror movie. Sounds like hyperbole doesn't it? It's true though.

That McDonald's epitomises the stereotypical US multinational's (often very aggressive) push to expand into every available corner of the globe is, I think, the real reason the brand is often disparaged.

FIGHT UBIQUITY - it could be a new slogan.
posted by deadwax at 3:23 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Iit was a pretty massive failure taste wise. Which is puzzling because it's really not that hard to do a veggie patty and if any chain could pull off a veggie patty, it would probably be McDonald's. Numerous brands exist already that are tasty that they could have looked to for inspiration - or simply bought outright. But no, they didn't.

Huh. Weird. Burger King has had veggie burgers for awhile--Morningstar Farms burgers, specifically. They're pretty good, and the nice dollop of mayo they put on them satisfies the grease craving in a pinch.

I really love posts like these, incidentally. Regional fast food items really fascinate me, in this weird sort of way. It's one of those things I can stay up all night reading (that, and, like, the history of different commercial doll lines. I have no idea why I love both of these things as much as I do, but there you go).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:18 PM on June 12, 2011


For several years, I worked in an independent cinema in London that's situated right across the road from the large building that houses the McDonald's UK headquarters. When we played Supersize Me, the manager made an offer to the McDonald's employees: anyone with a McD's ID badge could come and see the film for free. There were no takers.
posted by Magnakai at 4:19 PM on June 12, 2011


I don't understand why people don't understand why folks in India are interested in McDonalds. I understand that extraordinary food is cheap and plentiful in India, but that doesn't change the fact that McDs is an inherently attractive concept to vast numbers of humans. It isn't just the food. It's the manufactured environment and the queue system and the air conditioning and the branded everything from trays to napkins.

I assume it's the same reason I like to walk every aisle at my biggest local grocery store when I'm upset, or wander through a WalMart when I'm in the US, or why millions of people like to walk malls or go to Disney. It's clean, it feels safe, it's soothing, and the artificial nature means it's different than the outside world in a way that's attractive.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is the UK the only country not to get a special menu.

The UK definitely has local menu items and limited time specials. One I distinctively remember is the "McChicken Korma Naan", which has a brilliant local cinema theme for the TV ad.
posted by rh at 5:32 PM on June 12, 2011


McDonald's in Sweden, Finland and the UK go all out on design.

Their Budapest locations aren't too shabby neither.
posted by Challahtronix at 6:00 PM on June 12, 2011


The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.

Because sometimes, after you've been in India a while but not really long enough to feel at home there, when you've been there long enough to stop feeling assaulted by the strong smells (good and bad) every time you walk outside but not long enough to stop noticing them, when you're kind of tired for haggling over most purchases and mispronouncing things and being hemmed in by sweaty people all around you, and when you just want a moment--just one!--when almost everything will feel familiar and where you know which things you can tune out safely, that's when you go to McDonald's in India. Or a KFC, which is easier to find, but either will do in that moment. Yes, as odd as it may seem, you long for that manufactured environment DarlingBri mentions above, a manufactured environment where familiarity lets your mind and your attention have a rest from all the sensory stimulation you've experienced in the country.
posted by BlooPen at 6:17 PM on June 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not one for McDonald's food (sausage biscuits aside), but my friend's description of the Japanese shrimp burger, involving a patty of whole small shrimp battered and fried, has me trying to duplicate the recipe.
posted by happyroach at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2011


DarlingBri - I don't understand why people don't understand why folks in India are interested in McDonalds

It's no so much McDonalds as a restaurant but moreso as culture. Flippantly, the top 2 USA exports are weapons and culture (hollywood, celebrities, to a lesser extent sports - all part of "The Way of Life in America" brand).

A very very weak analogy might be "French Restaurants" in smaller-town USA. Saying that you went to a "French Restaurant" implies that you experiences some exotic well-though-upon cuisine.

Regardless of whether that restaurant was any good is like saying you went to a Chinese Seafood restaurant. There's the spectrum between Chinese & Canadian/American restaurants to Michelin rated Seafood restaurants (there are actually, surprisingly, very few).

Anyway, you might have to change your POV and see McDonalds as a well-thought-of foreign experience by the not super-well informed.
posted by porpoise at 8:26 PM on June 12, 2011


The idea that anyone could be in India and choose to eat at McDonalds still blows my mind.

My take on this is that most of the McDonalds in India are situated in malls and it remains the cheapest option for a table in an air-conditioned environment. I could spend only 50 cents on a burger and ice cream and spend around an hour there. Even a coffee in other places costs a minimum of $1-1.2 . So which is why tonnes of teens and families go to McDonalds. BTW the new Paneer burger is way too expensive $2 and overrated.

But all cuisines in India are always adapted to local tastes. Our term for Chinese food - is"Indian Chinese" which is a more spicier gravy version of the original. I have seen Indian people surprised when they visit China and find out that the real Chinese food is nothing like what you get back home. Next time you are in India try the "Indian Chinese" food and see how that tastes like

Even in Europe, what passes off as Indian food is more suited to the local tastes. I used to struggle finding authentic restaurants when on job in Europe.
posted by manny_calavera at 8:31 PM on June 12, 2011


happyroach - if you haven't had any luck yet, one "secret" to deep frying loosely bound agglomerates is to shape, freeze, batter, freeze, fry.

I have no idea why it won't explode - very controlled temperatures?

If I was to try, I'd do a egg/corn starch binder with the cocktail shrimp (although I'd use something better than cocktail shrimp; stir-polymerized shrimp paste would probably have better texture and flavour), form patties. Freeze on wax/parchment on a foil pan.

Coat pucks in egg and press into panko (surprisingly big difference between breadcrumbs which include the crusts) Optionally, re-egg and re-crumb. Re-freeze.

Fry half-thawed (?) discs and deep fat fry?
posted by porpoise at 8:32 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Purpoise, those are some good suggestions! I am planning to use whole shrimp, because my friend said that a big part of the texture was whole shrimp. But I am thinking of making the burgers from a 50-50 whole shrimp/ground shrimp mixture. With egg as a binder of course, and maybe even some panko as well, since I already use it in hamburgers and meat loaf. Then after partially freezing, do an egg-tempura batter-panko coating, then deep fry.

Wow. Reading the above is sending alert signals from my arteries. But I must try it anyway. Because it's there.
posted by happyroach at 8:59 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


That McDonald's epitomises the stereotypical US multinational's (often very aggressive) push to expand into every available corner of the globe is, I think, the real reason the brand is often disparaged.

WalMart in Africa
posted by infini at 10:24 PM on June 12, 2011


I don't really eat fastfood. I'm not sure when the last time i had McDonald's was. I think maybe back 20 years ago, when I was on a student exchange in Germany, when the idea of a high schooler being able to buy beer at a McDonalds was mindblowing.

I'm fascinated though, by all the varieties of things they seem to cycle through. It really is amazing.
posted by madajb at 10:44 PM on June 12, 2011


Magnakai:

I worked in the East Finchley office at that time. Weird. :-) We never heard of that offer. I'd have gone, I'm always up for a laugh. I guess we just didn't go to the Phoenix that often enough to hear about it.

The thing is though, there was nothing new in that film. Somehow it's a revelation that if you eat nothing but burger and chips you get fat and constipated? Wow, I never knew that. People of a certain political persuasion treated that as some sort of divine revelation. They are the same people who now pretend that buying food from the farmer's market and being "locavores" somehow makes them better people. Of course it's the most carbon intensive way to feed yourself, but don't worry about facts when you are pretending to be more holy than poor people.

Whatshisface who made the film, he used the biggest brand in the food business to make a point and earn a lot of money. Kind of like anyone who says Coke is flavoured sugar-water. There's another revelation - excuse me while I go open a can... :-)

There are always people who want to use big brands or movements to make their own way. I'm guessing there were plenty of Victorian writers who would denigrate these new-fangled shops that could obtain food for you from anywhere in the world - and you didn't even need to be a member of the gentry!
posted by Hugh Routley at 2:16 AM on June 13, 2011


Dabitch:

You are absolutely right. The fucked-up mess that was BSE could have cause unbelievable suffering. As a species we got very very lucky. Turns out our digestive systems are much more robust than people thought.

When the transmission vector was finally determined, some of the public health people came to talk to us about what could happen. The early guesses ranged into the *millions* of people with nvCJD - imagine turning the whole country into a nursing home for people dying of the shakes over the next few decades. Even now, no-one is sure about the transmissibility (sp?) of the prion between people (hence the sensible precaution not to allow blood donors out of the UK - juuuust in case). I understand that people believe it's not transmissible without eating central nervous system tissue (the problem in the first place) so it should go away with *only* a few hundred dead across the next two or three decades.

That's why I am very happy to eat UK beef. The regulatory authorities scared themselves beyond their capacity to forget. They nearly killed *themselves*. It was their fault too - no one expects the abbatoirs to have health R&D departments - but the ministry does. They set the rules about cleanliness, about allowing CNS material into the foodchain (by feeding it back to ruminants) and they then didn't think there was much risk.

They fucked up and several hundred people paid the price. That's why abbatoirs are totally different places now. UK beef is very very clean. Because the inspectors eat the results.
posted by Hugh Routley at 2:34 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mayor Curley:

You've obviously never been to a franchisee meeting! 400 people representing their own businesses and livelihoods versus maybe five or ten people representing head office? You think they don't have their say?

Try asking PAN (the French till manufacturer). Millions of Euros of development money thrown down the drain developing a new specialised till/accounting/stock management product for the restaurant. It was really good - easier maintenance, lower training time and all kinds of good stuff. Sadly the cost model wasn't easy to judge and frankly it was a bit more expensive up-front. The franchisees voted with their credit cards and that was that. Panasonic 935s are the hardware of choice to this day - even in company owned stores.

Large franchisee groups are much simpler to work with when you are a big company - it's a huge opportunity cost to have to negotiate with tiny franchisees (who often simply don't want to see the big picture - e.g. consistent opening times for breakfast - raised overall takings by an amazing 11% when everyone agreed to open at the same time across the UK). There's no conspiracy here - it genuinely raises takings when you have a local owner/manager, rather than a separate head office who are trying to cut costs by eliminating vital staff at peak earning times - the local guy can *see* they are short and are missing sales. McDonald's franchise agreement takes a percentage of sales - the more the franchisee makes - the more the corporation makes.
posted by Hugh Routley at 2:43 AM on June 13, 2011


Of course it's the most carbon intensive way to feed yourself

Citation needed.
posted by deadwax at 3:49 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


deadwax:

Simple mass production using optimal natural inputs. Transport is a less carbon intensive (even in fume spewing container ships) option than heating.

So the comparison is:
Tesco value tomato, served at my local supermarket. Grown in Spain in fields. Inputs are the minimum amount of fertiliser and pesticide etc. Water input is managed to maximise yield, none wasted. Shipped in bulk - so uses fuel to the UK supermarket hub. The rest of the way is assumed to be an identical distance to the farmer's market.

Farmer's market tomato. Grown in a huge, maximally efficient UK greenhouse (e.g. North Kent) with artificial light and heat. Inputs otherwise are the same as Spain - max efficiency assumed - smaller greenhouses would be less effective. Shipped in the back of the farmer's Range Rover to the local market.

I'm assuming my journey is the same from home to market as home to supermarket.

Durham university did the comparison work to begin with. Sadly the research seems to have been dropped from their website so only the google archive is available. Anyone know how I can find "Riverford (2009)" here: Google Link

So:

1 kilo of UK tomatoes is 2-3 kilos of carbon to heat the greenhouse + fuel for the Range Rover. Heating a greenhouse is intensive.
1 kilo of Spanish tomatoes is 240g of carbon for the truck to transport 1000 miles to my supermarket.
(all other inputs remaining identical)

I'm sorry - I can't find the original links and calculations that show the derivation of the "240g".

This is a huge difference - the sun is a huge energy input so assuming you can do the same in northern climates without consuming huge amounts of energy is sheer folly.

I have also seen the same thing done between Welsh Lamb and New Zealand Lamb - transporting the lamb across the entire planet is less carbon intensive than heating the barn through the winter for the Welsh lamb.

This isn't obvious until you realise just how much energy is consumed by heating and how much modern western farming uses energy to boost yields - our collective memory of farming is totally unlike the modern reality. We don't allow "product" to die of cold on the Welsh mountainside anymore.

"Locavore" advocates depend on a complete ignorance of how farming is *now* to convince you that farms are more carbon efficient in the cold, wet climate you live in, rather than grown in an optimal place (from a natural inputs perspective) and shipped to your area. "Food miles" are bullshit.

If you live in Spain - eat local. If you live in the UK, either don't eat anything other than Jerusalem artichoke and potatoes (and live to 48 like your ancestors)- or eat Spanish tomatoes, not UK ones. They're much much greener.
posted by Hugh Routley at 4:24 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Found another link (probably a re-hashing of the same article I've just found):

www.neutralworld.org
posted by Hugh Routley at 4:37 AM on June 13, 2011


Some of my tomatoes are in my backyard, in a raised bed along with my cucumbers, sweet peppers, squash, carrots, and broccoli.

The rest of my tomatoes are in the fields of the local farmer who is my Community Supported Agriculture hookup. I won't get fresh tomatoes until July-ish, because that's when they are ripe in Northern Virginia in the United States. Eating local isn't just eating food grown close to you -- it's about eating seasonally too. The strawberry season is short, so revel in it while it's here instead of importing tasteless woody huge berries in February.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever be importing food from other states or nations. I love avocados, and they just don't grow where I live. So, my only choice is to buy imported ones, and that's cool. But we do need to get away from the idea that everything is always available all the time. As well, tomatoes that have been bred for shape, colour, size, and resistance to travel damage just don't taste good. I spent most of my life thinking that I didn't like tomatoes. Then I ate a sun-warmed backyard tomato that had just been pulled, perfectly ripe, off the vine, cut into chunks, and lightly sprinkled with salt. I actually love tomatoes, but I still can't stand the mealy, tasteless ones from the grocery store.

If you live in the UK, either don't eat anything other than Jerusalem artichoke and potatoes (and live to 48 like your ancestors)

If you remove the 'died before the age of two' from the life expectancy totals, you'll find that our ancestors lived into their sixties, like many modern humans do. There are many, many wonderful vegetables that are happy to grow in the UK -- off the top of my head, I can think of cucumbers, parsnips, swedes (which I can't even find here in the US!), turnips, kale, and a lot of different squashes.

To steal a line from Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, imported vegetables and fruits are a sometimes food!
posted by Concolora at 5:40 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand only eating fresh tomatoes in the summer, but do you also only eat pizza in the late summer? Pasta sauce? Chili? (Yes, it is certainly possible to can a year's supply of tomatoes each summer, but vanishingly few people do so, and I doubt your local tomato production is enough to can a year's supply of tomatoes for everyone in the area.)

I'm all for eating local, but I'm not going to pretend that it's a viable option for most people (because of cost and convenience), nor that it is necessarily better environmentally. I live in an agricultural area that is very well suited for some crops (eg apples, wheat, and grass-fed beef), but very poorly suited for others. I could eat local all year, but at significant financial cost, and with a clear tradeoff between variety and environmental impact.
posted by Forktine at 6:02 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Concolora, you make two points I'd like to address:

The UK struggled to feed ourselves during the second world war. We were genuinely starving as a nation, just read a schoolchild's history book on what you would have been allowed during rationing. It reads like the ingredients for one meal, and that was a week's allowance. There were 30 million Brits then, using every spare strip of land that could be farmed... Now there are 60 and heading towards 70.

We are still able to be reasonably self-sufficient (a long-term national priority) because we put huge amounts of energy into growing food. We don't all eat bread and potatoes all year round because we sell a lot abroad, and we buy a lot in.

Who do you propose we exterminate so we can enjoy local and seasonal vegetables grown in Community Supported Agriculture - or do we set up 95% of the population to become serfs again? Or do we put huge amounts of energy into our farming to produce food. That's what we do in the west - we pump huge amounts of energy in to produce a wide variety of foodstuffs.

It's lovely to eat premium food selected to be wonderfully tasty and seasonal because you put thousands of calories of energy into growing a small amount locally. That doesn't feed the masses (or, let's be honest, provide the majority of the calories you consume).

The fact is that if we are to feed 500-odd million people in the EU over the next century we have to have huge farms, not gardens. If we don't put huge amounts of energy in, we can't get enough out.

The summary of the question from above - is do you want to waste more energy (and by proxy carbon into the atmosphere) than you absolutely have to? Especially through the fantasy that it is somehow better? Tastier, maybe. A wonderful hobby, yes. A more premium, luxury option, Yes! More environmentally friendly - DEFINITELY NOT.

Mass produced food in the most efficient way possible is the way to feed the huge numbers of people using the least energy inputs we can. Any other way is simply fantastic. If you are set-up to produce strawberries you don't leave the land fallow for 90% of the year - you work it efficiently because there's simply not enough spare land to do otherwise. I'm ALSO saying you also do it in a warm and sunny place to reduce the energy demands - the transport energy consumption is less than the cost of heating or supporting plants in northern climates.

Gardening is fun. Eating local is fun. Eating local is not environmentally friendly. The UK has a great climate for potatoes, not strawberries. So let's sell potatoes to the Spanish and trade them for strawberries? That's truly environmentally friendly.




As to the average expectancy of 48, I'm not removing the dead-before-two life expectancy. Simply getting enough calories without energy inputs drastically exceeding outputs kills you through backbreaking labour. It literally wears your bones down - see the History of Celtic Britain documentary (I think you can see it on Youtube). Remember, we get huge inputs through fertiliser and pesticides, and the power tools we use to farm, never mind the greenhouses, weather covers, plastic sheeting and suchlike we use in modern agriculture. Ask your average Albanians. Ask most Africans. Watch the demographics of Russians living outside Moscow. You don't live long because you are literally worked to death in the fields. There are plenty of people who live into their sixties - because it's an *average*. There are also plenty of peasants who make it into their forties as grandparents and then don't make it through the next failed harvest.

Compare that to my grandmother who is 91 and still fairly hale and hearty. One harsh winter without heating, or low calorie input and she's dead. Simple as that. That would have happened decades ago without mass-produced food and huge energy inputs to her life.
posted by Hugh Routley at 6:19 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Compare that to my grandmother who is 91 and still fairly hale and hearty.

Mine, too, at 96. Cheers to our grandmothers!

She also doesn't have Type II Diabetes. I doubt she's ever eaten at McDonald's.

But, of course, we're just telling nice stories about our grandmothers, not trying to make any broader points.
posted by gurple at 10:12 AM on June 13, 2011


Gurple - nice trolling there.
posted by Hugh Routley at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2011


Gurple - nice trolling there.

Well, then I suppose you're feeding me. That's what you do, isn't it? Or what you did? Feed people?

I was trolling, in a sense. I was also raising a set of issues you've been ignoring conveniently. Feel free to continue to ignore them, that's fine. Health and quality of life can be considered off-topic, I suppose.

You're probably more knowledgeable about the economics and energy issues related to large-scale food production and transportation than I am. Goodness, I hope you are. But you seem to be willfully ignoring important points. Health impacts of a poor diet have economic and energy costs, too, and those costs are getting bigger. Poor diets in the developed world are driving down life expectancies, too.

Leaving that aside, you make broad claims about the energy efficiency of factory farms, but you do at least admit that "we get huge inputs through fertiliser and pesticides". How long is that sustainable at current levels? Where do fertiliser and pesticides come from, Hugh? Are you internalizing those environmental and economic costs when you make your comparison? What if oil were $200/barrel?
posted by gurple at 10:23 AM on June 13, 2011


(FWIW, though, I think greenhouse tomatoes are a lousy way for anyone but a hobbyist to eat, too).
posted by gurple at 10:27 AM on June 13, 2011


Gurple - I refer you back to my comment above about the choices we have.

During and after the "green revolution" of the fifties, sixties and seventies where agronomists worked out how to raise yields, the population in the west has continued to rise. The populations in developing countries have also risen because they get the advantages of intensive agriculture even more than we do. For them, a 10% cut in food prices is visible - for me, it's something that adds a fraction of a percent to my household bills.

We now have a choice:

A) Continue to put huge amounts of energy into our food supply to continue to produce enough.

OR

B) Die back. In the billions.

Unlike you, I'm not joking, or maybe you are just being ill-informed. Whether it's oil or coal or nuclear or something else, we have to continue to put energy in to get the results out. Farms are the most energy efficient way to produce food. Larger, more intensive farms are more efficient at producing huge amounts of food. You can pretend otherwise but it is a fact. Otherwise, why would farms get bigger and bigger? Why would the EU's subsidy structure spend so much money to try to keep people on the land if that was the direction that already saved money (with money as a proxy for costs which is as a proxy for energy inputs)? Why do you think only 3 in 100 people work on the land in the UK - it used to be 99 out of 100 as recently as 1700 (just before the revolution in farming begun at the same time as the industrial revolution).

The more equipment sharing, advanced planning and management, across a larger and larger unit, the less energy used per unit of output - in other words, the more efficient. Larger and more carefully managed farms genuinely are more environmentally efficient.

Didn't you realise that's why farms get bigger?

You can play your sarcasm and your little digs and insinuations. But you've not posited an alternative, just done the usual modern, ignorant, pious "oh, mass produced food is bad for you" - which is, of course, against ALL the evidence.

Look at average heights as a proxy for developmental nutrition. Don't you realise that old people are short because of their childhood nutrition? Or didn't you think about it? Have you ever walked around a house built in the sixteenth century? Notice how the ceiling is about five feet off the ground? Was that because all the people had grown to their natural heights? Or perhaps because they were stunted, they simply didn't need high ceilings, do you think?

So, what alternative do you have? Go back from 60 to 30 million in the UK at the start of the 20th century? Or perhaps back to 1 million, a far more naturally sustainable figure, as we were in 800BC at the beginning of the Iron Age? Or perhaps down to around 30,000? That's really our natural number - because that's how many people can live here as hunter gatherers.

Or perhaps you don't have an alternative because you simply don't know what the hell you are talking about. But you have an opinion about it of course.


As to your other point? Where did we talk about a poor diet? Do you realise just how diverse and wonderful our available diet is nowadays? If people as large groups choose not to eat well then that's a cultural, educational and societal problem. Actually, it's more than that - it's a problem from being a human with our evolutionary history. It is not a problem of the size of farms and the amount of energy and carbon it takes to grow tomatoes.

God knows I watch the chavs in my extended family get fatter and more unhealthy year by year - but they shop in the exact same supermarkets I do. They buy the deep fried food in the freezers at the back and I buy the fresh vegetables right by the front door - and they often pay more for their weekly shop than I do too (because turkey twizzlers are not cheap).

Large groups of the population choose not to eat healthily because of our evolutionary heritage (fat and burned sugar taste good! Instant calories = survival when you are starving!) - and that's a problem we cannot solve by simply pretending to be more pious than others.

That said - I also enjoy the odd burger and fries. Because I'm a human and they taste good. Funny that.

So - Gurple - go and think about your fantasies. You clearly haven't done before now.
posted by Hugh Routley at 11:13 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and one final thing:

For Brits - oil is ALREADY effectively $200 a barrel. With the 85% taxes on our fuel we already pay about £8.50 a US gallon (give or take a few cents).

That only makes my case even stronger - the higher the energy costs the stronger case for being efficient. And that means large, efficient farms to keep the billions of humans on Earth alive.
posted by Hugh Routley at 11:16 AM on June 13, 2011


Hugh Routley: That only makes my case even stronger

But not, comrade, any shorter. Walkies?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:21 AM on June 13, 2011


I think what you and I are doing, Hugh, is trying to blast big chunks of our worldviews by each other. To really have a decent argument we'd need a different forum. To your credit, you're trying harder than I am (though I will note that you're the one who started insulting me, not vice versa), but the downside is that your screeds are three times as long; this just really isn't the right medium.

I will blast a few more chunks of my worldview at you, though, that seem relevant to the points you just made:

-If people as large groups choose not to eat well then that's a cultural, educational and societal problem. One that McDonald's (biggest name, biggest target, proxy for an industry, whatever -- McDonald's) has gone a long way to make worse, in my opinion. You say above that (paraphrase) people prefer bland food. That's not true. What's true is that large numbers of people can't agree on any single thing but bland food. And standardization on the level of a McDonald's is intrinsically bad if it standardizes an entire region's palate on unhealthy objects. Which it has done. I really believe that it's not necessary for people's tastes in the US and UK to have standardized on food that's quite as unhealthy as that.

-Tomatoes keep coming up. One of the tragedies of McDonald's (biggest name, etc.) is that they make it seem natural for everyone to eat fresh tomatoes (etc.,) year round. The alternative to eating imported tomatoes in January isn't to grow them in greenhouses; it's to eat them in August (where I'm from; YMMV).

-I don't actually disagree with you that we need large farms. You're assuming things about what I believe, and that's understandable, but in this case it's wrong. I think farms should be more diverse, and use fewer oil-based pesticides and fertilizers, and that where possible manure should be kept local and reused in the growth of plants. I believe in this kind of farm, among others. But mainly I believe in more crop diversity; corn is killing us in so many ways.

And I also believe than I'm getting long-winded, too. So I'll leave it there. Look, I didn't insult you once! See if you can try for that, it'll be like a little challenge.
posted by gurple at 11:32 AM on June 13, 2011


I'll fess up. I ate at a McDonald's in Paris. IIRC, it was close to Place de la Bastille. I'd been walking all day, it was after 9 pm and I was starving. Maybe I was Doing It Wrong, but it seemed impossible to find somewhere to eat that wasn't a relatively expensive sit-down place. So I ended up at McD's, knowing exactly what I'd get and about what it would cost. I forget what I had, but it wasn't anything local.

The part that was memorable was that someone asked to sit down across from me. I don't recall this ever happening in the US - if there are no available tables, people just wait for one to open up. The person didn't make any conversation, for which I was grateful since my aural comprehension of French isn't that great.
posted by desjardins at 11:41 AM on June 13, 2011


OK, no insults (apart from the snide digs you put in your first and subsequent comments - that's why I called you a troll).

It's not about blasting worldviews - like this is somehow about opinions. I'm trying to explain facts to people who have an understanding of farming that is decades out of date, coming from before the "green revolution". That's not easy so I include a lot of examples.

The kinds of farm you prefer? Inefficient and a wonderful luxury. I love them too - there is one behind my house and it does wonderful traditional preserves, in season. These farms are based on so many non-obvious energy inputs that they only exist because people are willing to support them as charities and because it makes people feel good. They don't and can't feed the majority of the human race.

As to oil-based fertilisers and pesticides (especially the modern kinds): why do you think I keep talking about energy? Nearly all of the calories input to your food are the fertilisers and pesticides used to keep yields up. They cannot be replaced by manure and traditional alternatives because there simply isn't a way to produce enough - unless we are back to the idea of exterminating large chunks of the population to get the equation to balance again. Oh, and traditional pesticides have their own problems and are even less energy efficient.

I love traditional farms. I love showing people how we used to spread "muck" on the fields to produce food - but we can't do that and provide enough to keep our population alive (even where sterilized human manure is used, it is still in conjunction with modern fertilizer) - that's why I commented on how the second world war showed we can't keep 30 million alive in the UK on traditional methods. What do we do with a doubled population?


OK, then next point. You assume that McDonald's is somehow evil. It clearly comes across as such in your comments. It's not evil, it's a result of a society that allows corporations, and allows people to choose and allows us to make mistakes. We could ban fatty foods. We could enforce a maximum size for companies, and hence economies of scale (you certainly wouldn't have a nice warm home and a car in that case - only the nobility would be able to afford to have those). We could have mandatory rationing - and hence limit what levels of fat that people are allowed to eat. We don't because I think you'll agree that this would make our lives worse.

The consequences of choice, of unlimited working-group size (i.e. corporations), of no direct interference in what we eat from day-to-day means that some people are choosing not to eat healthy, they are choosing what tastes nice (fat! burned sugar! quick calories! Type II Diabetes!). That's a big problem, but not caused by McDonald's.

More people eat in fish-and-chip shops in the UK than eat in McDonald's...
posted by Hugh Routley at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2011


To really have a decent argument we'd need a different forum.

So... how about those Mets... um.. spicy Paneer thingies?

The part that was memorable was that someone asked to sit down across from me. I don't recall this ever happening in the US - if there are no available tables, people just wait for one to open up. The person didn't make any conversation, for which I was grateful since my aural comprehension of French isn't that great.

desjardins, it seems to be a European thing - I was surprised too the first time it happened to me in Finland at a terrace cafe. I've seen people join couples if the rest of their table was available etc
posted by infini at 12:20 PM on June 13, 2011


infini: "desjardins, it seems to be a European thing - I was surprised too the first time it happened to me in Finland at a terrace cafe. "

Yeah. My experience is that people who live here have a very different sense of space, and of shared space and boundaries, than people in the US. I assume it is because there actually is... less space. Sharing of tables would not be at all unusual where I live, either. I have not done a study or anything, but from casual observation, queues are also more tightly spaced.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:16 PM on June 13, 2011


I don't disagree that there should be large farms, and large-scale agriculture, Hugh. I pointed to Polyface as a type of farm that I think is wonderful, but I don't mean every farm should be like that. I do think there are some things about farms like that that should be incorporated into the design of large farms. I think that a lot more of our fertilizer should come from manure, rather than being synthesized, and that more diverse farms (at whatever scale) could make this happen.

We can't do that currently, because of the catastrophic health consequences, but that's because we're (e.g.,) making cows live almost their entire lives up to their stomachs in their own manure while being fed antibiotics to let them deal with the fact that they're living in manure and being fed corn. You haven't explicitly endorsed that practice, so I won't assume that you support it. But our consumption of beef in the developed world is entirely dependent on it.

You might say (I don't know), well, that's necessary to feed everybody, then, isn't it? I would say we shouldn't be eating so much beef. You're making an energy argument -- how much energy would we save by simply cutting out beef almost entirely from our diets and devoting the corn acreage used to raise beef to the growth of some more energy-efficient way of getting calories into our gullets?

[McDonald's is] not evil, it's a result of a society that allows corporations, and allows people to choose and allows us to make mistakes.

It's both. I don't deny that McDonald's brings people things that they want, cheaply. However, I do believe that McDonald's has had a hand in determining what people want; having made us want these particular things, and making no move to change those things now that it's becoming apparent how horrible they are, makes them culpable, if not precisely evil. And if they're not going to make changes to themselves that will make hundreds of millions of people healthier (why should they? It would cost money), then I think careful regulation should force them to do so.

Ban fats? Or tax them, maybe? Or, perhaps more fairly, tax the industries that do our environment so much harm, that those cheap fats are so dependent on? No, I don't agree with you that these things would make our lives worse.
posted by gurple at 1:25 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoops, fairly major mistake on my part up there:

... perhaps more fairly, tax stop subsidizing and start regulating the industries ...
posted by gurple at 1:28 PM on June 13, 2011


I think that a lot more of our fertilizer should come from manure

I would say we shouldn't be eating so much beef.


So where is the manure going to come from? If you get your wish and people eat less beef, then the demand for cows goes down and there are less cows. But if you get your wish and more fertilizer is made from manure, then the demand for manure goes up. Are other animals going to make up the difference?
posted by desjardins at 1:57 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


To a large extent, I think they could, again with major changes to the way they're raised. Polyface Farms, linked above, moves their chickens across fields in mobile cages. They eat bugs and poop as they go.
posted by gurple at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2011


I'm not an agricultural expert, so to a certain extant I will defer to the Michael Polans of the world who insist that chicken tractors can be integrated into modern agriculture. But a lot of our staple crops (eg wheat, corn, soy, etc) are grown on fantastically large farms -- from 5000 acres on up to just ginormously large -- and there just isn't any practical way to combine those kinds of operations with chicken tractors or heritage pigs. And you aren't going to feed the planet without those huge, highly efficient farms.

We need both. We need the big farms to produce the calories for global supply chains. And we need the small hippy-dippy organic operations to keep heritage seeds and breeds alive, to find solutions to the problems that the big operations create, and to keep pushing the standards of taste and texture upwards rather than downwards. That's on the farming side of things; the restaurant side is the same. McDonalds is never going to be gourmet, but it's undeniable that they have had to raise their game in response to consumer push in a quality direction.

For me, the weird thing about McDonalds is how good and comparatively non-manufactured some of their breakfast options taste, compared to how their burgers and fries taste like they have been extruded from a vat of soylent green. So I basically don't eat there after 10 or 11 am except when someone I work with insists on stopping there for lunch.
posted by Forktine at 6:57 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forktine

Would you believe - everyone inside McDonald's agrees? Senior management have trapped the company into a certain kind of burger, a certain kind of fries - because that makes the product identical across the entire chain.

But that means we still serve bread designed in the fifties (full of sugar), with finely ground burgers - while other chains produced burgers with much more enjoyable roughly ground texture (e.g. burger king which defined their menu much later).

The breakfasts came much later, and so they taste much more like modern food. One day, there'll be a crisis and management will give themselves permission to change the menu. Until that day - enjoy your '50's meal!
posted by Hugh Routley at 2:02 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]



But that means we still serve bread designed in the fifties (full of sugar), with finely ground burgers - while other chains produced burgers with much more enjoyable roughly ground texture (e.g. burger king which defined their menu much later).


Ohhhh, the lightbulb just went off for me. Thanks! That makes sense -- especially because you have a customer base of tens (or hundreds?) of millions who expect that sweet bread and mushy burgers, and who will scream if it changes.

My expectation is that eventually McD's will introduce a few "premium" burgers that actually taste ok, and the old-style ones will remain available on the cheap side of the menu. It's not rocket science; any chain that can serve decent coffee and make egg mcmuffins has the capacity to make burgers that are ok. I mean, sure, I love me a $15 (or more) burger from the bar menus at fancy restaurants, made from high-end beef, house-made aoli, heritage bacon, etc. But I also love, love, love a good basic burger, like what is served at any local non-chain fast food place or hole in the wall bar, made from basic Sysco-style ingredients -- and sadly, the McDonalds burgers are not anywhere near that level of quality.

Like what happened with the coffee, I'm really confident that competition will force McDonalds to make that step sooner or later. One of the regional chains will start going national, or there will just be incremental pressure from the locavore/organic/etc tastes of higher-end consumers, and the result will be better food for all.
posted by Forktine at 5:23 AM on June 14, 2011


I go to McDonalds in every country I visit. It's fascinating to see the cross-cultural branding, similarities and differences to the U.S. both in menu items and design. For instance, I loved that you can "recycle" your unused condiment packages in India (apologies for the self-link). It's also a quiet, clean, air conditioned place with bathrooms and (often) free wifi.

The McChicken burger is good and McDonalds fries are fairly similar in every country. The paneer was okay but not something I'd go back for. Even if you don't eat McDonalds in the U.S. it's a nice break from Indian food (if you've been eating it all day, every day for two months), and my cure for homesickness.

We may view McDonalds as a cheap meal when you can't afford something better but in lots of countries (India, China...) it was an expensive option and a place for teenagers and 20-somethings to "be seen."
posted by Bunglegirl at 5:34 AM on June 14, 2011


Thanks so much for all your comments, Hugh Routley. This has been fascinating.
posted by grouse at 11:55 AM on June 17, 2011


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