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Inconvenience truths
October 1, 2009 2:24 AM   Subscribe

At 145 miles away by car, this spot between Glad Valley and Meadow, South Dakota, is the farthest spot from a McDonald's in the contiguous USA. This fact and a lovely image of the contiguous United States visualized by distance to the nearest McDonald's come from Stephen Von Worley. (via Strange Maps)
posted by twoleftfeet (63 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty rad. Maybe a close second for somewhere in Idaho, can't tell for sure.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:35 AM on October 1, 2009


I hope McDonald's doesn't take that as a challenge.
posted by pracowity at 2:36 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's with that weird hole in West Virginia? Last time I checked there were plenty of people living through that area.
posted by crapmatic at 2:38 AM on October 1, 2009


I'd like to think that the rarity of McDonald's outlets in cattle country is because the residents know just how awful Mcdonald's beef like food product is.
posted by bunnytricks at 2:40 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I assume those slimy looking blobs all over the United States map are lipocytes?
posted by rokusan at 2:41 AM on October 1, 2009


What's with that weird hole in West Virginia?

That's what she sa . . . ooo . . . nevermind. If it's anything like this hole, run, run in terror.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:44 AM on October 1, 2009


You know.. nobody has to go and eat there if they don't want to.

Personally I don't mind McDonald's so much, but I haven't eaten one for a few years because there's always something nicer around the place.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:46 AM on October 1, 2009


Ahhh yeah, I had this one the other day on my ink blot psych exam. Think I answered Flaming Dead Devil Anteater though.
posted by mannequito at 2:47 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Out there in nature where there's no McDonalds, there is is a near-perfect square grid of highways.
posted by krilli at 2:53 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Where's da UP, eh?
posted by ursus_comiter at 3:06 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


On a warm day you can smell the McDonald's dumpster from here. Or maybe it's the roadkill ripening in the fine summer breeze.
posted by metagnathous at 3:21 AM on October 1, 2009


I sure could go for a Big Mac. And an extra-large Pepsi Blue.
posted by mek at 3:32 AM on October 1, 2009


I'd like to think that the rarity of McDonald's outlets in cattle country is because the residents know just how awful Mcdonald's beef like food product is.

Or it could be that hardly anyone actually lives in cattle country. That's why it's cattle country. That map could be replaced by one showing population density without much change.
posted by Justinian at 3:45 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know.. nobody has to go and eat there if they don't want to.

They also have their own look and smell. Would you choose to live next to one?
posted by pracowity at 4:01 AM on October 1, 2009


That map could be replaced by one showing population density without much change.

Yup. Related: U.S. City Lights at Night
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:05 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That map could be replaced by one showing population density without much change.

Yeah, more interesting would be a map showing what proportion of the residents could *fit inside* of their MacDonald's. And the great thing is that covers both population density and obesity.
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on October 1, 2009


You know.. nobody has to go and eat there if they don't want to.

Yea, I don't but I do have to pick up their bags and wrappers that get strewn around the neighborhood.
posted by octothorpe at 4:49 AM on October 1, 2009


pracowity, octothorpe - I take your points, but the main gist of the OP is how universal they are, how homogenised the foodservice has become - not the pros and cons of living near one. And my point was - like Wal-Mart and several other symbols of corporate oligopoly - that for all their faults lots of people go there because they do think it's better than the alternatives.

And if you don't like them being everywhere, the best thing to do is to withold your custom and evangelise for the alternatives.

FWIW - lots of things are unpleasant to live near - bus depots, public conveniences, student bars etc. In my experience, McD's is often better in that respect because its need for parking often means they are sited not directly next to residential housing.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:04 AM on October 1, 2009


that for all their faults lots of people go [to MacDonalds and Wal-Mart] because they do think it's better than the alternatives.

This is either excessively rationalist (i.e. believing people to be more rational actors than they really are) OR it fails to take into account many other variables (availability of choices, corporate brainwashing, misinformation on externalities, etc).
posted by DU at 5:11 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take your points, but the main gist of the OP is how universal they are, how homogenised the foodservice has become

then why can't i get mc donald's lobster rolls in chicago?
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:13 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about a map showing places where a MacDonald's was either abandoned at the proposal stage or built and later closed down? Those locations would be the sort I'd be interested in finding more about (if they exist) .
posted by rongorongo at 5:13 AM on October 1, 2009


DU - it's neither. I specifically wrote "because they do think it's better". I'm not assuming that consumers are wholly rational actors, even though in many cases, a Wal-mart or McDonalds is better from a selfish consumer's perspective - cheaper, known entity, quicker etc.

I also think it's a bit simplistic to think that the only explanation for consumers thinking x is better than y is that they are either hoodwinked/railroaded, or wholly rational actors.

Why can't a consumer just like the fact that a McDonalds is, for them, a simple and known choice compared to the effort of thinking of or finding an alternative?
posted by MuffinMan at 5:35 AM on October 1, 2009


but the main gist of the OP is how universal they are, how homogenised the foodservice has become - not the pros and cons of living near one.

That's not the main point I saw. He links to two maps showing that McDonald's fast food joints are almost everywhere -- pretty Christmas colors on a map -- and he finds the point farthest from any McDonald's. If it's about anything more than that factoid, it's about the sprawl of "cookie-cutter commercialism" in general.
But, Mr. Real Estate Tycoon, did you have to plop your shopping center smack dab in the middle of what was previously nowhere? Okay, the land was cheap. And yes, you did traffic studies and proved that the interstate and distant suburbs would drench whatever you built in a raging torrent of eager consumerism. But your retail monstrosity drains the wildness from the countryside for twenty miles in every direction! Sure, you can’t see it from everywhere - but once you know it’s there, you feel it. In the rural drawl of a neighboring rancher, that flat-out sucks!
By the way, the link to AggData could be good for anyone who wants to do similar maps.
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on October 1, 2009


built and later closed down

There's one of these in my town. It's a tiny place (the town) so one McD was really only necessary and they built another nearer the highway. But the weird thing is the old property is STILL, like 5 years later, standing empty and weed-strewn. It's in a prime location (for something other than McD). I don't get it.
posted by DU at 5:36 AM on October 1, 2009


What's with that weird hole in West Virginia? Last time I checked there were plenty of people living through that area.

That's really odd. A state park? The national radio quiet zone?
posted by phrontist at 5:40 AM on October 1, 2009


Tangentially: In-N-Out Burger is building - albeit with infuriating slowness - a new location in Draper, Utah which happens to be a 4 minute drive from my workplace.

It would be difficult to overstate what a bombshell this was when I learned about it. To have the Double Double (without cheese, please - I'm watching my weight) go from something I could only have every few years when I make it to Vegas to something I could conceivably have every workday...

Analogies fail me. Maybe seeing the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games staged in your driveway each time you took the trash down to the curb.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:44 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh god, please don't let McDonald's see that map; it'll just give them ideas.
posted by Spatch at 5:44 AM on October 1, 2009


But the weird thing is the old property is STILL, like 5 years later, standing empty and weed-strewn. It's in a prime location.... I don't get it.

You can never get the smell out.
posted by rokusan at 5:47 AM on October 1, 2009


"Tangentially: In-N-Out Burger is building - albeit with infuriating slowness"

Belgium and France have a local burger chain called "Quick". Many years ago, some friends and I who were living in France at the time tried it, because seemed kinda interesting. It took several eons for the food to arrive.

See: the French do irony much better than Americans.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:56 AM on October 1, 2009


If it's about anything more than that factoid, it's about the sprawl of "cookie-cutter commercialism" in general

Well, if he's showing it by using McDonalds, then almost by definition of "cookie cutter", he's taking about homegenisation in the foodservice industry!
posted by MuffinMan at 5:57 AM on October 1, 2009


but there's a Subway right across the street.
posted by HumanComplex at 5:59 AM on October 1, 2009


phrontist: "What's with that weird hole in West Virginia? Last time I checked there were plenty of people living through that area.

That's really odd. A state park? The national radio quiet zone?
"

Or both. Monongahela National Forest and the Reber Radio Telescope are both right around that area.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 6:06 AM on October 1, 2009


In my experience, McD's is often better in that respect because its need for parking often means they are sited not directly next to residential housing.

Well, only because they tore down at least three houses to build the McDonalds and its parking lot.
posted by octothorpe at 6:29 AM on October 1, 2009


Psh... who cares about someplace West-River not having enough McDonalds?

Er... I mean, I've driven through there...and actually the town I lived in had its McDonalds outnumbered 2 to 5 by Subway. (And odds are this place is a reservation area...)
posted by Kimothy at 6:43 AM on October 1, 2009


...is the farthest spot from a McDonald's in the contiguous USA.

And coincidentally has the lowest obesity rates in the lower 48.

Awesome map rendering, BTW... it looks like the kind of map you'd see on a Las Vegas showman's rhinestone jacket. Or something. Sorry, still distracted by the shiny lights. Mmm, shiny.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2009


From where I sit typing this message, within one city block are two McDonald's restaurants, four Starbuck's coffee shops (and four more places off the top of my head that "proudly" serve Starbuck's coffee), and two Gold's gyms. I can also see the Capitol out my window.

Suck it Hugo Chavez!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2009


All fast food is shit. McD's is just the poster boy due to their success.
posted by rocket88 at 6:54 AM on October 1, 2009


I obviously can't post things in the right thread and I don't care. Which leads me to two conclusions:

1) I would be a perfect CEO.
2) Suck it Hugo Chavez, that's how we roll in America!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:55 AM on October 1, 2009


But the weird thing is the old property is STILL, like 5 years later, standing empty and weed-strewn. It's in a prime location.... I don't get it.

Actually, at least in some areas, buildings built for a special purpose like that and abandoned often have strange clauses in their lease which restricts the kind of business which can move in behind them. Here in the Spokane area, there are abandoned grocery stores which have sat as empty buildings for longer than I've lived here. When I asked why, I learned that the terms on the building include language prohibiting them from being used as retail merchant locations.

That's right. The gigantic building built specifically to be a grocery store or KMart or whatever is not allowed to be re-used as a business for which the building was designed, because of terms in the lease.

I don't know if that's the case with the McDonald's husk in your area, but that seems to be some kind of standard thing around here. Supposed to enforce non-compete clauses, or keep the old business which moved from learning that the reason they're failing was not that the location was crappy, or something.
posted by hippybear at 7:14 AM on October 1, 2009


It's a Voronoi diagram.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:27 AM on October 1, 2009


Is this something I would need a digestive system to understand?

The griping about McDonald's is no different than griping about TVs. Both get you fat if you use them too much, are fine in moderation, are ubiquitous in western culture, specifically the United States, and there will always be people raging against them, irritated that the public even tolerates their existence and proclivity.

The map is interesting, though. That hole in West Virginia is kinda creepy too.
posted by chambers at 7:32 AM on October 1, 2009


Check out the Google map version, this point is only one mile east of 'Beef creek'
LOL, irony?
posted by limited slip at 7:33 AM on October 1, 2009


They also have their own look and smell. Would you choose to live next to one?

I live about 500 feet from a McDonalds. Thankfully, the even-closer KFC smell dominates.

Yummmmmmmm.
posted by The Deej at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2009


I think there is actually at least a bit to gripe about the all encompassing nature of McDonalds, even if you choose not to eat at one. McDonalds represents (though certainly isn't the totallity) the factory farming industry. For each of those points of light, how many cows must be slaughtered daily? How many acres of corn to feed the cows? How many acres of potatos for fries, and soybeans for the oil to fry them? Where does the fertilizer for this unnatural bounty come from? Where does the waste from the animals go?

What's the price of the suffering that we inflict on animals that never move outside of a small cage and have to be pumped full of antibiotics to live long enough to be slaughtered?

The excess in this map doesn't just represent the personal choices of consumers to eat a shitty, cheap, and widely available product; it also represents the spoiling of nature to fuel that industry. Even if I never choose to eat at a McDonalds, I have no choice but to have their cow shit spill into the oceans, and poison water tables. If some terrible virus ever uses the monoculture of American factory farming as a vector, then even if I've never touched a burger to my lips I have no choice but to deal with the epidemic.

For the sake of total disclosure, I do still sometimes choose to eat factory farmed meat and fast food, but it's something that I've been trying to cut entirely out of my diet (hard to do on my salary, though).
posted by codacorolla at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2009


I enjoy the closeness of the McFarthiest Spot to the North American Pole of Inaccessibility and the Geographic Center of North America - Western Dakota Territory is the farthest away you can get from pretty much everything.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2009


Captain Cardanthian is right, it's the Monongahela national forest. I was there a few weeks ago on an anniversary trip, and believe me, there is no fast food there or in any of the little hamlets that surround the forest. The roads are narrow, dangerously curvy and behind on maintenance. However, I consider that to be a feature and not a bug.

I know West Virginia has a bad reputation, but I think it's one of those places that's so far behind the times that it comes out ahead. It's nice to go hiking and feel completely alone for once or drive around and see beautiful view after beautiful view. I'm glad that I have a place like that a short driving distance from where I live.

I used to have a housemate from the Netherlands and once I drove him to one of the big box districts outside of Pittsburgh to show him "what America really looks like" (i.e. this same strip of box stores has identical siblings all over the country, so, hey, you're seeing the whole country there). But I really regret not taking him somewhere like Cass or the Dolly Sods because those places are also uniquely American and they have their own character.
posted by Alison at 8:09 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's in a prime location (for something other than McD). I don't get it.

I guess no one's made them a good enough offer yet.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:11 AM on October 1, 2009


There is also a pretty decent sized gap in the Adirondacks in upstate NY.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:24 AM on October 1, 2009


"I'd like to think that the rarity of McDonald's outlets in cattle country is because the residents know just how awful Mcdonald's beef like food product is."

I can assure you it's not. As someone who grew up in Montana cattle country, I was amazed at how much better the meat was everywhere else. Getting great beef/steak, or finding a great meat market, is easy in LA or San Diego metro. In rural Montana? No. And most ranchers prefer their meat "fresh" rather than aged. That is, they like bad meat.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:26 AM on October 1, 2009


I stayed on a sheep farm in New Zealand once. The lamb we ate was the worst I ever tasted. I figured that they were sending the best stuff off and keeping the worst stuff at home.

Maybe the same happens in Montana. I know in Scotland, for example, that tons of the very best seafood makes its way directly to Spain while a lot of Scots are happy to munch of poor quality fish and chips.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:41 AM on October 1, 2009


octothorpe: "Well, only because they tore down at least three houses to build the McDonalds and its parking lot."

I kinda wish that were the case. At least that I've ever seen, McDonalds' M.O. is to build only on greenfields sites. Bonus if they can wrangle some sort of zoning variance to put it on wetlands.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:52 AM on October 1, 2009


There are a lot of McDonalds in Canada but nowhere near as many as I see by the side of the highway in the states - it is so weird to me that they are at almost every exit with really tall signs. Years ago, when I came out of a week-long camping trip at the Michigan's Womens Festival, held in rural Michigan way the fuck away from everything and all meals vegan and tasteless, we stopped at the first McDonalds we saw and it was filled with lesbians with guilty looks on their faces. Mmmm, those were good fries.
posted by saucysault at 8:56 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


But your retail monstrosity drains the wildness from the countryside for twenty miles in every direction! Sure, you can’t see it from everywhere - but once you know it’s there, you feel it.

that depends on how close you are to the nearest meth lab, doesn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2009


For each of those points of light, how many cows must be slaughtered daily? How many acres of corn to feed the cows? How many acres of potatos for fries, and soybeans for the oil to fry them? Where does the fertilizer for this unnatural bounty come from? Where does the waste from the animals go?

I agree but on the other hand, people gotta eat. Removing the middleman doesn't mean that suddenly demand for corn fed beef and potato side dishes will disappear. Picking on McDonalds because that ubiquitousness has the convenient unity of letting us reference it with a single name is facile and not really representative. It can lead to bad reasoning where people start to just hate every aspect of McDonalds.

For example, look at bars; they are omnipresent and essentially chainless but are serviced by giant industries. If half the bars were transformed into franchises of "O'Drinkitups", it would be wrong to hate on O'Drinkitups when really what we hated was Budweiser and Coors.
posted by fleacircus at 9:33 AM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Check out the Google map version

I looked at the Google map because I was going to make a "what, no street view?" joke, but actually, Google does have Street View for some roads that are pretty darn close. Google is creepy.
posted by yarrow at 10:16 AM on October 1, 2009


And my point was - like Wal-Mart and several other symbols of corporate oligopoly - that for all their faults lots of people go there because they do think it's better than the alternatives.

No. Sometimes it's because they don't have many other alternatives. Wal-Mart and McDonald's are cheap. I would guess that per calorie, McDonald's is cheaper than most alternatives. (Hey, I'm right!) We live on the border of one of the poorest areas of Chicago, and the local McDonald's is ALWAYS packed. Perhaps many people simply enjoy the food, but I would suspect many go there because everything else is more expensive. Also, Wal-Mart is closer and cheaper than Target, and I suspect many people in that neighborhood do not have cars.

It's not just money, either - if I'm on a road trip and I'm hungry, McDonald's is going to be the most likely restaurant on the side of the Interstate. You're right, it is my choice in that case not to drive 10 miles out of my way to get better food, but since there is a time & convenience cost, the alternatives cannot be counted as the same. Similarly, many Wal-Marts are near Interstates, and if I forgot to bring a toothbrush, I am not going to pass it by just because I prefer shopping at Target. For some reason I think I should be capitalizing "Interstate" - am I wrong?
posted by desjardins at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2009


I agree but on the other hand, people gotta eat. Removing the middleman doesn't mean that suddenly demand for corn fed beef and potato side dishes will disappear. Picking on McDonalds because that ubiquitousness has the convenient unity of letting us reference it with a single name is facile and not really representative. It can lead to bad reasoning where people start to just hate every aspect of McDonalds.

For example, look at bars; they are omnipresent and essentially chainless but are serviced by giant industries. If half the bars were transformed into franchises of "O'Drinkitups", it would be wrong to hate on O'Drinkitups when really what we hated was Budweiser and Coors.


I agree with you partly, but if you look at the history of factory farming, McDonalds was one of its leading forces, and indeed, one of its continuing main proponents. McDonalds makes a huge market for this cheap, bad, and dangerous farming, and in doing so, makes local farming more expensive.

You can't lay the blame solely on McDonalds, since it's a complicated issue that's the result of the past 60 years of American history, but the OP was about McDonalds, so...
posted by codacorolla at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2009


Just to be nit-picky (because this sort of stuff really fascinates me), I'm wondering if there wouldn't be a spot in the middle of Lake Huron that is further away. The US-Canada border bisects the Great Lakes (except for Lake Michigan), and there's a spot on that border in Lake Huron that kind of bumps away from the Michigan coastline. (I'm pretty sure that spot would be the furthest away in terms of how long it would take to drive to the nearest McDonald's.)

Another thing I'm wondering is if the results would be the same if distance by car were used instead of crow-flying distance. As L.P. Hatecraft mentioned, this seems to be a Voronoi diagram; the author mentions he created the map using distances. I could be ten miles from a McDonald's, but if the Rocky Mountains occupy those 10 miles, the driving distance could actually be much longer.

Finally, my first thought on seeing the map was that it would be cool to plan a route such that I'm always equidistant from surrounding McDonald's (i.e, follow the dark spots). On reflection, however, it occurred to me that the dark spots have the highest probability of having the fewest roads. (I told you this stuff fascinates me.)

Post-finally, the next time I'm in South Dakota, I'm going to buy a meal at McDonalds and then drive to this McFurthest spot to eat it. I'm hoping there will be someone there to see me and wonder where I got the food.
posted by joaquim at 12:43 PM on October 1, 2009


> See: the French do irony much better than Americans.

In-n-out is referred to affectionately as "in-n-wait" around here. The one near my house, the street facing it has a lane dedicated to the drive-thru line, since it extends around the block pretty much all weekend.

This seems to be more a function of its ridiculous popularity rather than how fast the service is though. From what I've seen through the window, they are wicked efficient.
posted by cj_ at 1:00 PM on October 1, 2009


"From what I've seen through the window, they are wicked efficient."

From what I've seen waiting in the drive-thru, they are wicked slow.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:26 PM on October 1, 2009


Go, SoDak!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:11 PM on October 1, 2009


Belgium and France have a local burger chain called "Quick". Many years ago, some friends and I who were living in France at the time tried it, because seemed kinda interesting. It took several eons for the food to arrive.

See: the French do irony much better than Americans.


Ce n'est pas un restaurant fast-food!
posted by armage at 6:27 PM on October 1, 2009


McDonalds wanted to open a restaurant in my town, a tourist place a little west of Sydney.
There is one 30 minutes west, and another 30minutes east. But the residents organised a campaign to to pressure the local government to refuse planning permission.
The fight went on for some years, but eventually McD gave up, at least for now.
Interestingly, we had a Burger King, but it closed down a couple of years ago.
The only other chains are Subway (relatively recent - but they look not very busy) and Dominos pizza (also relatively recent, but they are pretty busy).
I have kids under 10, but they only go to McD a couple of times a year. I'm always freaked out when there is a comment on MeFi about how "I hardly ever eat at McD, less than once a week."
I remember seeing an article in the paper headed "Fast Food alright in Moderation", making a story of a prominent nutritionist who said that it was OK to eat fast food occasionally. It wasn't until late in the article she said 3 or 4 times a year was what she meant by occasional.
How many people would read that headline and think once a week is only occasional, when you would be consuming 25 times what she thought was OK.
I's good not to have a McDonalds around.
posted by bystander at 1:57 AM on October 2, 2009


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