In my time here at World News Center I have railed against the complete insanity of putting the pretend food at McDonald’s into your body. More often than not you’d be better served just eating the Styrofoam and washing it down with Draino. And let’s face facts, it’s not like I live a healthy lifestyle. Beer, bourbon and babes comprise my daily diet. Oh, okay, I will toss down the occasional burrito to keep a sense of balance. But even that lifestyle is healthier than McDonald’s food. Meat that does not decay, chicken cleansed with bleach and additives that, taken alone, could cause fatal illnesses do not inspire confidence. And yet Americans line up 3 deep to go nom nom nom and chow down on this crap. And how much food is in that little wrapper you’re handed? Try this; take a 4 oz. steak, 3 oz. of fresh lettuce and tomato and 4 oz.’ of pasta with an ounce of alfredo sauce. You now have the equivalent of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. That does not include fries or anything else. That’s just looking at the carbs and content of the sandwich and splitting it out into a healthy alternative. If you sat down to the meal I just described you would be full at the end. Not so much so with the sandwich since your body isn’t processing it right away. It’s just a big lump that arrived all at once. So you’re still hungry and it’s off to the counter you go to get an apple pie and a shake or something else.
McDonald’s will point out that it’s not their job to make sure Americans eat healthy. And they are 100% correct. They will also point out that it is government health regulations that force them to add so many additives and stuff to their food and also it’s the only way to turn a profit because without all that stuff the cost would go through the roof.
Fortunately for the common people there is a crusader out there who has deep pockets and a vision of a world where fast food can also be good food. This company has put their money where their beliefs lie and has begun serving only locally grown foods wherever possible and supplementing them with only the highest quality and freshest items.
And they’ve been turning a tidy profit to boot.
Who are these great crusaders for a better world?
Greetings from McDonald’s, or “MacDo,” as they call it here in Paris, where I am comfortably ensconced in a McCafé enjoying a croissant and a grand crème coffee. I’m surrounded by people of all ages who are talking with friends, reading, or typing away on their laptops like me.
The beauty of McDonald’s in France is that it doesn’t feel like a fast food joint, where hordes of people shuffle in and out and tables turn at a fast clip.
McDonalds is the world’s largest food chain. It operates in 123 countries around the world, and just this week the company said it plans to open another 1,300 restaurants in 2012.
Naturally, the U.S. is its no. 1 market, but guess who is no. 2? You got it: France. A paper out this month by three graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business says McDonald’s is such a success in the land of Michelin three-star restaurants because it has adapted to French eating habits and tastes. There are now 1,200 franchises in France; the company opened 30 restaurants per year in the past five years alone.
Even in these harried times, the French spend more than two hours a day at the table. Sitting down to a meal is a cornerstone of French culture, and McDonald’s seems to get that. French McDonald’s are spacious, tastefully decorated restaurants that encourage people to take their time while eating. And the cozy McCafe’s with their plush chairs and sofas have become an extension to many restaurants.
I remember there used to be a few Burger Kings in Paris, but McDonald’s closest competitor went belly up years ago. The Wharton study says it’s because they tried to transplant the total American dining experience to France, without taking into consideration French preferences.
McDonald’s, meanwhile, offers all kinds of Frenchified dishes, from the Alpine burger with three different kinds of cheese to tasty little gallette des rois, or King’s Cakes, popular after Christmas and sold by all the bakeries. Last year, it introduced the McBaguette.
Another reason McDonald’s works so well here is that the food is locally sourced and very high quality. As we all know, France is the land of haute cuisine. But it’s also the land of good cuisine. The French appreciate quality in any category, even fast food. Restaurateurs in France know they’ll go bust if they offer substandard products. I’ve had friends from India tell me that the Indian restaurants in Paris are among the world’s best.
And if you like good meat (who doesn’t?!), then McDonald’s France is clearly superior. In the U.S., McDonald’s says its cattle are mostly corn-fed. While the company doesn’t address on its site whether growth hormones and growth-promoting antibiotics are added to the animal feed consumed by the animals it buys, it’s a reasonable assumption that they are.
French cattle are all grass fed, which many argue makes them tastier. Growth hormones are illegal here and each animal has a passport showing where it was born, raised, and slaughtered, according to McDonald’s France. That’s called traceability, and we don’t yet have such a national system in place.
As for chicken nugget lovers, French chickens, unlike some of their American counterparts, are not rinsed in chlorine to disinfect them. The regular use of chlorine in the U.S. chicken industry is why poulet americain has long been interdit in the European Union.
Of course you can still find French people who dislike McDonald’s because it represents American hegemony in a globalized world and the homogenization of food and culture. French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove actually served prison time a couple years back for sacking a McDonald’s restaurant in southern France. For a friend of mine who lives in Burgundy — pretty much the French heartland — MacDo is the symbol of malbouffe, or bad food and bad eating — a major slur here. He says he’d never take his two young sons to eat chez Ronald.
But this McDonald’s in Paris’ 15th arrondissement is brimming with parents who’ve brought their kids in for lunch. There’s a good dose of teenagers too. Like teenyboppers back home, French adolescents, or ados, love to hang out at MacDo — they just gather in the café instead of the parking lot.
I’m not a big fan of France, I’ve been there a few times and can think of many other ways to get insulted for far less cost. That being said, I have eaten in the McDonald’s in Canne. The first thing I noticed was that the food tasted like food. There were real flavors. Also, instead of the standard yellow mustard there were several varieties of Dijon. The whole cost of the meal was about twenty cents more than the same meal here.
Now, the big question, could it work here? My guess is yes. The loco-vore movement, demanding better access to locally and organically grown foods, has grown every year. I try and get to as many of their events as I can to pick up fresh veggies and meats. If you’ve ever had fresh killed chicken on a farm you know that it bears little resemblance to the bland slab of whiteness that passes for chicken these days.
To make it work our government would have to stop sucking the big toe of companies like Monsanto and allow farmers to grow healthy food. I know that sentence reads odd but that is the situation we find ourselves in. Food grown organically, without gene splicing or chemical alteration, is severely limited in its marketability under current regulations. The situation was completely reversed until the 1970’s.
Then you could only buy foods “in season.” Hot houses extended some of those seasons but, for the most part, you based your shopping on what you knew would be around. There were winter recipes and summer recipes and so on. It sounds quaint because it is. But it also guaranteed that you were only eating food that had been grown naturally.
And, since we truly are what we eat, isn’t it best we eat foods that aren’t lethal?
Now sit back and enjoy a video my friend Marcie (about 50 seconds in, pink dress) and her friend put together to show what joys a kitchen can hold.
And they’re all good for you.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Friday morning around 9:10!