Burger-lite

McDonalds' calorie-counting is the ruination of fast food.

Ray Crowley

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Topics Politics

You know when you go into an old Wimpy or Star Burger restaurant, and they serve your food on real crockery rather than in polystyrene and cardboard, and it feels kind of wrong? Well, health food at McDonalds is even wronger than that.

Picture the scene: Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are driving down Pulp Fiction highway, discussing the delights of European fast food joints. ‘And you know in Paris, you can buy a yoghurt in McDonalds? And I ain’t talking in no paper cup.’ Not quite as cool, is it? The joke about a quarter pounder with cheese not existing in Paris because of the metric system would be lost in discussion of the 300 calorie burger (calorie measurements are pretty universal).

Of course, calories exist in fast food places – lots of them, yummy ones. That’s all you need to know, right? When it comes to McD’s and the like, you leave your nutritional brain at the door, surely?

Surely not. ‘McDonald’s tries for healthier image’, says BBC News. ‘Low-fat yoghurts and a choice of salads will be among the new lines on offer.’ (1) McDonalds, after making a £222million loss last year, is trying to convert to a more healthy image.

I knew trouble was coming when I saw the McDonald’s advert for the new chicken pasta, and found out that organic milk is the drink of choice to accompany your kids’ Happy Meal. McDonalds, healthy? What is the world coming to? Fast food restaurants such as McD’s are not about cordon bleu cuisine, nor are they about nutrition. McDonalds is the place you go when you’ve just got off a really long flight and need a quick fix. It’s the place you go when you’re travelling abroad alone to find yourself, and find you’re a bit homesick.

Burger King at Euston station welcomes you off a boring train ride with open arms. There are burgers and fries in there – made, you suspect, from the least cow-like bits of the cow, and drenched in all sorts of heart-attack-inducing things.

It’s not even food – it’s fuel for the body and soul. Naughty, but perfect. Pure, unadulterated junk. It’s depressing that McD’s is losing money because not enough people can let go occasionally, and just eat some nice, filling crap. Have we become such food obsessives that we can’t just stuff something into our mouths, without calculating its calorific content? (No jokes about sex need to be made – you can work the calories out yourself, remembering to take the weight of the portion into account.)

Has it really got that bad? What sort of weirdo goes to McDonalds for a salad? Apparently though, they do exist, and many fast food chains are seeking to cater for the more dietarily obsessed. At the McDonalds UK website, I discovered an ingenious tool which allows you to choose your meal – main meal, soft drink, milkshake/other beverages, breakfast, dessert and fries/dips – and have the whole lot calorifically and nutritionally calculated for you (2).

McDonalds is not the only culprit in the ruination of fast food. On KFC’s website, you can also make up your meal and have its calorific content calculated. And KFC boasts a ‘diabetic food exchange’ – ‘a convenient guide provided to assist our customers with meal planning for diabetes and weight control’ (3).

Now, I’m all for diabetics being able to enjoy as wide a range of foods as the rest of us, but this is just a little too ‘caring’ for a fried chicken chain. At the end of the day, people with special dietary requirements can’t just eat what they like, nutritional calculators or not. And where do we go from concern for diabetics – will KFC produce nutritional calculators for those of different diet plans? Atkins or The Zone calculators, vegan options, recipes for those intolerant to wheat, lactose, gluten? It’s ridiculous for fast food chains to start catering for medical conditions and healthy lifestyle freaks. That’s not what fast food is about.

Burger King’s website has a ‘nutritional wizard’ which allows you to calculate the calories, calories from fat, total fat, total saturated fat, total trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibre, total sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron, in any given meal on the menu (4). It takes less time to eat a Whopper than it does to take all that in. And good old Pizza Hut’s website gives you a table of percentage recommended daily intake in weight-per-slice for a number of its pizzas, including the hand-tossed variety (ah hem). Values according to weight-per-slice are given for diabetics as well as non-diabetics (5).

This sort of thing should not be allowed. If it’s chicken, then it’s finger lickin’ good. It’s not a combination of vitamins and saturated fats, it’s just KFC. You go to McDonalds to get a big burger – pick out the gherkins, give them to your girlfriend, and eat. Nothing more.

You do not care that the McChicken Premiere is ‘served in a Focaccia bun’. You certainly do not care that ‘the welfare of our chickens is always a priority at McDonald’s. And that means when you’re enjoying one of our breakfasts, you can be sure you’re only eating free range eggs. Talking of good eggs, we recently received the Good Egg Award from the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association which recognises our commitment to animal welfare. All our eggs also carry the Lion mark, an independent assurance of food quality. Which goes to show that, like the chicken, the customer always comes first at McDonald’s’.

And you do not care that you can sing a song which goes: ‘And on that farm they have some cows that produce organic milk for all of our restaurants. These cows have never eaten GM cattle feed, received routine antibiotic treatment or grazed in fields treated with insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. Which is why the Soil Association’s stamp of approval appears on every single bottle.’ (6)

Fast food: it’s there, it’s quick, it’s junk, and the single cheese slices taste like they left the plastic wrapper on them. It’s great, and you should support it, for all those times when you’re hungry but have better things to think about than your own body as a holy temple. Please, don’t let our burger bars become muesli bars.

(1) McDonald’s tries for healthier image, Mary Gahan, BBC News, 8 April 2003

(2) McDonald’s interactive nutrition counter, on the McDonalds UK website

(3) KFC nutritional information, on the KFC website

(4) Burger King nutritional wizard, on the Burger King website

(5) Pizza Hut nutrition, on the Pizza Hut website

(6) McDonald’s food quality, on the McDonalds UK website

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Topics Politics

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