Saturday, February 07, 2009


I went for a bicycle ride yesterday. I was planning to go to the river to see how the birds were doing, and decided to approach my ride from the opposite direction I usually go. This took me in the direction of an area I haven't visited for a while, and there is a supermarket there that sometimes has good cheese, so I decided to visit that before going to the river, but before that I got hungry, and ... well, the end result was that I didn't visit the river after all. I didn't even visit the supermarket, I realized on my way home. I got distracted, and forgot. It was that sort of day.

One of the reasons I got distracted was that I decided to eat at one of the coffee shops I used to go to when I was in the area more frequently a few years ago. Only one was still open, though. Unfortunately, although the coffee there isn't bad, the only food on the menu was cake. Another place I went to occasionally had turned into an Indian restaurant, but it was closed. Three others had turned into hair or beauty salons. I could not find an ordinary coffee shop anywhere.

There was a new McDonald's.

While I was cycling along, stomach rumbling, I started thinking about why I didn't even consider going to the McDonald's. I do not think I am a food snob. It is hard to be a food snob while also being a very bad cook. But I find it hard to think of McDonald's as food at all, and as I cycled along wondering why I came up with a theory. As you may have noticed, I have theories about most things. I'm not sure whether this is a very good one, though.

My theory is that for people who grew up with hamburgers on their menu, and have a strong idea and memory of what a hamburger should taste like, McDonald's provides them with the IDEA of a hamburger. Their imagination fills in the gaping holes between the idea and the real thing.

For someone like me, however, who did not grow up eating hamburgers (I had my first hamburger at 21 or 22), a McDonald's hamburger has a baffling lack of food-like qualities, and does not work for me at all. I do not feel satisfied after eating it. Any vegetables in it seem to have the shape but not the flavour of actual vegetables. They are ideas of vegetables, and that does not make sense to me at all. How can something look like a real vegetable and yet not taste like one? The potato fries do not taste like potatoes. The slices of tomato result in no tomato flavour. What happened to it? Nothing tastes like real, actual food eaten by real, actual human beings. It looks like it could be food, but taking a bite destroys that illusion for me.

But if you are very familiar with what a hamburger should taste like, maybe the shape and colour and name is enough for your imagination to fill in the gaps.

I think I'll call my theory the Placebo Familiar Food Theory (aka PFFT).

The PFFT theory falls down when I think of the popularity of McDonald's in Japan, where if people grew up eating hamburgers, it was probably McDonald's hamburgers. I may have to dream up a different theory to account for that.


Tabor said...

As a child a Macdonalds hamburger was very special treat since we never ate out at restaurants. I can remember savoring them even thought they tasted nothing like my mother's hamburgers on the grill. Today I have no interest in eating there.

kenju said...

I seldom order a hamburger in a restaurant, preferring to make them at home, nice and thick! I only go to McDonald's when there is no other choice - or I am forced to by companions.

I tend to agree with your assessment of their food (the idea of it - not the real thing)....LOL