Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Some kind of wonderful… a paean to a guilty pleasure
Mass hysteria seems to have gripped the food world, capturing the imagination of the general public. First it was the horsemeat scandal, now it’s the scientific discovery that processed meats shorten your life expectancy. I can see the smug food police looking down their noses at people like me as I tuck into a Saturday morning breakfast of streaky bacon, buttery scrambled eggs, fresh orange juice and black filter coffee. I am sure if they had it their way I would be eating a bran cracker, a few slices of apple and a cup of hot water with lemon peel! Granted I do not have the former for breakfast every day but it gives me a grim satisfaction to stick two fingers up to a profession that has systematically sought to take enjoyment out of the kitchen and reduce the consumption of food to a mere fuel which ensures our survival on earth.
In this piece I want to focus on a food that has become stigmatic in recent years, a non-essential comestible, a poster-boy if you will for the food police... The Big Mac. I am sure that anyone reading this has watched Morgan Spurlock’s amusing but ‘MIchael Moore-ish’ documentary Supersize Me where he embarks upon a month of eating nothing but MacDonald’s products. At the end of the documentary (surprise, surprise) the nutritionalist finds that his liver and kidneys are almost shot and his weight had increase.
Stop press! Who would have thought that fatty foods with questionable nutritional value could do this. But it was propaganda to the masses, who demanded healthier options from their fast food establishments and opened up the franchises to every happy-go-lucky regular who thought they could launch litigation on the back of their porkiness. The Western media - who sometimes have far too many column inches to fill as well as time on their hands started to hound out any stories they could to tar fast food establishments with a negative brush.
This will not be the case here, for I want to draw your attention to one of my favourite of guilty pleasures. Nestling amongst a bed of crisp chicken nugget and apple pies shimmering with vegetable oil you will find this beast – the ever-faithful Big Mac.
The flagship product, the mother-lode of the franchise has been both the company's most proud product and its most vilified. Towering as it does over the diner’s tray, crammed with all sorts of unhealthy and anemic goodies and additives that literary melt on contact with the mouth as shreds of lettuce and ‘special’ sauce spatter the paper tray guard.
To the uninitiated the anatomy of the Big Mac is simple enough. First you take a burger bun base, add burger, add American cheese, add lettuce, slices of gherkin, ‘special sauce’; then another bun base, repeat the previous process, add chopped onion and more ‘special’ sauce; this is all finished with a sesame seed bun top. They say that the simplest things in life are sometimes the most pleasurable and there is certainly nothing simpler in this construction (if you can look past the myriad of chemical processes and reactions behind the creation of its component parts).
Some people augment their burger with fries and a soft drink, a waste of time to my mind, the best thing to have with a Big Mac is a glass of Champagne or a crisp pilsner and a Gitanes cigarette sat outside in St James’s Park - like a posh hobo! How strange, yet so appealing. This should always be followed, if able to manage one, by another Big Mac (only joking!).
Given the controversy that surrounds them, and looking past the health implications, what is it that makes this ‘delicacy’ have such appeal, at least to me? It is probably down to the fact that I only eat it twice or so in a year, a treat to myself when I am feeling ever so slightly debauched. Whether it comes after the ballad of the ‘one-too-many-pints-at-the-pub’ or the remorseful yarn of ‘I-had-one-too-many-the-night-before’, perhaps it might be passing a service station on a long journey or spying one (as I did the other day) in a train station on the way back from a trade show. Whatever it is, it is once in a blue moon and tastes all the better for it.
This is not about justifying their consumption as your whole diet but as something to be enjoyed from time to time, like a good English breakfast or a hotdog laden with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. But I sometimes fear that the food police merely see scapegoats and pounce on them, vilifying those who enjoy them in moderation. I for one will say that it will be the start of something very worrying if the Big Mac disappeared from our high streets, for first the Big Mac why not the Full English and so on.
However, foodies fear not. For those of you who cannot agree with me, nor even countenance the idea of stepping through the twin golden arches, I have devised an alternative with lovely, homemade burgers, to give you that same experience at home! So tune in next time to get my exclusive recipe…