The changing consumer markets…

Posted on December 10th, 2014

We’ve all watched the documentary Super Size Me and there’s no end to the criticism the fast food industry in general and McDonald’s in particular have been facing over the years, so I’m not gonna start ranting about how bad over consumption of fast food is for your health: unless you’ve been living on Mars for the last 30 years, you know this already. And anyway, so far all the guilt-trips about how you’re ruining your life and the planet altogether by eating hamburgers have not produced much effect: if it had, there wouldn’t be a McDo left on earth, we’d have stopped spreading carcinogen chemicals on our vegetables and we’d have faced a new revolution in the food industry long ago…

Well, there may be another path towards awareness.

What’s brought my attention to this particular issue is a series of articles about how McDonald’s been in a difficult economical situation this year. Yeah, you’ve read right: McDonald’s, one of the biggest, most profitable company in the world, is in trouble!

There are many factors, to be honest. One is the government investigation on over 200 restaurants in Russia, an obvious retaliation to the economic sanctions the Ukraine Crisis has brought over the country. There’s also been a hygiene scandal in China that’s harmed the company’s reputation all over the Asian continent. The poor working conditions and wages also brought many McDo employees to go on strike in the US (it was about time!). But more than that, I think there’s a growing awareness all over the world regarding not only health, economic factors and ecology but also taste.

Yeah, I’ve said it, taste.

Because no matter how harmful to your body or the environment my competitor’s burgers may be, if they’re better than my healthy, organic burgers, you’ll still go to them. Call it silly, call it sad or whatevathehell you want, I’ll call it human nature. Animal nature, even: taste rules in the animal kingdom (yeah, when you see a crow feeding on a dead rat, it does taste good to the crow)!

McDonald’s food doesn’t taste so bad in itself but you’ve all tried a homemade burger or salad or a nice plate of French fries in a good restaurant. Arguably, they always taste better. Much better, even. Thing is in our consumerist societies, we’ve become addicted to cheap pleasures. For the first time in History the populations of developed countries are free to abandon themselves to all kinds of cheap pleasures and (ask your grandparents if you won’t take my word for it), it is a luxury in itself, one that’s been available to the masses for only about 3 generations. My grandparents faced the 1929 crisis and ration tickets in post-War Germany. To our children, this is pretty much as much science-fiction as young Anakin Skywalker’s slave life on Tattooing. So for 5 decades we’ve just been consuming what’s immediately, easily available without asking ourselves too many questions. There was always a hippie or an environmental activist around to tell us how wrong we were, but we wouldn’t give them much more credit than we’d give a religious fundamentalist telling us that sexual pleasure is a deadly sin. “Go get a life and gimme a break!”, we’d tell them before running to the next McDo and treat ourselves a nice, juicy Big Mac.

Except, they’re not so juicy: they’re pretty dry if you ask me.

About a decade ago, French chef Paul Bocuse –possibly one of the greatest chefs alive today– took a daring move and opened a high class fast-food in Lyon. It sure was more expensive than McDo and many laughed at him. How could one of the greatest chefs on earth go as low as to open a fast-food joint?! Well, you know what? It’s still there and they’ve even opened 2 more over the years. What does this tell us? 2 things: taste pays off and there’s no such thing as fast or “slow” food: there’s good food and there’s crap.

Gastronomy is more than a tradition, it’s a lifestyle. Favoring great food over cheap thrills is more and more perceived as a sign of sophistication among the upper-middle class. You know what I mean: being a hipster isn’t just anymore about wearing the right clothes, listening to the right music, reading the right books and watching the right movies. It’s more and more also about showing a sense of sophistication in food (and I’m not even gonna start on wine and liquors!). We’ve all met those young women and men who pride themselves in being good cooks. Ask a baby-boomer: back in the 70’s, while men were still too proud and lazy to show their (absence of) skills in the kitchen, women were so eager to emancipate themselves from centuries of kitchen slavery! To some extent, fast-food may be a by-product of the feminist movement (even the greatest progress can sometimes have odd side-effect, can’t it?). Today, those people’s children –both male and female– rave about how good they’re at cooking, to the point it’s almost become a competition of good taste in European urban areas. Similarly, eating local, organic and veg food is now far beyond being the result of a mere environmental and economic awareness. It sure started that way but in order to reach the masses, it had to become more than that, it had to become a lifestyle. All the better for it if you ask me!

This may sound like a bold if not a superficial statement but what the hell! I’m gonna say it anyway: I believe sophistication is a path in life as much as a key to a brighter future. And not just for the sake of being hip. I believe sophistication is a factor when it comes to favoring peace over war, education over Real-TV. Because let’s face it, war is gross and so is Real-TV! Try and be a hipster on a battlefield in Iraq for a start, then tell me about it!

And this is why I’m gonna teach my kid to cook and know how to choose a fine restaurant instead of allowing him to eat McDo’s crap. It’ll sure benefit his health and his environment but telling him that isn’t gonna be enough for me to reach him. Telling him that you are what you eat and that eating sophisticated food will help making him a sophisticated person may, on the other hand, convince him. And as Woody Allen so brilliantly put it in his 2009 movie: “whatever works…”.