Observations by Claire Irving

I’m not advocating McDonald’s serves particularly nutritious food. I’ve heard all the stories about the nugget meat being pre-washed in ammonia, scary levels of fructose corn syrup, red dye - the list goes on. A friend of mine tells her kids McDonald’s is a public toilet to turn them off. I live in Westchester, NY, where it’s perfectly possible a no carb diet is an entry requirement for country club membership and eating food fresh off the farm is as necessary as having a the latest 4WD, so the concept of eating a chicken McNugget here is stranger than a banker plowing his own snow.

Yet there’s something so good about some of their products and then there’s the nostalgia that keeps the brand sweet for me – birthday parties as a kid and post cinema hang out as a teen.

As a recently ex-patrioted Brit, I have a slightly different view of McDonald’s than most of my fellow Bedfordians. Post year 2000, McDonald’s actively courted the British middle-class. They remodelled restaurants to feel more like places you could linger in rather than race to get out fast, and put fresher food on the menu to put the emphasis on food fast rather than fast food. If my peer group in the UK are a measure I think they’ve been successful. It was perfectly acceptable to use McDonald’s as a post school pit stop and see other families from school with the same idea. After visiting various branches in NY State I am disappointed to see how grubby and out of date they feel, and even after other outlets were modernised and menus updated, how the eat-in consumer doesn’t seem to have changed.

Despite my affection for McDonald’s, I’m definitely not lovin’ their healthier food – too plastic to be credible, yet when they’re true to their heritage their products are SO tempting. If I could squeeze in an extra hour of boot camp a week I’d probably stuff down a Big Mac and fries more often. My kids, however, are forever lovin’ it so McDonald’s repeatedly fulfils their brand promise with them. My boys are always definite about what they want, care of, yes, you’ve guessed it, McDonald’s well-branded, neatly packaged meals regularly promoted on TV. (Even though some of McDonald’s marketing tactics do seem borderline at times, I can’t help admire the marketing brain that dreamt up the Happy Meal).

Apart from providing a solution when under time pressure, McDonald’s has been a reliable companion on the crazy road trips we’ve embarked upon during our first year in the States. The routes from New York to Maine and to the Outerbanks were significantly less stressful given the knowledge there was a McDonald’s every few miles. I didn’t have to stress about where to stop to get the kids familiar comforts and relieve the monotony of the journey. Eager anticipation took over as they saw the familiar M on the interstate. As we pulled off they’d look forward to discovering which toy would accompany their Happy Meal and munch contentedly on their nuggets and fries. Fighting took a ceasefire, complaints about boredom stopped and another 60 miles was clocked off. The sound of silence is a golden moment for parents made all the brighter for the kids by the Golden M as my boys affectionately call it.