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How Can You Like Fine Dining AND McDonald’s?

February 26, 2011

McDonalds-Big-Mac
Photo by pointnshoot

Or, more to the point, “How can you eat that stuff?!” That’s the question I “asked” a friend the other day. (“Asked” doesn’t do justice to the amount of eye-rolling that accompanied the “question”).  He watches the Food Network regularly, enjoys fine dining, and loves to cook. Yet he also craves and perhaps more importantly, claims to thoroughly enjoy the occasional McDonald’s Big Mac.

It’s not that I hate McDonald’s. I will occasionally have a salad with some plain chicken if I’m stuck for paleo options, especially when I’m out of town, and admittedly it’s not half bad. But for me, their beef patties leave much to be desired.

But it tastes so good…

What throws me off is how can someone have a developed enough palate to appreciate the nuances of fine dining, and at the same time consider McDonald’s burgers to taste great? (he rated a Big Mac a “7” and Daniel Boulud’s “NY’s ORIGINAL db Burger” a “10”).

Daniel-Boulud-NY's-ORIGINAL-db-burger
Daniel Boulud’s “NY’s ORIGINAL db Burger”

Indulging in comfort food

His explanation was that it’s a comfort food, and comfort foods inherently taste good. He grew up eating McDonald’s, and it evokes happy memories. I don’t buy it. You can make a gourmet version of mac & cheese for example, and then never want to touch KD again. The gourmet version would still be considered a comfort food. As would a gourmet burger, by the way. So although I can see somebody having a fondness of a childhood food, and perhaps that biasing their view of how tasty it is, I still don’t get how it would get  a “7”.

What’s the best part of the Big Mac?

After much prodding, we came to an interesting realization. For those of you out there who like Big Macs, what’s your favourite part? Surely, there’s nothing special about the lettuce and tomato. Nor the bun. And after some consideration, my friend concluded that the meat doesn’t really taste like anything. His favourite part is the special sauce.

That was kind of an aha moment. You think you’re craving and liking the burger, meaning most likely the meat, but really the burger would be nothing without the special sauce. When I think way back to the last time I had a KFC chicken burger, or a Quiznos sub, all I really remember is the sauce.

It makes perfect sense, really. That’s the least healthy part of the burger. It’s the part with the longest ingredient list. If I had to eat such a burger, it’d be the second thing I’d skip, after the bun.

Mmmm Special Sauce…

Here are the Big Mac Sauce ingredients:

Vegetable oil (soybean and/or canola), relish (diced pickles, glucose-fructose, vinegar, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, natural flavour(vegetable source)), mustard (water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, sugar, colour (caramel), spices), water, frozen yolk, vinegar, onion powder, salt, spices, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate, garlic powder, hydrolyzed plant protein (corn, soy, wheat gluten), colour (paprika), calcium disodium EDTA.

I’ll pick my battles, and focus on one ingredient: hydrolyzed plant protein, which is an added source of free glutamate (think MSG), a flavour enhancing excitotoxin with a reputation for being addictive. I don’t doubt that the special sauce tastes “good”, and now I have a better understanding as to why…

The sauce, combined with the comfort food factor, fond childhood memories, as well as convenience and low price help explain (though certainly not justify) my friend’s duality in terms of food choices.

Do you like your fast food or know someone that does? Have any other theories?

Speaking of Special Sauce… Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and G-Love & Special Sauce

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Keet November 10, 2011 at 6:03 AM

OMG..thank you! I have never been able to figure this out for myself. This is probably my biggest addiction & every time I try to restart a healthier way of eating, I always have my “farewell Big Mac” before I begin. And guess what’s my favorite part as well?…yep, the “special” sauce. I feel much better now that I know the things are literally addictive & feel much better equipped to deal with any future cravings. Thanks. I love your website. :) I just found it looking for a suitable cheesecake for Thanksgiving. I just committed to a year of eating primally/paleo-ish so will be visiting often.

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[email protected] January 5, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Hi Keet, thanks for your comment! Glad to have helped, and hope you’re doing awesome with your primal journey :)

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