Worldwide, McDonalds sells several million hamburgers per day, maybe even as many as 50 million. My guess is that people eat them because they like the way they taste -- along with various other reasons, especially cost and convenience. But it seems to me that if you want to understand why people, especially children, want to eat McDonalds' burgers, it makes sense to at least consider how they taste. The French Fries, too. I am not sure that the book I just read really came to grips with the way that McDonalds appeals to the human sense of taste: the tastes of fat, salty meat, of the carb-loaded bun, and the sweet and slightly acidic tomato flavor of catsup. Sure, sophisticated eaters criticize such a taste, but many many people of every possible background find fast food good, whether they admit it or not.
|Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for History.|
"For too long, research on race and fast food has placed the onus solely on black palates and parents for the dismal state of black health. Without an understanding of how we got here, the food justice movement will never move beyond the idea of individual choice and continue to ignore structural disequilibrium. Knowing the caloric content and fat grams in a cheeseburger from Krystal is important. Educating the public on how much of the recommended daily allowance of sodium is exceeded by an order of Burger King onion rings is helpful. Promoting healthy lifestyles can improve lives. But understanding how shifts in the priorities of the mid-century civil rights struggle, changes in federal policy on business and urban development, and the boom years of fast food converged in the lives of black America is equally critical." (Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, p. 6).
One chapter after another provides details of many events in American Black history and the search for racial justice from the 1960s onward. Within the Civil Rights movement and within many political struggles against entrenched racism, Chatelain presents the interaction between the McDonald's Corporation and activists in Black communities in a number of American cities, especially Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. The author's knowledge and passion make this a wonderful story, though sometimes I found the details a bit overwhelming.
|An illustration from Franchise, showing a Black-owned McDonald's spared during|
the 1992 riots in the ghetto of Los Angeles, another interesting area of historic study. (p. 197)
As time went on, Chatelain says, healthy food became a national preoccupation, and many studies blamed fast food -- and people who chose it and gave it to their children -- for the increasing epidemic of obesity and food-related diseases:
"In the constant evaluation of black health as jeopardized, many public health advocates fixated on food choices and acknowledged the disproportionate numbers of fast food locations in black neighborhoods. But, few made the connection with the federal government’s concentrated, sustained efforts to bring more and more fast food into the inner city, nor did they see the handiwork of the civil rights authorities in sanctioning the process." (p. 252).
In other words, there's a down-side:
"The idea of financially sound black institutions is alluring across the ideological spectrum because it allows white conservatives and liberals alike to claim plausible deniability in their role in supporting systems and policies that maintain racial capitalism. Whether it’s called black capitalism or empowerment, the politics of black business can serve many interests, except for those of blacks most susceptible to the extremes of capitalism and racism." (p. 257).
At the end of the book, Chatelain returns to the question of parental choices in what to feed children:
"The castigation of the eating habits of poor people, or the choices they make for their children’s meals, obscures the origins of those choices." (p. 262).
As I've said, I found this book very interesting and full of wonderful insights about American Black history and the role of civil rights leaders and political leaders in applying pressure for a more just system. In this review I have barely touched on the richness of this history book and its treatment of many issues of justice, equal opportunity, and community development.
The only reservation I have about Franchise is the question of why McDonald's and most other fast food chains have such a strong appeal to consumers, which I believe is the taste of the food. People of all races, all classes, all economic levels, and many countries besides ours simply like to eat it. To really understand the way fast food flavors satisfy deep cravings requires reading at least one more book; for example, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. It's all about the taste! (I dare you to write a comment here about how you don't like fast food: that's not the point.)
Review © 2022 mae sander.