Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Alex James’ fast food gospel

Times are tough and we all need to get paid. Considering the bills from the Harvest festival which was held on his farm last year, perhaps Alex James needed the cash from The Sun for his quite remarkable feature on …

Tue, Jan 24, 2012, 14:21


Times are tough and we all need to get paid. Considering the bills from the Harvest festival which was held on his farm last year, perhaps Alex James needed the cash from The Sun for his quite remarkable feature on fast food in the paper last week. The piece by “Blur rocker and Sun food columnist” was a paean to fast food giants McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Greggs, full of statistics (“more than half of meals eaten out in the UK are fast food, which accounts for 5.54 billion meals a year in the UK”), weird one-liners (“in the end it boils down to lots of people getting up early and working really hard”) and photos of the author trying to look cheesey, ironic and slightly embarrased all at the same time. Bet KFC reckon they’re shoe-ins for the catering contract on the next Blur tour after this.

Naturally, there was plenty of coverage of James’ fast food rave online, including an exchange in the Observer between the newspaper’s restaurant reviewer Jay Rayner and food writer and bakery owner Tim Hayward. As you can imagine – it’s the fecking Observer, after all – neither were quite supporting James’ loved-up views on fast food, though Rayner praised how McDonald’s had changed their food processes. Both, however, believed that James’s “roll over and tickle my tummy” piece (per Hayward) to be “stupid”, “infantile” and “irresponsible”.

Of course, the fast food industry largely ignores such bleatings. It’s an industry and industries are about scale (in every sense of the word). People are chugging along to their nearest fast food joint and loading up their trays without really thinking about the health and long-term economic outcome of that burger and fries. Folks are hungry, folks want to eat and folks go to fast food joints to scratch that itch. That’s the message which the fast food giants send out there via articles like the one penned by James.

Sure, there are occasional salves by the industry to the conscience (the salads, the low-fat options, the ads emphasising that there are chefs of some stripe in the kitchen), but the bulk of the profit on the bottom line comes from the big guns on the menu rather than any of the trimmings. Even the flurry of boutique fast food oulets like Nando’s which have popped up recently subscribe to this rudimentary food industry logic.

The arguments also remain the same. Those who point the finger at the fast food industry’s ways and means face charges of snobbery, while those who row in behind the burgers and fries brigade are accused of championing obesity and other ills. It’s an argument which neither side is going to win because the issue, like so many contentious issues of this ilk, is far too big and too diverse to be dealt with in pithy soundbites and accusations. And the will to change the discourse and tackle the issue properly is just not there.

Most people’s relationship with food is that it’s just fuel to fill their belly and there’s little thought given to what went into what’s on the plate or the long-term implicatons of that diet. That direct co-relationship between food and health is never questioned until a doctor or hospital consultant steps in many years later wearing a serious look on his/her face and clutching a clipboard with some test results. All those warnings and campaigns (such as Jamie Oliver’s school dinners and Minister of Food campaigns) are too often overlooked or rubbished until it’s too late. As long as the fast food industry can find gullible galoots like the bass-player from an indie band to shill for them in the pages of a popular newspaper, the real discussion will never be had.

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