Raymond Blanc and Ronald McDonald: brothers in arms
Having swapped taste for right-on ingredients, McDonald's has bought into the paternalism of foodies.
Zut alors! C’est pas vrai! Britain’s favourite French chef, Raymond Blanc, has tossed aside organic food like it was a crêpe gone wrong. Well, sort of. ‘Organic should be best, but the reality of the world may be different’, he told the Daily Telegraph. Basically, organic’s just too damn expensive for everyday use, and the organic movement has only itself to blame. ‘It has shot itself in the foot by creating a movement that has become elitist by being so expensive’, says Blanc.
Blanc points to some practical difficulties with organic food, too. Basically, organic methods are not quite as cuddly and chemical-free as most people think. ‘Normally my heart is organic. All of Le Manoir [Blanc’s flagship restaurant] is totally organic. The moment I came in, there were no chemicals. But it’s easier on vegetables than it is for fruit. Organic uses lots of copper and sulphates and I don’t like that.’ Instead, Blanc now supports the principles of Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf), a charity founded in a 1991 to promote sustainable farming practices and the minimal use of chemicals.
But what must surely have had foodies choking on their amuse-bouches was Blanc’s praise for The Evil Empire: McDonald’s. Blanc presented the chain restaurant with an award earlier this year in his capacity as president of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. ‘I was amazed’, he told the Telegraph. ‘All [its] eggs are free-range; all [its] pork is free-range; all [its] beef is free-range. [It shows that] the fast-food business could change for the better. [It’s] supporting thousands of British farms, and saving energy and waste by doing so. I was as excited as if you had told me there were 20 new three-star Michelin restaurants in London or Manchester.’
In reality, Blanc has barely changed his views at all. The case for organic farming has always been overstated. Study after study has found little or no difference in nutrition between organic food and conventionally grown food. Organic’s claim to be better for the environment ignores the wasteful way it uses land by being less efficient than conventional agriculture. Organic food isn’t even tastier, as Blanc points out: ‘Freshness is more important. It is a mistake to say organic always tastes better. It depends on parentage. Some organics are simply terrible.’ But Blanc hasn’t dropped his basic support for sustainability over efficiency. He’s just realised that, even in its own terms, organic farming is just plain bonkers.
Even his support for McDonald’s is perfectly rational, given his outlook. Ronnie Mc and his chums have simply taken on board all the petty prejudices of eco-foodies and foisted them on the rest of us. Indeed, it’s a pretty elitist attitude in itself. Well done, McDonald’s, for sneaking right-on ingredients into the plebs’ food! We couldn’t convince them to buy it any other way, so we convinced the biggest, baddest chain in the country to remove the choice! They’ll be paying more for those Big Macs and McMuffins than they might otherwise do, but they’ll never notice because Maccy D’s is still the cheapest and most reliable place to scoff hot food on the run.
Far from Blanc having had some Damascene conversion, it’s McDonald’s UK that has bought into the paternalism of foodies. It’s taken foodie elitism and brought it to the drive-thru. Indeed, in recent years, the snobs and zealots involved in food campaigns have given up on persuading hoi polloi to change their ways. Instead, they have badgered big corporations to stop giving us the option of the cheapest grub around. And bit by bit, the head honchos at many big retailers, food manufacturers and fast-food joints have caved in, whether it is by buying free range, organic or Fairtrade, or just by removing salt and fat (and flavour) from their products. Campaigners have taken their biggest claim against Big Food – that it practically shoves addictive junk down our throats, despite the interests of consumers – and turned it to their advantage. Now Big Food is shoving right-on values down our throats – with even less regard for the interests of consumers.
I would stage a one-man boycott of McDonald’s just to protest at the way my Big Mac has been adulterated with this ethical nonsense. But there are two reasons why I won’t. First, because consumer boycotts are idiotic. And secondly, because Burger King is just crap. So I shall carry on patronising McDonald’s, just like McDonald’s has started patronising us. C’est la vie…
Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked and author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)