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Issue Date: March 2006 Issue


Make Mine McDonald's

There's a scene in "Supersize Me" when Morgan Spurlock, the firm's director and bemused star, meets a guy who only eats McDonald's Big Macs - vanquishing more than 19,000 of them in his lifetime. He's just an eccentric guy who loves Big Macs as much as, or maybe more than, he loves his wife. My story isn't quite that bad.


Amber Matheson

When the anti-McDonald's documentary came out, everyone made a point of telling me that I had to go see it. I was the quintessential McKid - I've eaten the food, and lots of it, for more than 20 years, so my relationship to the ubiquitous yellow "M" has produced a trail of greasy fingerprints marking my life's path.

Of course, I'm not alone - with 30,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide, I'm not the only one keeping the doors open. And now that I reside in Cleveland, I've got more kindred spirits than ever. Men's Fitness magazine's yearly city rankings routinely bestow upon our city "F" grades and, in 2004 and 2005, the embarrassing title "Junk Food Capital." Its 2006 list of fattest cities noted that we have "40 percent more [fast food] outlets per capita than the national average."
Mmm, mmm, good!

A quick scan of the yellow pages turns up 58 McDonald's listings just in the 440 and 216 area codes. We are never far from the golden glow of a McDonald's french fryer, and I know I'm lovin' it. I'm one of the few willing to admit openly that when I get a craving, I hop in the car and go. But, I swear, it's not my fault! (Isn't it fun to say that?)

My fetish with everything fried started when I was very small. Take one very busy working mom, add an older brother constantly being carted from one activity to the next, slap it between my picky eating and my keen ability to whine and you've got a situation ripe for the golden arches.
Fortunately, our small Michigan farm town was just big enough to get a McDonald's in the early '80s. I celebrated birthdays there, shuffled along on tours of the kitchen and enjoyed the Muzak while stuffing down fries. Whenever I went home sick from school, we stopped at McDonald's on the way.

And we were always sitting in the drive-thru. My exquisitely refined taste as a little girl meant that I refused to mix food of any kind. My mother would sit in the car, fuming at the clock, as we waited for an employee to run out with my plain (no bun!) Filet-O-Fish.

In time, I caved in the presence of a friend's stern parents, and forced down a plain hamburger with the dreaded bun. Condiments came soon after, and eventually I gravitated toward the Quarter Pounder, my No. 1 gal to this day.

By 16, McDonald's was a mainstay - the family joke was how rich we would've become if we'd invested in McDonald's stock (since I was its main supporter). Twenty minutes before gymnastics practice, my friends pooled our change, bought as many burgers and fries as we could and wolfed everything down at a disgusting pace. The one day we cut school, my best friend and I hit up McDonald's (and drove right by her mom). While my clique was at fall football games, I was slouching my way through my first job, an evening shift at Mickey D's, counting change and taking orders.

At every stage of my life, the restaurant has been there for me; it just seems right and ... natural.
But we all know (we do!) that it's just the opposite: I love McDonald's, but it's not right and definitely not natural. Hardened grease is thick, sticky and heavy; my most vivid memory of my tenure at Mickey D's is the smell of freeze-dried onions blossoming as I poured hot water on them; and, as Spurlock and many others point out, it's hard to find the chicken in a McDonald's Chicken McNugget.

So as I've entered adulthood and taken responsibility for my own health, I've come to terms with my addiction. Like those smokers who say they'll never stop craving one more drag, I have to force myself away - speed up when I see the sign, remind myself there's good food at home.

There are days, of course, where nothing will do but McDonald's - I deserve a break those days. If I'm really depressed, it's a surefire way to pick myself up (and cheaper than a trip to the mall). But my days of wantonly devouring fast food are, I hope, securely behind me.

I did, by the way, finally watch "Supersize Me," and the content was every bit as bad as I thought it would be. In its portrayal of the new American utopia, where there's a McDonald's on every corner, three on the way to work alone, the movie did give me the heebie-jeebies. But if there's one thing I've learned through my decades-long love affair, it's that nothing on this earth will ever have the power to stop me, once and for all, from eating that damn food - occasionally.


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