The honest truth is that I rarely eat McDonald’s when I’m in the comfort of my home settings. I hardly ever feel the cravings for their sawdust meat paddies and far from organic sauces, and I am definitely not a fan of stomach aches. However, whenever I’m abroad, lost in a strange and complex world, I am drawn to the golden arches’ bright orange glow. As I walk through the gates to this fast food Mecca I feel a sense of freedom, excitement, and guilt.
Throughout the world McDonald’s fast food huts have popped up in almost every imaginable location in the world, often providing an obstacle to perfect photographs of locations of cultural significance. As I’ve traveled around Latin America I’ve seen it on many occasions. In Mexico City, the road that leads up to the monumental Cathedral which houses the depiction of The Virgin de Guadalupe is blocked by a McDonald’s arch which rudely leans itself out over the street vendors selling rosaries and other catholic styled trinkets. In the Inca Capital of Cusco it is much of the same. When the Spanish conquered the Inca they destroyed the main plaza’s buildings and erected cathedrals and European styled buildings directly on top of the historical structures. It could be said that when the tourists later conquered the city they did the same, erecting a McDonalds within the foundations of Spanish buildings. As a responsible traveler I feel ashamed at every urge I feel to devour a greasy quarter pounder with cheese; but the reality is, I can’t help but do it.
Travelers from all over the world outwardly mutter curse words as they walk past the gates to fast food’s globalization scapegoat, but on the inside they are all thinking “what I would pay for a quick breakfast with real orange juice!” I spent my first few travel years avoiding McDonald like the plague until finally, after a long overnight bus ride, I ran into a McDonald’s in the small Costa Rican mountain town of San Isidro de El General. This time, rather than looking like a barrier to the cultural atmosphere it looked like the Holy Grail or a pot of gold at the end of the most beautiful rainbow. Normally a fan of window seats and patios, in this case I sat down to devour my bacon and egger, ok, my three bacon and eggers and one sausage and egger, in the seat furthest away from any window worried about falling into the line of sight of a passing by tourist who may scald me and throw rotten fruit.
I kid myself that it’s not the sauce laden Big Mac’s or the crisp and salty French fries that draw me to this most embarrassing of locales, but the idea itself that pulls me in. I’ve told people my reasons so often that I am actually starting to believe them myself. On the road, living in hotels, we often don’t have the time to cook for ourselves. We spend good portions of our days in restaurants, so much so that our days begin to revolve around eating, and not the destination that we are visiting. Personally, as a traveler who spends the majority of his time in South America, the time spent in restaurants can be absurd. I spend fifteen minutes waiting for the waiter to acknowledge me, thirty minutes with the menu waiting for him to return, an hour waiting for them to do the necessary run to the market and subsequent cooking of the food, five minutes wolfing down the food, and another twenty waiting for the bill; not to mention another fifteen minutes if you need any sort of change. It gets to the point that you leave to eat on a full stomach in preparation of the fact that you might be hungry in a couple of hours. With McDonald’s I walk in, order my ‘eyes are bigger than my stomach’ meal and a half and eat it with a time period of fifteen minutes maximum.
I think the truth is, however, that we often feed our problems with food. When we have a bad day we crave a chocolate bar or anentire tub of ice cream. When we feel home sick we fill that insecurity with double cheeseburgers and Big ‘n Tasty’s. When we sit down in the confines of a multicoloured McDonald’s and we see the familiar faces of Ronald McDonald and The Hamburglar and we feel comfortable and safe for a few minutes.
Regardless of cause or reason, I’ve slowly begun to lose my inhibitions towards eating at McDonald’s abroad. Why shouldn’t I be happy? In fact, I’ve even started to seek out other fast food giants to the point that I’ve basically mapped out each and every Burger King, Subway, and KFC on the entire South American continent. I could write a traveler’s guidebook: “South American Travel for the Fast Food Addicted.” The reality is, however, that to this day I still never take the window seat, and with each swallow of each Big Mac I feel guilt, shame, and regret. It seems that I am on a perpetual motive-based fast food diet and losing nearly every day. But, I’ll be honest I’m not going to stop, and neither are you; so let us all just stop fighting our consciouses and stop worrying about what other travelers will say or think so that we can all just eat our Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese under the shade of a street side patio umbrella in peace.