Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

$1 McMuffins and the End of Cheap Meat

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: Spirituality, mindful living, food, meat, diet, health, environment, fast food, food culture, Daily Finance, The Hudson Review,

$1 Sausage McMuffinMcDonalds will begin selling their sausage McMuffin for a buck come January, reports Daily Finance, along with other golden-arch staples such as the hashbrown, small coffee, sausage burrito, and sausage biscuit. The preponderance of meat, specifically sausage, “sparks my interest because I have watched as concern about cheap meat has become more and more mainstream,” Sarah Gilbert writes for the AOL-group beta site.

While analysts are chalking the dollar menu up to slumping sales (and, depressingly, unemployment reducing breakfast-time commuters), Gilbert sees another possibility. In the coming decade, U.S. citizens will have to confront industrial meat production with “an unusual-for-us sobriety,” she contends. Which makes dollar menus at McDonalds and other fast-food chains look an awful lot like a sausage-puck shaped “Hail Mary strategy, a last hurrah before the era of cheap meat comes to an end.”

That or the menu, and others like it, will let Americans fall in love with cheap meat all over again, she concedes. But the stage (or perhaps the table), is set to favor the former: More now than ever, “what dishes one consumes or refuses, what food products one buys or boycotts, constitute an expression of style, statement of politics, reflection of values, index of environmentalism, pledge of allegiance, and measure of health,” Siobhan Phillips writes in The Hudson Review. Even priced at a buck, the sausage McMuffin is becoming an increasingly difficult sell.

Yet trying to articulate what a more sustainable, healthy American food culture will look like is a tricky thing in a country “where pizza bagels, pesto hummus, and picante ramen are as authentic as any other version . . . a place where an indistinct assembly-line beef patty is the only common taste,” Phillips writes. She offers, however, a refreshingly prescription-free suggestion for how we might forge ahead:

No one needs another study on the benefits of the family dinner table or another lament for its supposed—and probably fallacious—demise. But many people, as they manage many different sorts of households and meal plans, would like to feel that feeding is more than functional. . . .

Better to advocate subsidized cooking classes, perhaps—along with an expansion of programs that bring local produce to all and an increase in minimum wages so that strapped workers will have a bit more time and money to spend on their meals. These important specifics however, could and should join a more conceptual shift, a materialist attention as applicable in our talking and thinking about food as in our preparing and partaking of it.

Such a focus is egalitarian, possible in the bite of a lettuce leaf as well as the bouquet of a syrah; it is simple, emphasizing the fragrance of coffee as much as the flavors of caviar; and it is general, accommodating those with no further time to spend as well as those who wish to invest more effort. . . . It is also, importantly, always instructive, leading ordinary eaters to expansive convictions.

Reviving and fostering material attention to food, Phillips argues, could lead people to become dissatisfied with the “sweet-and-salt uniformity of mass-produced items” or the “contradictions of ‘natural flavor.’ ” It could lead the way to “an awareness of the tragedy of hunger and a rejection of the truism that being thin is the goal of eating well.” Even to political action. And, it would seem likely, to the end of cheap meat.

Sources: Daily Finance, The Hudson Review

Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons.