Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
By Anthony Bourdain
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Note: There is language in this excerpt that some readers may find offensive.
My wife and I are speaking in hushed tones directly outside our daughter's bedroom door, where we're sure she's pretending to be asleep.
"Sssshhhh!! She can hear us," says my wife, with a theatricality intended to sound conspiratorial.
"No, she's asleep," I hiss — a little too loudly. A stage whisper.
We're talking about Ronald McDonald again. Bringing up the possibility of his being implicated in the disappearance of yet another small child.
"Not another one?!" gasps my wife with feigned incredulity.
"I'm afraid so," I say with concern. "Stepped inside to get some fries and a Happy Meal and hasn't been seen since ..."
"Are they searching for her?"
"Oh yes ... they're combing the woods ... checked out the Hamburgler's place — but of course, they're focusing on Ronald again."
"Well ... last time? When they finally found that other one? What was his name — little ... Timmy? The police found evidence. On the body ... They found ... cooties."
This is just one act in an ongoing dramatic production — one small part of a larger campaign of psychological warfare. The target? A two-and-a-half-year-old girl.
The stakes are high. As I see it, nothing less than the heart, mind, soul and physical health of my adored only child. I am determined that the Evil Empire not have her and to that end, I am prepared to use what Malcom X called "any means necessary."
McDonalds have been very shrewd about kids. Say what you will about Ronald and friends, they know their market — and who drives it. They haven't shrunk from targeting young minds — in fact, their entire gazillion dollar promotional budget seems aimed squarely at toddlers. They know that one small child, crying in the back seat of a car of two over-worked, overstressed parents will — more often than not — determine the choice of restaurants. They know exactly when and how to start building brand identification and brand loyalty with brightly colored clowns and smoothly tied in toys. They know that little Timmy will, with care and patience and the right exposure to brightly colored objects, grow up to be a full sized consumer of multiple Big Macs. It's why Ronald McDonald is said to be more recognizable to children everywhere than Mickey Mouse or Jesus.
Personally, I don't care if my little girl ever recognizes those other two guys — but I do care about her relationship with Ronald. I want her to see American fast food culture as I do. As the enemy.
From funding impoverished school districts, to the shrewd installment of playgrounds, McDonalds has not shrunk from fucking with young minds in any way they can. They're smart. And I would not take that right to propagandize, advertise — whatever — from them. If it's okay for Disney to insinuate itself into young lives everywhere, it should be okay for Ronald. I see no comfortable rationale for attacking them in the courts. They are, in any case, too powerful.
Where you take on Ronald and the King and the Colonel is in the streets — or more accurately, in the same impressionable young minds they have so successfully fucked with for so long.
My intention is to fuck with them right back.
It's shockingly easy.
Eric Schlosser's earnest call to arms, "FAST FOOD NATION" may have had the facts on its side, but that's no way to wean a three year old off Happy Meals — much less hold her attention. The Clown, the King, The Colonel — and all their candy colored high fructose friends are formidable foes. And if the history of conflict has taught us anything, it's that one seldom wins a battle by taking the high road. This is not a debate that will be won on the facts. Kids don't give a shit about calorie count — or factory farming, or the impact that America's insatiable desire for cheap ground meat may have on the environment or our society's health.
But cooties they understand.
What's the most frightening thing to a child? The pain of being the outsider, of looking ridiculous to others, of being teased or picked on in school. Every child burns with fear at the prospect. It's a primal instinct to belong. McDonalds has surely figured this out — along with what specific colors are attractive to small children, what textures — and what movies or TV shows are likely to attract them to their grey discs of meat. They feel no compunction harnessing the fears and unarticulated yearnings of small children and nor shall I.
"Ronald has cooties," I say — every time he shows up on television or out the window of the car. "And you know," I add, lowering my voice, "he smells bad, too. Kind of like ... poo!" (I am, I should say, careful to use the word "alleged" each and every time I make such an assertion, mindful that my urgent whisperings to a two-year-old might be wrongfully construed as libelous.)
"If you hug Ronald ... can you get cooties?" asks my girl, a look of wide eyed horror on her face.
"Some say ... yes," I reply — not wanting to lie — just in case she should encounter the man at a child's birthday party someday. It's a lawyerly answer — but effective. "Some people talk about the smell too ... I'm not saying it rubs off on you or anything — if you get too close to him, but ..." I let that hang in the air for a while.
"Ewwww!!!" says my daughter.
We sit in silence as she considers this, then she asks,
"Is it true that if you eat a hamburger at McDonalds it can make you a ree-tard?"
I laugh wholeheartedly at this one and give her a hug. I kiss her on the forehead reassuringly. "Ha Ha Ha. I don't know where you get these ideas!"
I may or may not have planted that little nugget a few weeks ago, allowing her little friend Tiffany at ballet class to "overhear" it as I pretended to talk on my cell phone. I've been tracking this bit of misinformation like a barium meal as it worked its way through the kiddie underground — waiting, waiting for it to come out the other side — and it's finally popping up now. Bingo.
The CIA calls this kind of thing "Black Propaganda" and it's a sensible, cost effective countermeasure, I believe, to the overwhelming superiority of the forces aligned against us.
I vividly recall a rumor about rat hairs in Chunky candies when I was a kid. It swept across schoolyards nationwide — this in pre-internet days — and had, as I remember it, a terrible effect on the company's sales. I don't know where the rumor started. And it was proven to be untrue.
I'm not suggesting anybody do anything so morally wrong and unquestionably illegal.
I'm just sayin'.
Excerpted from Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. Copyright 2010 by Anthony Bourdain. Excerpted with permission by HarperCollins Publishers.