Watching the movie “The Founder,” in which Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the mastermind behind the mega-successful McDonald’s hamburger franchise, gives a rare glimpse into the very moment America took the fat road.
It comes about one-third of the way into the movie. Kroc walks up to the McDonald brothers’ hamburger stand in San Bernadino, California and, before he finishes paying, is handed a paper bag containing his order.
He’s amazed. “What’s that?” he asks.
Kroc, a nearly defeated 54-year-old salesman, smells a good burger and idea. Before you can mix a fake milkshake, he’s franchising McDonald’s all over the Midwest.
It’s an insightful film. Kroc’s desperation to redeem his past failures drive him towards financial success. He begins to maximize profits at the cost of quality, starting with the famous fake milkshake made from powder. (The McDonald brothers are left behind, complaining about their values about quality being diluted, through a series of contracts giving Kroc more and more power.)
I was struck, watching the film, that this was the beginning of it all: America’s disconnection from the food they eat; the birth of fast food culture, and the obesity epidemic too.
Suddenly, we could pretend it didn’t take a great deal of work to make a meal. We didn’t have to shop, or plan, or prepare anymore. We didn’t have to respect the food, when we didn’t chop, slice, cook and prepare it. It appeared magically.
You could ignore the resulting fat accumulation around your waist just as easily.
Instead of nutrition, food became cheap and meaningless, something eaten without attention while you drove the kids to soccer, or ran to another appointment. Under Ray’s watch, real ingredients were stretched with cheap fillers and hidden ingredients – including sugar in every product (‘cept the fries and coffee) to keep you coming back for more.
It was all about the profits.
Profits reigned over health, reason and hunger. Hunger became a marketplace – the food drove more hunger and the advertising permeated every crevice of marketing and advertising.
All because one failed, ego-driven guy was looking for redemption after a lifetime of small sales out of the trunk of his car.
To many, the McDonalds story, and Ray Kroc’s story, is one of complete mastery and success.
There is no doubt it changed the way we live, and how we view food. Our collective faces turned from our greater good, to greed.
When he died, he left behind a $1.5 billion dollar bank account, which his widow donated to charity.
The only problem, not one penny went to clean up the heart disease, diabetes and obesity left behind by those millions of burgers and fries.
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