Fast Food Guilt

Triple cheeseburger & iced coffee

Well, before we have the serious discussion about poverty and food insecurity in America, let’s get a bit of humor out of the way.

There is a good possibility that the teenager will come home from her grandparents’ house today, and having read this, scream at me (because she has hearing problems not because she is disrespectful), “You went to McDonald’s without me??”

But in all seriousness, I have put on ten pounds since March and most of it is “stress weight.”

Since I lost my job July 10, I havent been to the grocery store this month — except for picking up some instant coffee or a pack of toilet paper.

I received my last pay check July 17, and tomorrow there could be $400 in unemployment compensation in my account but this will be my first payment so we’ll see if the paperwork went through. It should, but the teenager’s father and some of his colleagues were furloughed in June and he returned to work this week never receiving a dime.

So while I have some savings, my financial stability right now is precarious and as the custodial parent as a teenager I worry about the future. Therefore I cling to my pennies.

I peeled the lunch meat, cheese and the tomato out of half a hoagie the teenager didn’t plan to finish because it was “gross” and made an omelet with it for dinner.

We have a small garden. We have some friends with gardens. I keep my non perishables well stocked, so while we may be only eating meat about once a week, we have food.

And most of my food insecurity comes from not knowing when I will have any income again. I still have about half my last paycheck in the bank and won’t even have to touch savings for another month. But my savings are meager, but from what I understand better than average for the typical American who can’t afford an impromptu plumbing repair.

But, you see, when I get stressed I want fast food. The more fast food I have, the more I want.

And with the ease of order ahead apps and the discounted prices, it’s hard.

I worked my way through college at McDonald’s. I worked there 5 years and gained a hatred of drive-throughs (how lazy and inconsiderate can Americans be ordering 8 Happy Meals all custom orders in the drive through) and thought I’d eaten all the McDonald’s I would ever care to eat.

At our McDonald’s, about 25 years ago, each employee working a full shift got a free meal: one medium soft drink, one large fry and one sandwich. At the time I didn’t each lettuce, so I wouldn’t typically get a plain McChicken as I don’t care for mayonnaise either. I would occasionally get a triple cheeseburger without the onions with extra pickle.

I hadn’t eaten at McDonald’s since those days and avoided fast food restaurants so vehemently that the first time my daughter got a fast food kid’s meal (at around six of seven) she exclaimed, “Mom! There’s a toy inside!”

All went well until McDonald’s came out with a stroopwaffel McFlurry. A close friend got me hooked on stroopwaffels before they became a thing in the United States. And then suddenly they were everywhere.

I’m a sucker for a stroopwaffel.

Even after 25 years, in a McDonald’s 25 miles away from my hometown, the lobby has the same exact greasy fast food smell that I remember. My uniforms and shoes all had that smell. The French fry grease smell.

Then my neighbor introduced me to the $1 beverage menu. I downloaded the app when I saw it was free french fry day.

And then I saw the McChicken on the $1 menu. My good old favorite. And it was slightly more boring than I remember it.

Fast forward to today. I ate two small meals so far today. A small whole grain pastry. Some cheese and goldfish crackers. I’m hungry. My daughter is away.

I regress you my blue collar roots and I know I can get dinner at McDonald’s for about $3. I know I could also get a $3 bagged salad, but that won’t have the protein of a big old fast food sandwich. I haven’t had fruits or veggies today. I have some lovely fresh Brussel sprouts, probably also $3.

But I cave.

Now if I really want to be cheap, I can get the $1 McChicken, a $1 large Diet Coke and I have a coupon for a $1 large fry. Except fries are really empty calories.

So ditch the fries. Then I could upgrade and get the $2 double cheeseburger instead of the fries and McChicken. But then I’m not using any coupons so I could swap the Diet Coke with the coupon I have for a 99 cent any size iced coffee. I select caramel.

But then greed and gluttony kick in, I upgrade the $2 double cheeseburger for a $3 triple cheeseburger, the same burger of my youth. I don’t need that much cheeseburger.

But I’m getting that much cheeseburger.

I also click on not one but TWO apple pies. One for me and one for the teen. $1.49. But we don’t need apple pie. I remove it.

But I’m a little heartbroken as when we were McDonald’s crew we would take the outdated hot apple pies, at pre-close, and place them on the trays that had to be for the Big Breakfast, and smother them with the soft serve before we emptied the machine. And then we added the hot caramel. So good.

But no apple pies. I exercised restraint.

But that triple cheeseburger with no onion and extra pickle was exactly as I remembered.

This was my first experience with McDonald’s iced coffee. It wasn’t iced coffee. It was more like a milkshake. Made with whole milk and caramel syrup the coffee was more like coffee ice cream. Not bad, but way too sweet and decadent to be iced coffee. Next time I’ll get one without flavor.

I know this rant doesn’t have much organization, but I realized today I was falling into the trap of many Americans with financial concerns or in poverty. There are so many cheap & tasty options out there that are so much easier than fresh cooking. And in food deserts, the cheap options of Taco Bell and the $1 McChicken are cost effective.

I have always known this truth, but I didn’t expect to be participating in it. I never thought I would revert to my fast food youth. But here I am.

I swear— tomorrow I will eat the Brussel sprouts.