On guilt and food. McDonalds.
At the drive-thru there is nearly always a car with small children ahead of me, small bodies visible through the back window bouncing around in anticipation for their Happy Meals with some chokeable-part-filled plastic toy, the paperboard box with the M-shaped handle, the chicken nuggets that aren't made of chicken, the milkshakes that probably don't contain any dairy products whatsoever. It sends a chill through me. And then I reach out my car window for my own paper sack containing french fries and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a medium 7up, and the guilt washes over me in a wave. Set a plate of foie gras in front of me, a plate of crème brûlée with its heavy-cream-based custard, a thick steak and a mound of buttery mashed potatoes. I will dive in without the faintest quiver of a qualm. But standing in line for my Egg McMuffin and hash browns under the blinding fluorescent lights and gleaming tile, I gaze at the shiny plastic tables and chairs all around me, and I am sick with a sense of shame and failure.
We are inundated with facts about how disgustingly bad fast food is for you. It has been the norm - for educated people above a certain income level - to look down on the hormone-laden, fat-soaked junk that permeates American culture and is spreading like a disease around the world. For those of us who have a some amount of disposable income and read Gourmet and shop at Whole Foods and watch the Food Network there are somehow more options available. I have become one of those people who make cheeseburgers with organic beef and aged Cheddar. I have fried chicken fingers made with free-range chicken and imported Parmiggiano-reggiano (in olive oil). I am a snob in Prada flats and a gas-guzzling SUV. I should be the kind of person who, like Gwyneth Paltrow, would never eat at McDonalds. But I cannot help myself. And why should I?
The thing is - however good organic burgers and free-range chicken fingers are - some nights I am too tired to bother. Most nights I try to bother. I want to evade that nagging sense of guilt when I think about the crap that I put in my body, those extra fifteen or twenty pounds that could have been avoided had I resisted the M&M's on the counter, the Doritos my coworker brings to work (and perhaps, you know, excercised once in a while). I want to remind myself that even a simple omelet or a bowl of the homemade wontons I keep in the freezer is ten times better than a Super Value meal from the McDonalds a block from where I live. But then, every once in a while, I find myself craving a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, soft, sesame-sprinkled bun, American cheese with the texture of melted plastic, thin patty of beef that is most definitely not organic and probably full of hormones and pesticides, tangy with ketchup, crunchy with onions and pickles, along with a cardboard cup of soggy-crisp fries, a cold soft drink at my side. It is five minutes of heaven, perhaps ten. And then the guilt washes over me, but I nudge it away. I'll be good tomorrow.