I had just passed my colloquium. It was an unseasonably cold day at the end of March (global warming, am I right?) but I was feeling victorious. I wanted to do something that would mirror my triumph over the much-dreaded colloquium (basically the defense of a thesis in the form of a two hour conversation with a panel of three faculty members) that all seniors in the Gallatin School for Individualized Study at NYU must complete in order to graduate. I needed to do something that would match my level of elation. That something was going to McDonald’s and buying myself two McChicken sandwiches and eating them in Washington Square Park, despite the cold (see above photo).
Many would chastise me for consuming such foul (literally fowl) food, but McChickens make me happy. I often call my predilection towards the McChicken sandwich a guilty pleasure but I always wonder to myself “why should I feel guilty about a thing that makes me happy?” That’s the big question. Should you feel guilty about your guilty pleasures if they make you happy?
My vegan friend thinks I should. We were once out one night at some bar in god knows where and I got a little tipsy and insisted that we just call it a night so I could go home, get my McChicken and go to sleep. As I was telling her my plan for the rest of the night, she had been sipping on her vodka martini, and she did a spit take where she found out I would be stopping before eventually going home. “You would really eat that garbage?” she said to me. “Do you know how inhumanely McDonald’s treats their chickens?” Fire was coming out of her mouth at this point. The truth is I didn’t.
I did some research though, and she is right; the way the McDonald’s Corporation houses their chickens used to make my most favorite treat is straight up barbaric. Tom Rawstorne wrote about this treatment for the Daily Mail and he describes how, “each bird is allowed the floor space equivalent to a sheet of A4 paper and will live for just 40 days before it hits its genetically-engineered slaughter weight.” My vegan friend is by no means militant, but she is right, this treatment isn’t right, not for any creature. But also, McChickens make me happy; it’s my special treat. Should my happiness come after the cruel treatment of these birds? I don’t necessarily think so.
If I were to Consider the Lobster (thanks DFW) for a minute, I would consider that animals, even though they are used for food by humans, do feel things (lobsters literally scream when you are putting them into a pot of boiling water while they are still alive). Why should I consider the lobster though? Or the chickens, in my own case. I’m also technically am an animal and I also feel things, so are my feelings less important because I can consider the chickens feelings? I’m sorry to say that I don’t think so. Why should my feelings be put behind those of animals that do not have the same known level of intelligence as humans do? I apologize to the chickens harmed in the process (but they are being harmed anyway; whether I’m eating the McChicken or not, McDonald’s Corporation is still churning them out).
This does go deeper than the McDonald’s treatment of our feathered friends. Not only are the birds treated inhumanely, but McDonald’s Corp. puts all sorts of chemicals in their food to make it last longer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested all of the food McDonald’s serves. They found the chemicals that are used to make the McDonald’s Chicken Nugget (a McChicken is basically a giant chicken nugget served on a bun with lettuce and mayonnaise – my mouth is watering just thinking about it) and the findings are hard to stomach. McDonald’s chicken nuggets are filled to the brim with chemicals that are not good for the human body. They include:
- sodium phosphates (fancy, science-y name for salt)
- bleached wheat flour (nutrients removed – aka this does not add any nutritional value to the food)
- food starch-modified (this is modified starch that’s used as a thickener but it can also be used in pharmaceuticals as a binder on coated paper, like what you lick when you close an envelope….gross)
- dextrose (fancy, sciencey name for sugar)
- partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil with mono-and diglycerides, (trans fats – which by definition are really not great for you)
- Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil) (trans fats – again, not so good for you)
- TBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleium dervived product (fancy, science-y name for an antioxidant that is genetically modified to keep foods fresher for longer periods of time – so McDonald’s can keep the McChicken patties frozen for however long they want, you could be eating one from 1995…)
- Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent (which is a form of silicone used in cosmetics, and Silly Putty, really really really gross, don’t want to think about that so gross).
Learning about just how bad the McChicken is for my body was disheartening but I can look past it. A lot of things are bad for me. Living in New York City definitely isn’t great for me because of all the smog and car exhaust and rat shit etc. but it makes me happy. So do McChickens.
Jing Xu, a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, and Norbert Schwartz, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business did a study on guilty pleasures and what they can do for a person’s overall well being called “Do We Really Need to Indulge”. The study is based on the idea of why people give in to buying luxury items, even if they can’t necessarily afford them or don’t really need them.
While a McChicken is in no way a luxury item by any stretch of the imagination (it’s on McDonald’s Dollar Menu & More…) sometimes I do feel the need to justify why I eat them. The justification I go with is because I like them and they make me happy and that is justification enough. The conclusion of Xu and Schwartz’s study is more in line with my thinking:
Yet this converging evidence across predictions, behavioral decisions and memories may be less compelling than it seems. From a cognitive perspective, all of these variables are driven by the same inputs: consumers’ beliefs. These beliefs figure prominently in making hedonic predictions, which in turn serve as the basis for behavioral decisions.
I am the consumer and I do not believe that I am doing anything wrong by eating a McChicken. I am actually doing something right. I am caring for my well-being. I am making myself happy, which is what most people want out of life; just to be happy. I’ll take my chemicals in the McChicken and I’ll try not to consider the chickens in their A4 paper cages, but I will continue to eat my McChicken, and you should indulge in your guilty pleasure too. Don’t think about the consequences, that would be literally sweating the small stuff. Just worry about being well and being happy, just don’t hurt any other person in the process (that is a whole other ball of yarn).
Image via the author.