On Saturday morning I awoke, knowing that I would soon be lunching at the Dorchester on the occasion of a friend’s birthday.
There is something special about the Dorchester – the tea menu, the tinkling of the piano, the polite humour of the waiters. But a good breakfast is necessary so that the daintiness of the sandwiches isn’t compromised by one’s need to consume them in bulk, and so a hearty repast is what I had: free range eggs, Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee with organic milk and all. Yes, I dined at McDonald’s.
There was a time when McDonald’s was an unthinking byword for everything that was wrong with capitalism: shit food flung at you by demeaned staff in a chaotic plastic environment. A McJob was a sure sign of failure as a human being, a badly paid bystander as McDonald’s raped the rainforest, McDonald’s abused animals, McDonald’s stole our health.
Except they didn’t, really: because they wouldn’t have done any of that if there wasn’t any money in it – and there was money, our money. Truth is, a lot of the invective against McDonald’s was as much disapproval about what poor people got up to as where they snuck their beef from.
Today, McDonald’s holds awards from the RSPCA for their treatment of livestock, and their tea, coffee and milk comes from unimpeachably ethical sources. As degrees have been systematically devalued, a McJob that fast tracks you to management before your peers have paid their student loans back suddenly looks like an attractive option. I don’t go in McDonald’s much, but when I do, the staff always look happy, which I don’t think you can achieve by trickery.
There has never been, in my opinion, a better time to get ethical food cheap.
What is more, it puts ethical food into the reach of people on straightened budgets, who might not otherwise have the opportunity to dine out. Now, I am not saying that afternoon tea at the Dorchester is directly equivalent to, say, Pizza Hut’s all-you-can-eat buffet, but we should not be snobbish about either choice. Whatever your budget, Pizza Hut is a perfectly acceptable place to have a four-year-old’s birthday. It’s not a bad place to have to forty-year-old’s birthday, actually, if it’s close to everyone and you know a couple of your friends are a bit hard-up and would find it embarrassing to equivocate over the Dorchester’s cover charge.
Dining out with friends and family should be a pleasure regardless of the venue. It releases us from the tyranny of menu planning and the chore of washing up. It allows us to focus on our relationships and conversation without the distraction of warming plates or getting the peas out of the freezer. And in the economic doldrums in which we live, such pleasures are an excellent use of our time.