Tag Archives: McDonald’s

An Evening with Marcia Chatelain, Author of Franchise

Debbie says:

photo of Marcia Chatelain

Earlier this week, a friend and I went to hear Dr. Marcia Chatelain live at the JCCSF in San Francisco. Dr. Chatelain was there to talk about her new book … but that’s not why I wanted to hear her. I’m a regular listener to Undisclosed, a podcast about wrongful convictions. About two years ago, they did a very deep dive into the story of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died in police custody in Baltimore in 2015.  I admired everything about this series, and came away wanting to know more about just about all of the people who created it: and Dr. Chatelain provided the historian’s perspective, offering much-needed context.

So when I saw she was speaking in San Francisco, I was delighted. But I didn’t think I was going to be especially interested in her topic, which was described loosely as something like “fast food in the Black community.”

When we got there, we saw the book–Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black Americawhich already sounded more interesting. When Dr. Chatelain took the stage, accompanied by her friend and interviewer Dr. Brandi Thompson Summers, we soon learned that she specifically didn’t frame the book around fast food, but around the history of McDonald’s in the Black communities. I haven’t yet read the book, but here’s some of what I took away. Most of the rest of this is me paraphrasing some high points from the evening:

As Naomi Klein examines in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, large corporations are extremely adept at making money out of social chaos. In the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, McDonald’s found its way into Black communities across America, offering franchise-owner opportunities to community members. While this was certainly a way out of poverty for some, Dr. Chatelain sees it also as a push away from beloved community, and toward individual entrepreneurship. One way you can tell that it worked is that McDonald’s franchise owners make up the single biggest group of Black millionaires in the United States.

Franchising is neither easy nor inexpensive. Franchise owners are responsible for most if not all of the costs of the franchise, plus fees to McDonald’s over and above the cost of the franchise itself. One audience member asked why these people didn’t quit and start their own franchising companies: because without the corporate name behind them, they can’t get the loans they need, or break the megacorp’s market share. As Dr. Chatelain said several times, McDonald’s is a real estate company–burgers and fries are a secondary income source. (Apparently, they are also the largest toy distributor in the world, because of Happy Meal prizes.)  And — no surprise here — somehow when the Black franchise owners wanted to add stores in White neighborhoods, somehow none were available, or affordable, or whatever the excuse was.

It’s the same old story: in an attempt to milk everything it could out of the Black community, McDonald’s positioned itself as a friend to that community: a job creator, an opportunity-builder, with well-tuned advertising and some sensitivity to the “market segment,” if none to the beloved community.

In the 21st century, business is rougher and times are hard for franchisees, who have higher costs and fewer options. Dr. Chatelain was a powerful voice first for the ability of people (especially Black people) to take creative paths through hardship, and second for a return to valuing community, family, activism, and resilience at least as highly as monetary reward for a few: not transmuting civil rights into “silver rights.”

The interview will air sometime in the future on Binah at radio station KALW in San Francisco, Thursdays at noon. Watch for it. Follow me on Twitter.

Anthony Bourdain: False (and Useless) Justification of Cruelty

Debbie says:

Anthony Bourdain, well-known “bad boy” chef, TV personality, and excellent writer, doesn’t read his own books (or even his own interviews). Bourdain is getting a lot of well-deserved grief just now for this piece, in which he relates his no-holds-barred campaign to keep his daughter from having any interest in fast food.

This is just one act in an ongoing dramatic production, one small part of a larger campaign of psychological warfare. The target? A two-and-a-half-year-old girl. The stakes are high. As I see it, nothing less than the heart, mind, soul and physical health of my adored only child. I am determined that the Evil Empire shall not have her, and to that end I am prepared to use what Malcolm X called “any means necessary”.

His “any means necessary” include casting Ronald McDonald in his daughter’s eyes as someone who steals children, as well as planning to wrap something that will upset his daughter (“Nothing dangerous, but something that a two-and-a-half-year-old will find ‘yucky!’ – even upsetting – in the extreme. Maybe a sponge soaked with vinegar. A tuft of hair. A Barbie head.”) in a McDonald’s wrapper so she will be aversively conditioned against the golden arches.

Let’s start with the important points:

There is nothing most children are more afraid of than being taken away from their parents, and there is absolutely no excuse for inventing reasons for children to experience this fear. Just because the mass media fans this fear on a daily basis doesn’t absolve Bourdain from personalizing it for his daughter; in fact, the crazytown social climate makes what he’s doing even worse.

Leaving scary things for children to find is just plain mean. I have to wonder what Bourdain would do to someone else who played such vicious tricks on his “adored only child.”

Here’s the ironic part. In explaining why he must be so vigilant against Mickey D, Bourdain says:

What’s the most frightening thing to a child? The pain of being the outsider, of looking ridiculous to others, of being teased or picked on. Every child burns with fear at the prospect.

I disagree. I think (and Bourdain’s actions bear me out) that the fear of being taken away from your parents is more frightening. Nonetheless, he’s still right that most kids want to be included, accepted, part of the gang.

As a long-time Bourdain reader, I also remember his account in Kitchen Confidential of what made him an adventurous eater, and a gourmet, in the first place, when his parents took him and his brother to France on a foodie vacation. In fact, I could grab it right off my shelf to quote from:

My folks had by now endured weeks of relentless complaining through many tense and increasingly unpleasant meals. They’d dutifully ordered our steak hache [hamburger], crudites variees [raw vegetables], sandwich au jambon [ham sandwich], and the like long enough. They’d taken my brother and me, the two Ugliest Little Americans, everywhere.

Vienne was different.

They pulled the gleaming new Rover into the parking lot of a restaurant, … handed us what was apparently a hoarded stash of Tintins … and then left us in the car.

I had plenty of time to wonder: What could be so great inside those walls?

I decided then and there to outdo my foodie parents. I’d show
them who the gourmet was!

To recap, by his own arguments and experience, Bourdain’s active and intentional cruelty to his daughter will ensure that she feels left out and encourage her to become fascinated by the things he’s excluding her from. Meanwhile, of course, by conflating his food politics with her psyche, he’s setting her up for a disturbingly unhealthy relationship to what she eats. (I do agree with a good deal of his castigation of fast food; that’s not the point.)

If he’s not doing his level best to raise an unhappy, confused McDonald’s junkie, it’s hard to see how he could do better. I’m just appalled that he’s not only willing to misue his child in these ways, he’s downright bragging about it. I hope she grows up to eat whatever the fuck she wants, and throws his moralism in his face.