A McDonalds drive-through in Wellington on the first day of alert level three (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

Fast-food shaming is not about backing your local, it’s about being an asshole

If you’re the type to judge those who queued up for a post-lockdown Big Mac, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions about why you really disapprove so much.

Since we moved to alert level three, there has been a flurry of attention on fast food – namely that after five weeks of cooking, people are excited about eating it. McDonalds sold 300,000 burgers in one day. Two Aucklanders performed the haka to welcome Maccas staff back to work. The lines for KFC stretch down the block. All par for the course, considering how restrictive level four lockdown was, especially on the food front.

Turns out, people are very mad about it. When MP Christopher Bishop posted a pic of himself getting some hash browns on the morning lockdown ended, people turned out in droves on their high horses to say, among other things, “Pathetic!!”. 

The comment section on any fast-food article devolved into a bloodbath, damning these Big Mac devourers to hell. And while shaming people for eating fast food has been an internet pastime for yonks, lockdown has amplified the fervour to a point where it’s just gotten very, very annoying. There’s one phrase I’m noticing pop up over and over again: support your local. 

“Support your local” has, for some bizarre reason, become the rallying cry to shame people who miss Wicked Wings, where the innocent platitude is weaponised as a way to let everyone know you’re better than them. When someone whips out the “support your local” party line to stomp on people who are excited about getting chicken nuggets, more often than not they’re using that explanation as a “rational” excuse to cover up a whole lot of other shit they feel below the surface. Yep, I’m talking about classism, racism and plain old assholerism.

There is a difference between being genuinely critical of the pitfalls of fast food (and there are many) and being critical just to be an asshole. The former comes after the structural inequalities that make it necessary for fast food joints to exist; the latter relies on superiority complexes and making someone feel bad about their individual choices. It is, in fact, completely unproductive to yell at someone that they’re putting hard-earned Kiwi money into the hands of an evil mega cooperation and, surprisingly, does nothing to address any of the issues (worker exploitation, unhealthy eating etc etc) you claim to care about.

The past year or so of my life working as a food writer has been spent talking to local restaurateurs, chefs and hospitality workers. The hospitality industry is not in a good place right now – if it ever was in the first place – so I’m greatly sympathetic to the meaning behind “support your local”; I know its importance.

But I also know the importance of being able to look forward to $10.50 Big Mac combo between the end of a long day and the beginning of a longer one, of feeding a family with a $30 bucket of KFC chicken, of lingering with friends over a pack of McNuggets when you have nowhere else to go. I get the importance of ritual, of having somewhere to eat that everyone in a fussy family can agree is bomb. And, even more importantly than that, I know how fucking good a Wicked Wing tastes.

Photo: Getty Images

So there’s a simple solution to this whole debacle: just eat what you want. I can not stress more how easy it is to order a $65 meal from your favourite fine-diner, or a $20 pasta dish from your favourite bistro without shaming people into oblivion for waiting in a drive-through for fast food that costs half that. It’s so easy! Sure, I’ll be ordering take-out from independent eateries and “supporting local” all through levels three, two and one because I can and want to. But that sort of meal won’t be accessible or desired by everyone, and while I will always encourage people to support their local Chinese restaurant or fish and chips joint or what have you, will I be hollering at them that buying a Wendy’s combo is the reason this country has gone to the dogs? Yeah, nah.

We don’t often talk about it, but just like dining out at a fancy restaurant, or your attachment to a favourite neighbourhood wine bar, fast food is emotional too. I mean, duh, of course it is. Our fast food places are one of the most reliable – and cheapest – comforts we have. It was where I had my seventh birthday party and bumped my head from being aggressively pushed into the ball pit. It was where we went after picking my mum up at the airport after she flew back from my grandma’s funeral, when everything else was closed and she ate her Filet O’ Fish (it’s an Asian thing) in tears while the lull of white noise surrounded us. It was where I’d skulk into at 1am as a broke university student and order a cheeseburger because I’d skipped dinner.

In the middle of an extremely uncertain pandemic, it’s pretty easy to see why something familiar to us, that we’ve known for all our lives, would be an important part of coping. In the middle of a pandemic, when a lot of us have lost our jobs, or have had our hours cut down, it’s pretty easy to see why having a little treat is something to look forward to – and to line up for. In the face of precarity, there are still simple pleasures to be found, and some of them come in a brown takeout bag.



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