Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Fast Food Mystery

I know all of the problems with fast food. I've watched Super Size Me, and I've heard the criticisms of parents who let their children eat McNuggets. Sometimes, though, I still purchase fast food. It's not because I think it is delicious, and I am not swayed by annoying commercials. When I buy fast food it's because it is a convenient way of providing a meal in a day that has no breaks scheduled. If I am driving from work to night school and my children still need dinner (and I don't have a personal private chef), I will, yes, go to a burger joint drive-through window. It's not that I think it's great mothering--it's just mothering. They need food, I don't have time to make it, McDonalds here I come.

Today was one of those busy days. Despite the fact that it's a Saturday, I had to work this morning. I taught two sessions of grammar and writing for students preparing for the PSAT; after four hours it was lunchtime and my children were waiting ravenously at home. Grocery shopping was also on my list, so fast food seemed a reliable option.

Here's the mystery of fast food, though: they never, ever get the order right. Sometimes I'll be smart and sit there, risking the beeps of the cars behind me, making sure that everything in the bag looks correct (which takes a while when you've ordered for a whole family). Other times, though, I take things for granted that I should not, and later I have an unpleasant surprise.

Often the mistake will result in a strained relationship between me and my children. "I TOLD you nothing but ketchup," my son will wail. Then he will refuse to eat his burger, which is contaminated by vegetables. Today, though, it was I who had the unpleasant surprise. I unwrapped my straw, inserted it into my drink, and found that it was not the diet soda I requested, but regular. Since I hate the extra-sugary taste of regular pop, I didn't drink it. I was thirsty, too.

With a sigh I opened the little box that said "Chicken sandwich." Foolishly, I had assumed that a chicken sandwich would be inside. One bite, however, told me that it was fish. Thanks to either poor listening skills or poor preparation, my lunch was not at all what I ordered. I didn't eat it. I'm still hungry.

If I compiled a chart of all the times that what I order at the window is not what I actually receive, I think 50% would be a low and generous estimate. It is almost a constant. As pervasive as fast food is the reality of poor customer service and almost constant disappointment.

I understand this about fast food culture, and I know I am taking myriad risks, health-related and otherwise, just by driving into the line.

But just once, just once, I'd like to get food which looks the way it does on tv commercials, which is hot and fragrant and correct to the last detail. I've accepted the fact that it will never happen, but I still dream of that alternate world.

And now I still have to figure out what to have for lunch when the larder is bare.