McShame (/mehk Sham/) - noun 1. A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of eating fast food from McDonald’s.
For the last three weeks, you’ve been traveling through India, devouring delicious, spicy curries from local restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
For the last two days, you haven’t been further than fifteen feet from your hotel room’s toilet bowl. You’ve been subsisting on a diet of bottled water, charcoal tablets, two crackers, and three packets of oral rehydration powder.
But you’re finally feeling much better – and you are STARVING. You break free from your hotel room and head out into the city, passing intriguing cafes with the rich, pungent aroma of curry wafting into the street.
But you can’t do spicy. You can’t do curry. Your stomach is in a very fragile state. You just want something plain to eat. Something that isn’t spicy AT ALL. Something that tastes good. Something familiar. Something… like French fries.
And then you see it up ahead on the street: the Golden Arches. The symbol of Western cultural hegemony, the scourge of obesity, and the source of infinite animal tears. McDonald’s.
You never eat at McDonald’s back home, or any other fast food restaurant for that matter. You are opposed to everything that this company represents. You don’t want to be THAT American. But… French fries…
You remember them from childhood. Glistening with grease and salt. Steamy hot. Starchy goodness. You glance over your shoulder for the healthy living police, and head toward the doors with your head down. Just a small order of French fries, you think. Just to tie me over until I find something better.
Two large orders of French fries later, a McChicken burger, and hot fudge sundae –- you slink back out the door covered in a thick, heavy layer of McShame.
Is Eating Fast Food Hypocritical?
Not eating fast food is a badge of honor for many advocates and adherents of healthy living. It's right up there with not owning a TV. Eating at fast food outlets, particularly McDonald’s, seems to contradict the very ethos of conscious living - which can lead to an intense feeling of McShame for those who indulge.
But…French fries. India.
What would you do?
Would you face the McShame that comes with supersizing your Maharaja Burger? Or would you stick to your healthy eating morals and eat the raw almonds stashed in your bag for dinner?
What would you do if you were in a similar situation in a far-off land? When you travel outside your comfort zone and find that eating a gluten-free/vegan/raw/specialty diet is almost impossible where you are?
The fact is: specialty diets are a luxury, not a measure of one's worth. And stressing over every bite of food that you put in your mouth is far worse for your health than consuming the occasional fast food burger. Really.
Tips for Dealing with McShame
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips:
- Just eat it and enjoy it already. McDonald’s has recently taken steps to improve its commitment to animal welfare, healthier ingredients, and sustainability.
- Order something weird and try something new - like the Maharaja chicken sandwich, paneer burger, or potato burger. Does it taste horrible? Just remember: the worst travel experiences make the best travel stories.
- Soak in the atmosphere. How is this McDonald's different than ones you've seen in your own country - and how is it the same? Check out at the menu, the ads, and the people around you.
- Go vegetarian. You won't worry so much about how the animals are treated in a country with different regulations than your own.
- Opt for a meal of French fries and an ice cream sundae. You're already eating fast food; might as well go all the way. You know. Moderation.
- Plant a tree when you get home - an all-purpose way to assuage non-conscious living guilt and feelings of McShame.
Whatever You Do, Don't Judge - Yourself or Others
Travel puts into question choices that are easy to make in America but are a luxury in the rest of the world. We can choose not to eat meat and we won’t starve. We can choose not to wear wool and we won’t freeze. We can choose not to follow a religion and we won’t be stoned by our community. Not everyone in the world is so lucky.
Our individual choices are a reflection not just of our personal desires, but also of our geography. We should never judge another from the lofty viewpoint at the top that the luck of being born in America has afforded us.
The struggle is real, and the McShame is stout.
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