Lifting the lid on flipping great beef

So it turns out that if this journalism malarkey all goes wrong, I can’t make good on my claim that I’d go and work in McDonald’s.

I visited the Weymouth branch of the fast-food chain today as part of a trip organised by McDonald’s to showcase its British food credentials and its links with the London 2012 Olympics.

Having visited a beef farm checking out the meat that goes into burgers, we trundled off to the restaurant, donned our caps and aprons and made some burgers. Here’s the lovely Richard Phelps from Blade Farming in action (luckily I escaped the photographer so there’s no evidence of me in a hairnet):

Richard Phelps
It turns out I’m a terrible Big Mac-maker. You have about 45 seconds to make the things (that includes toasting and dressing the bread and cooking the burger) and I was woeful. The incredibly patient chap overseeing the operation could barely disguise his dismay when I over-onioned the roll (“It’s just meant to be a pinch”) and was wayward with my gherkin (“Only two pieces and they’re meant to touch, so you get a piece in every bite”).

My ineptitude aside, it was interesting to see the food chain from beginning to end. McDonald’s is planning to do lots of trips like this to improve public understanding of food and appreciation of farming. See it as a cynical PR stunt or not, but I reckon it’s good of the company to give it a go.

Hmmm... Beef

Afterwards, having a chat with one of the execs from McDonalds, I was reminded about what I wrote last week about the slow progress farming’s got to make with regards to changing people’s attitudes towards it. We were talking about how free-range eggs have become the accepted standard amongst shoppers and are no longer a high-end, ‘luxury’ product. He reckoned the same thing is happening with chicken meat at the moment and over time the same recognition for quality and provenance of other meat will happen too.

I’ve had several emails over the past week since I said agriculture should push a rational message to consumers about food and farming – one in particular made no attempt to sugar-coat their opinion that I’m clearly bonkers – but surely the example of eggs shows what can be achieved by the industry over time?

Yes, farmers have responded to consumer demand for free-range by producing more. But that demand came about by the public gaining greater understanding about the production methods involved and then making an informed, rational choice. It comes back to a united message and open gates so people understand what’s really going on.

Now I know what really goes on behind a McDonald’s counter I’ve got a new-found respect for the art of burger-flipping. If that’s not a good example of what can be achieved through lifting the lid on production I don’t know what is.

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