Landship Foods is inspired by the conviction that growing and eating healthy food is one of the most important things we can do for both ourselves and the broader communities of which we are a part. The name comes from the language of pre-industrial Europe. Before the enclosure movement and the associated rise in notions of private property swept England, the suffix “-ship” (as in "relationship," or "friendship") referred to an object or an abstraction with collective duties and mutual rights. Thus, the term “landship” suggests that land was an entity through which humans were joined to each other by a set of rights and responsibilities. I advocate for a revival of this awareness.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Ronald McDonald is Whistlin' Dixie!
It seems that the world’s largest peddler of corn and soy-derived “food” isn’t concerned about justifying their claim to Southern culinary traditions. The promotional website for their “southern-style” chicken sandwich doesn’t broach the subject. Instead, it hails their latest offering as “a fantastic relay team of perfectly seasoned, lightly breaded all white meat chicken, topped off with two pickles and served on a steamed bun.” So there is nothing particularly “Southern” about their sandwich. No surprise there. Why do they even bother calling it a southern-style chicken sandwich then? It seems to me that they are appropriating the image of “down-home Southern cooking” – food that is good for the soul – in an effort to assuage any apprehension that passing motorists might harbor about eating fast food. They are trying to give their placeless and faceless, mass-produced product a pedigree. McDonald's wants to, and needs to, “place” their food, and they have chosen the American South. A brilliant (and profitable) strategy, no doubt, but one that offends my sensibilities.
The irony of a placeless commodity being called “Southern” is not very useful, though. As my graduate school advisor always reminded us, irony has limited potential for productive thought. So, the more I thought about this recent addition to our fast food nation’s menu, the more I came to realize that McDonald’s was not so off-base in calling it Southern. The chicken in most of their sandwiches was likely grown in the American South; north Georgia and Arkansas produce the vast majority of industrially-grown chickens. (See Steve Striffler, Chicken and William Boyd, "Making Meat") And Southerners make up a large portion of McDonald’s customer base; the South as a region consumes more fast food per capita than any other. (www.aae.wisc.edu/fsrg/publications/conference/Marsh_Fanning_Stiegert.pdf) Although these are not the reasons Ronald chose to claim his new sandwich as “Southern,” they do suggest that McDonald's is largely representative of modern Southern cuisine. Perhaps, then, we should not resent McDonald’s appropriation of “southern-style” food, but instead work harder to make the Southern landscape one where industrial chicken farms and harried drive-by meals are not the norm.
A brief update (8/24): A cohort of mine from this summer has returned home to New Jersey and sent me this photo from an area White Castle. It seems they have chosen the American South as their newest place theme, too. Sin and salvation smothered with a corn-syrup sweetened barbecue sauce...yum.