Goofball nag hates beef, spawns tasteless burger

MIKE ROYKO

April 28, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Out of curiosity, I once went to a McDonald's and ordere something called a McLean, a low-fat burger. It wasn't the worst thing I ever ate. Some years ago, while fishing in the Ozarks, I yawned and a large bug with big wings flew into my mouth. That was really disagreeable. On the other hand, dressed up with onions and ketchup, the bug might have proven a better snack than the McLean thing.

I don't say this to belittle McDonald's. To the contrary, I think that one of the finest acts of public service this great American corporation ever did was to create the McLean burger.

By putting this awful thing on its menu, it stood up for freedom of choice, private enterprise and common sense.

And it dealt a blow to that most dangerous creature in our society: the politically correct public nag.

In this case, the nag is a male person named Jeremy Rifkin, who is usually described in the press as an activist, a gadfly, or, when I write about him, a real goofball.

Rifkin is one of those people who claim to have a throbbing social conscience and believe they were put on Earth to save us helpless dummies from ourselves. In simpler times, he would probably have been a peeping Tom. But now he writes books, holds news conferences and organizes protests.

He has had many causes, most of them unsuccessful. But most recently he has been sounding the shrill alarm on the evils of eating beef. He seems to believe that raising and eating beef is a threat to the entire planet.

A book he did on the subject is a hot seller among dimwits, while hailed by expert nutritionists, economists and other critics as one of the most idiotic things ever put between hard covers.

But Rifkin is not easily discouraged. The public nags never are. If they can stick their beaks in someone else's business, they will be there faster than a woodpecker.

It was people like Rifkin and his followers who carped, scolded and squealed at McDonald's for selling American hamburger lovers the kind of burgers the majority of Americans prefer. Namely, hamburgers with some fat and glop -- the kind that taste good and make you feel full.

They wailed so loudly that McDonald's finally gave in and developed a lower-fat hamburger -- the above-mentioned McLean thing.

McDonald's did so because it is a global institution and feels a corporate responsibility to be socially responsive. Other hamburger chains, less image-conscious, could tell pests like Rifkin: "You don't like some fat? Then go home, skinny lad, and stir-fry some chicken and veggies in your wok."

But McDonald's didn't do that. It sighed and gave us the McLean burger. And how did we, the consumers, respond? We bought it in such paltry numbers that it is one of the biggest flops in the history of McDonald's.

The most recent sales figures show that the reaction of about 98 percent of the McDonald's customers to the dry, scrawny burger is something like: "yech."

The customers won't eat it. The franchise operators consider it a nuisance and want to be rid of it. And who can blame them? It tastes awful. You would be better off frying some onions, slicing a tomato, squirting mustard on a bun, dousing it with pepper and garlic salt, and omitting the bland meat. (That, by the way, is the recipe for my favorite diet sandwich. I recommend it to Rifkin, although I suspect that he is a peanut butter and jelly kind of guy.)

But the McLean thing was a worthwhile venture because its failure told the public nags that Americans will eat what they want to eat, not what some common scold tells them to eat.

If people like Jeremy Rifkin had a sense of honor, they would apologize to McDonald's and America's hamburger lovers for being a public nuisance. Then they would go off to some remote part of India and seek sainthood by washing feet in a leper colony.

But being a compulsive busybody, Rifkin can't leave it alone.

He and his beef-hating followers are nagging McDonald's. They are picketing franchises and having a fine time demanding that McDonald's add a "veggie burger" to the menu.

Now I ask: Have you, or anyone you know, ever gone into a McDonald's and said: "Why don't you make a burger out of shredded vegetables?"

Of course not. If you want that kind of food, you cook it at home or go to the sort of Earth-mother restaurant that caters to aging hippies with bean sprouts stuck between their teeth. Which is your right as an American, God bless your tofu.

If Rifkin were something other than an intellectual gnat, he would boldly form a corporation, invest his own money, persuade his fellow beef-haters to put their savings in his stock.

And they could open a chain of fast-food restaurants selling veggie burgers, tofu burgers, seaweed burgers, cabbage burgers and other healthful delicacies. They could call them Twitburgers.

That would be putting their money where their sensitive taste buds are. But they won't because they know it would be scorned. America does not want a Twitburger. It prefers something it can really chomp on. Damn the cholesterol, full speed ahead.

Now I must go have dinner. Steak tartare. That's raw beef, ground up. I prefer it on the hoof, but it's a chore chasing the critter.

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