I’ve blamed McDonald’s and fellow fast food joints for enabling Americans’ worst eating habits. They help us scarf down a meal in our cars, by ourselves, and in a hurry. Their cheap, greasy food steals away poor people’s paychecks, and their glowing signs interrupt our skylines. I worry that McDonald’s triumph has led us to value expediency and efficiency over all else.

But maybe I’ve missed something major about fast-food culture.

"McDonald's: you can sneer, but it's the glue that holds communities together," declared a recent headline from The Guardian. The article featured Bible study groups, Retired Old Men Eating Out (better known as “Romeo”), African American community meetings, and other gatherings that have become staples at the Golden Arches. For socioeconomically disenfranchised individuals, McDonald’s offers a crucial refuge—not just Big Macs and fries. It’s a place for “cheap and filling food…free Wi-Fi, outlets to charge phones, and clean bathrooms.”

Rather than swiftly ushering people in and out of its doors, “McDonald’s is also generally gracious about letting people sit quietly for long periods—longer than other fast-food places," the article recounts. A restaurant founded on the value of speed has become beloved for letting people linger, without stigma and without harassment. It’s open early mornings and late evenings, and easy to find in cities and suburbs and the country.

Maybe those of us who only use the drive-thru have overlooked the importance of McDonald’s as a place, rather than just a food source. Or maybe we’ve observed a homeless person tucked in a booth ...

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