In Defense of the McRib
|The McRib||Photo Courtesy of Gary Wiviott|
No, I didn't spend the three month layoff in Des Plaines, Illinois undergoing intense psychological reprogramming in a bunker beneath McDonald's HQ. But today, I'm going to stand up for the McRib. And not just for the McRib, but for that which the McRib represents, though we'll get to that later. This discussion starts with the discovery not only of the fact that I dig the crime against food pictured above, but that I'm far from alone... even among otherwise discerning food nerds.
With the most recent reintroduction of the sandwich to the Chicago market (are boneless pigs in season again?), an old thread over at LTH Forum, started two years ago by one Mr. Gary Wiviott in a moment of exasperation, was bumped back into action. Gary, you see, is a hardcore BBQ enthusiast, and not of the "slather a grilled chicken breast or boiled ribs with ketchup and liquid smoke and call it BBQ" variety. No, Gary's a true devotee of the low and slow method of turning meat into succulent, smoky bliss that is, along with jazz, one of the few true American art forms. As such, what surprised me about the thread wasn't Gary's violent reaction to the reappearance of his nemesis. Though he's able to maintain good humor about the subject, I've no doubt that on a deep, emotional level, Gary sees the McRib as an affront to all that is good and true in this twisted, cruel world. His reaction was (and is, every time the McRib resurfaces) entirely predictable, and the thread is certainly not lacking for like-minded individuals. Less expected, however, was the outpouring of self-loathing love for the meaty monstrosity that also followed.
|White Castle's Chicken Rings|
The answer, I think, is in the moniker Gary chose to attach to the object of his scorn: The McFib.
Personally, I find the McRib's lack of real food qualities to be rather endearing. But there was a level on which I could completely sympathize. I've been similarly afflicted by a burning hatred for The Olive Garden since first visiting them in high school. But when I reflect upon the true root of my scorn, I'm forced to admit that it has nothing to do with the food. It's terrible, sure, but... well... look up. I'm in no position to throw stones. Rather, what burns me every time I see an Olive Garden ad is that it's being presented as authentic Italian cuisine that's lovingly prepared by chefs who have trained in Tuscany. It's the lie that gets me. So for a hardcore 'cue nerd, what's not to hate about the McRib? It's a meat patty slathered in sauce. There's no smoke. There are no ribs. Hell, I'm not even entirely certain the thing is made of pork. Yet I've no doubt that over the next month, the River North McDonald's will sell more fake ribs than all of the south side BBQ shrines combined will sell real ones. For a huge segment of the population, the McRib IS BBQ. And that chaps Gary's ass.
The thing is, in this golden age of irony and self-awareness, it doesn't need to be this way. McDonald's could take a cue (no pun intended) from White Castle in embracing the McRib's fakeness. Why go through the pretense of making the patty vaguely rib-shaped? White Castle had the right idea with its Chicken Rings. If you're going to process something so thoroughly into oblivion that it can't possibly hope to resemble the original beast in any way, why not embrace the fakeitude and make it the most unnatural shape possible? I, for one, think they should stamp the McDonald's logo into the patty, shape it like the silhouette of a cartoon pig and call it the McVaguelyPorkish. All absurd questions of authenticity fully preempted, we'll be free to simply enjoy the sandwich for what it is: processed, fused meat paste in a sickly sweet sauce. It won't be any closer to actual BBQ, but it'll be honest. And perhaps more importantly, it will help us to be honest with ourselves. As food nerds, we can labor all day over the perfect Ragu alla Bolognese, we can scour the nation's strip malls in search of that undiscovered gem of an ethnic restaurant, we can travel thousands of miles for fleeting moments of gastronomic bliss unattainable at home... and then we can have a McRib. Without feeling guilty about it.