McDonald's (Purportedly) Healthy, Sustainable Berkeley Location: Yes, We Went to It

Categories: Controversy

mcdonaldsberkeleyoutside.jpg
A good place to steal wifi in your car
First off, I apologize in advance for the following comparison to anyone struggling with serious addiction. But my two visits to the new greenish McDonald's in Berkeley (at 1198 San Pablo) brought to mind nothing less than the way a heroin addict I know on occasion used to make a big production out of not just kicking it, and not just turning his life around, but of suddenly becoming the most churchgoing, Eagle Scout-y, all-American straight-arrow he could be. For a couple weeks, he would insist -- with that shaky, desperate persuasiveness the true addict can muster -- that he'd traded the needle for the minivan, and not knowing how else to handle this, his friends and family would all play along. It was an act of collective wishing -- and lying.

Anyway, the new kinda/sorta eco-McDonald's is exactly like that. Instead of being fully rehabbed and dedicated to serious treatment, it is instead covering up its bad habits beneath a veneer of respectability. The Starbucks look of the dining room and all the signs promoting yogurt and apples don't quite disguise the truth: That folks come here to feed at the salty teat of the greatest abattoir-beast the world has ever known.

Anyway, here's a couple observations after my first (and last) two visits to a revamped McDonald's that is being marketed as a local and sustainability-oriented destination for healthy eating.

  • You know that nickle-thick glaze of cleaning chemicals that coats McDonald's floors like Magic Shell coats ice cream? The one that seems to kiss-suck the bottoms of your shoes? The floor at the new Berkeley McDonald's is not like that, not even in the bathroom, which was relatively clean -- and much less pee-stinking than the one in the McDonald's at Shattuck and University, which is the unofficial public restroom of all downtown Berkeley.

  • Perhaps the most notable thing about this McDonald's is that it doesn't smell like a McDonald's. Instead of that familiar stink of scalded coffee, relentless deep frying, and either fresh kid puke or the cleaning sludge used to clean up the last batch, this place smells like absolutely nothing. That's an improvement. Also, the lighting in the dining room is nicely muted, even somewhat warm, and there's no cartoon clowns or kid-targeted characters decorating the joint.

  • Hilariously, the islands in the parking lot are cordoned off to protect their precious, precious weeds.

    mcdonaldsbioswales.jpg
    That'll make up for decades of deforestation! Also, hunching down like a goat and munching on a bioswale is probably better for you than hitting the drive through.

  • It's old news that Happy Meals have been slimmed down across the country and that they often include milk and apples and smaller bags of French fries. That's a curious approach: Lure people to your restaurant by promising you'll give them less of your food.

  • Trip One: I had planned to order the new, "healthy" options of a refrigerated salad and a yogurt parfait, a quick glance around the restaurant revealed an unsurprising truth: All the customers were actually eating burgers and fries. So, at about 7 p.m., I joined them, ordering a Big Mac and "regular" fries. The franchisee told the Berkeleyside blog that lettuce and tomatoes are fresh, and that when possible vegetables and fruits are locally sourced. I can confirm this much: Any reasonable person would agree that the lettuce on in my Big Mac qualifies as "lettuce." The last time I scarfed down a McDonald's burger -- in the summer of 2001 -- the lettuce was more like a greasy old dollar bill and the tomato a tomato-flavored wetnap, so this is an improvement. Still, just like in '01, I wound up smearing special sauce all over a napkin because shitdamnshit enough with the Thousand Island goop already!

  • The fries seemed less salty than I remember them. That's nice. I saw one dude salting the hell out of his, so the dedicated can still prove they're real Americans or whatever, while the rest of us can enjoy fries that don't taste like someone made soft sandpaper out of salt.

  • Percentages of Food Eaten, Trip One: Big Mac, 40%; French fries, 100%

  • Trip Two: At about 8:45 a.m., I ordered a sausage biscuit and an Egg McMuffin. (Weird how the sausage biscuit warrants no capital letters, but the Egg McMuffin is inconceivable without them.) On both sandwiches, the English muffins were appealingly browned, and the sausage in the sausage biscuit was gently but notably spiced. But both are undone by sad, glue-like, flavorless cheese that coats the meat like mucus coats the sinuses.

    Seriously, is this a breakfast sandwich or one of those terrible disease photos from a medical textbook?

    mcdonaldssausagecheese.jpg

  • The cheese in the Egg McMuffin was more slablike but still tasted more like Daiya than, say, cheese. What is the point of cheese that offers none of the pleasure of cheese? But at least it peeled off cleanly, so I was able to get through a couple bites of egg, ham, and muffin.

  • I had forgotten about how seriously fast fast food is. Within two minutes of placing my order, my breakfast sandwiches were wrapped and ready on my tray.

  • Percentages of Food Eaten, Trip Two: Sausage biscuit, 20%; Egg McMuffin, 50%

  • Number of People Sleeping in Cars/Trucks in the Parking Lot, Per Visit: Trip One, 1; Trip Two, 2.

  • In short, the new eco-friendly McDonald's is like a regular McDonald's but with an improved sense of design, some of the most depressing parts removed, and a big lie underneath everything: That people want to come here and order either a burger or fries and then substitute an apple or a yogurt parfait for the other. Considering the addictive properties of high-fat, high-calorie fast food, it's a little like a dealer bragging that his or her high-grade shit is cut with the healthiest of baking sodas.

    mcdonaldschoices.jpg

    You go, McDonald's! I'm lovin' it, and by "it" I mean diabetes!

    --
    Follow Alan Scherstuhl on Twitter at @studiesincrap, SF Weekly's SFoodie blog at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.


Location Info

Venue

Map

McDonald's

1198 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, CA

Category: Restaurant

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21 comments
Dean Learner
Dean Learner

Hey, dipshits defending McDonald's on here: You're so brainwashed it's disgusting. I don't give a shit that McDonald's doesn't make the healthiest food: I give a shit that they make some of the most overly-processed, salted, fake 'food' items on the planet. Nothing on their menu has any remaining nutrients or anything that's not deformed, shredded, mixed with fillers, covered in chemicals and salt and additives to trick your brain into thinking its eating real food. Grow a set of brain lobes and go to local restaurants where you can get burgers, made with fresh locally raised meat, that actually taste like a grilled burgers and fries made from whole potatoes and real ice cream shakes. All for the same money you spend on the literal garbage they serve @ McDonalds. You don't have to eat healthy, if you're too disgustingly lazy to care about your body, but for God's sake: Eat real food. Defending McDonalds. I can only imagine the sad, pathetic life of a McDonalds lover.

Jess
Jess

Please make a distinction between Type-1 Diabetes or juvenile onset which is an autoimmune disorder. This type of diabetes is not caused by poor diet or lifestyle choices. Type-2 diabetes is the more common type of diabetes and is linked to poor diet. Thanks.

Chrisjuricich
Chrisjuricich

As a teen and adult, I would frequent McDonald's and its ilk regularly. As I grew older and started thinking about what I put into my body for sustenance and, surprisingly, health, I eschewed the Golden Arches.

That being said, let me state that their fries are outrageously tasty, their burgers are filling and satisfying, and they are a true guilty pleasure. Haven't eaten in a McDee's now for many months, I can tell you--but only because I prefer cooking my own food. I'm not a foodie and I'm not a snob--their food is tasty damn it (shitdamnshit) but let's face it--best avoided...mostly.

Omcaj
Omcaj

Alan Scherstuhl. I'll remember that name. And avoid his byline in the future. "Shitdamnshit"? I don't need to read that word again.

GBannis
GBannis

Wow, Alan. Snarky much?

The only big lie here is the one you told: that McDonald's is pretending its customers don't want burgers any more. 

By any measure, this green design is a step forward. So are the expanded choices of food. 

Whether people take advantage of the new choices is up to them, and not up to you to judge them. 

And really, you cannot possibly blame McDonald's for what their customers want. 

(BTW, that crappy photo of a cheeseburger looks just like every cheeseburger I've ever had whether it was at Bar Jules or a food truck.)

njudah
njudah

chalk one victory for the fast food banning in SF - since returning to SF in 2000 I rarely go to a McDonald's anymore if only because the only one close to me is that putrid "Children of Men" themed one in the Haight. I found an easy way to order something and not get 10 billion calories - I simply order what was an adult portion in the 1950s - small fries, small diet coke, and small burger. Done right it's ok, and then once I have it I don't need to go back for a long time. Crack craving cured.

The_Pony
The_Pony

Just get the sausage biscuit with nothing else on it. Sausage and biscuit. The only good thing they make there.

Mrgastrognome
Mrgastrognome

Since when does a Big Mac have tomato? Why write this acerbic review and yet vouch for the freshness of an ingredient that doesn't exist? Intentionally crappy cell phone pics are a nice touch too.

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Yeah, actually there was no tomato on the Big Mac. But there was a terrible tomato on whatever the last burger I had at a McDonald's was ten years ago, and in my eagerness to make fun of that one I made it sound like the Big Mac came adorned with one, too. SORRY MCDONALD'S!

GBannis
GBannis

You should apologize to your readers too. 

Carelessness is carelessness. But intentional misleading for the sake of a story "angle" is unethical. 

Onfire
Onfire

Disease photo!!! I'm lovin that. Hash browns would go good with that.

M Stein
M Stein

McDonald's is a business.  The company is not going to stop selling food that makes them money because it is unhealthy.  If customers choose not to order the healthy alternatives, it is not McDonald's fault.

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Yeah! If a business opens up called Big J's House of Crack and Fresh Kale, it's not Big J's fault that recurring customers tend only to buy the crack!

M Stein
M Stein

I wouldn't compare crack to fast food.

njudah
njudah

LOL that was funny!

Jjskck
Jjskck

What really makes me giggle is that you went there twice at different times of day, like this is a real restaurant that deserves a real review.

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

Yeah. How were the "long, warm bread sticks?"

Jjskck
Jjskck

Just wait 'til Grand Forks gets an eyeful of those Bioswales.

Stevens
Stevens

Snob! Take the arugula out of your mouth and maybe your foot. Why do you hate so much? McDs is affordable and cheap!

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

They always go for "arugula." I guess because it sounds funny.

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

A feet and arugula salad sounds a lot better to me than a Big Mac.

But the point is it's pretty nasty of McDonald's to pretend to be something other than what it is: a delivery system for habit-forming fats and sweets. Have you ever tried to tell a kid he or she is getting an apple instead of fries?

(I haven't told a kid that, either, but I imagine it ain't easy.)

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