Why 'We Got McDonalds At Home' Was A Triggering Response For Gen Xers
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 / Unsplash

Why 'We Got McDonalds At Home' Was A Triggering Response For Gen Xers

We're trying to not have our kids hear the same thing but inflation at the house that Ronald built is making it difficult

These words still burn in the soul of every Gen Xer. With inflation, my Gen A daughter is close to hearing those deflating words: We don’t need to stop at McDonald’s. We got McDonald’s at home.

Those were the most damaging words my brother and I could hear our parents utter. This reflexive response would crush our dreams of perfectly golden french fries. The worst part is that now that my parents are grandparents, they seem to have an unlimited supply of McDonald's money for their grandkids. Once, when I came to their house to pick my daughter up, she was eating a HAPPY MEAL!

She got a Happy Meal when it was not her birthday or Jesus’s birthday but some random day ending with a y. Believe me when I say my face was fixed a certain way, trying to recognize these two people who raised me. All three of them greedily smacked their lips on my childhood ambrosia while I watched, once again—no burgers or fries for me.

Related: McDonald’s adult Happy Meal toys, ranked.

The McDonald’s at-home hurt is real. This is a universal American experience for people of a certain age. We did not have the plethora of fast food dining options when I was coming of age in the 80s. The term casual dining had not been coined to describe restaurants like Cava, Chipotle, Smashburger, etc. We had Burger King, Arby’s, Wendy’s and McDonald’s. We would not see our first Taco Bell until I was in high school.

If you did not grow up in an epoch with Saturday morning cartoons, you will never fully understand how commercials enslaved us. Sugar cereal, toys, and Ronald McDonald surrounded by the rag-tag inhabitants of McDonald’s Land reigned supreme each Saturday morning. Now that I am a father, I am thankful my kid is not subjected to this constant barge of advertisements. Ads that were laser-focused on capturing our attention and selling us what the New York and Los Angeles tastemakers had decided was the current zeitgeist.

This was the trade-off: our parents would retain some freedom as they knew their kids would be occupied for at least two or three hours devouring cartoons every Saturday Morning. They got peace! These were the same parents that the US Government had to develop a series of Public Service announcements (“PSAs”) to remind them that they had kids and that these kids they had sired needed to be back at their house at 10:00 PM.

Gen X had a rough existence. We were not allowed in the house during the summer, so we roamed the world on our bikes like post-apocalyptic marauders. The only way to track our movements was to drive around and look for a pile of discarded BMX bikes.

Related: Riding a Bike Isn't An Essential Life Skill. Really

This was our world, and McDonald’s was the apex of our food choices.

I have taken cooking classes on three different continents. I have read dozens of cookbooks. I have watched thousands of hours of cooking shows. The two things I refuse to cook are french fries and hamburgers because McDonald’s does both way better at a fraction of cost, time, or effort; at least, that is what I used to believe until inflation, aka corporate greed, has set me on a path where I might introduce my daughter to the dreaded phrase: we got McDonald’s at home.

The fries they produce today have made my daughter an addict, but the fries that I grew up on were out of this world.

To all of you under 38, I pity you never got to taste what real McDonald’s french fries tasted like when fried in animal fat. Rereading that sentence, I see that it seems kind of gross and is a strong case for becoming a vegan, but I stand by the original intent of that sentence: McDonald’s french fries were peerless.

The generations that came after Gen X, you don’t even know what it was like when McDonald's first introduced McNuggets. Eventually, your school said they had chicken nuggets for lunch, and you were so hyped until you saw them. They looked dusty and crusty. Then you tasted that trash, and it tasted like cardboard. Don’t act like none of you ever tasted cardboard in your life. This experience of having your school’s chicken nuggets in the 80s and early 90s intensified your devotion to McDonald’s.

My wife still has unresolved resentment towards her parents for not having her birthday party at McDonald’s but Dairy Queen instead. Y’all, those McDonald’s birthday parties were LIT! They would have some minimum wage person dress up as Ronald who would walk into the party with ultra swagger. Kids went wild when they saw him. And make no mistake, Ronald was indeed Him. Grimace was a close second.

My parents spent the money and afforded me at least two McDonald’s birthday parties. Those are fond memories that I will forever cherish.

McDonald’s was a luxury for a child my age. It was a privilege. When I became an adult with my own McDonald’s money, it became a right for me; damn the health issues, I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I could eat whatever. I got so much of my fill of McDonald’s that there are periods of my life where I went years without eating it. There were also lean periods of my life where it sustained me.

Now that I have a child, she sees McDonald's as one of the grails. Yes, she loves Korean BBQ, sushi, pho, soul food, kabobs, pizza, etc., but McDonald’s always has a prized spot in her rotation. Two weeks ago, when it was her birthday, she did not request pizza, chicken wings, sushi, pho, or anything else. She wanted the Golden Arches delivered to her fifth-grade classroom so she could stunt on her classmates. That is the power of McDonald’s.

Yet, this is the old man in me—the man who used to pay 39 cents for a cheeseburger and 59 cents for fries. Then, when the dollar menu was deployed, I used to get fed for under four dollars.

Now, the cost of a cheeseburger that I was conditioned to pay a dollar or less for is trending towards three dollars. I cannot abide. I dissent!

My parents were shocked when they first saw a Starbucks in the wild. I have never known my mother to drink coffee, but as I write this I have a vague memory. I had a late flight from law school, and she was picking me up from the airport. I do not know why she would be the one at the airport and not my father or brother, but she told me she went to get a cup of coffee, something she valued at less than a quarter, to be assaulted by the prices Starbucks was charging in 1999. She turned around and went out.

My father explained to me how he loves candy bars. He was so used to paying under a quarter for them that he only eats them during Halloween when he “buys” them to pass out to children trick-or-treating.

I hate that I am starting to get to the age where I might bellow get off my lawn, but that is where I find myself — on the verge of crotchety.

I also feel like I am betraying my elementary school self. The child who longed for the delicacy known as McDonald’s. I am impressed with the palate I have been able to cultivate over the decades. There were not many options for non-standard cuisine. Sushi was mostly something that only existed in California and was the constant butt of jokes until it was not. I was one of the first in my cohort of peers from high school and college to dine on this treat regularly. Now, my daughter takes it for granted. Same with pho, Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc.

I know the health risks of eating McDonald’s, so with rising prices, I started to think of alternatives to what I could get for the same amount of money that would promote healthy eating habits for my family. I think about buying lettuce from the grocery store and making a salad for dinner. I think of buying fresh tomatoes and basil and making my own sauce to serve over pasta. I think of buying some chicken, roasting it, and serving it with a side of broccoli and potatoes.

The possibilities are endless now that I have to think about the price of McDonald’s. I have reached the point where I can no longer eat there in good faith. That does not mean I am ready to tell my daughter that we have McDonald’s at home, but I do understand the temptation and the sardonic grin on my parent’s lips when they blurted it out.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is republished with author's permission. Read more of Garrick McFadden's work on Medium.