Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Tripe

Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Tripe

Article excerpt

When I flew recently to Memphis, Tennessee, the first thing that struck me at the airport was how many of the people (particularly employees) seemed to be wading through an invisible primaeval swamp of high specific gravity. This was because they were so fat that they had to waddle, arms waving at their sides like useless appendages; and I presumed that they were herbivores who grazed not on primitive ferns, but upon the corn starch and high-calorie fructose syrup that seems to be added to all American food.

I soon left America for its great European mutual enemy, France, travelling to a city in the south of the country. I had booked a hotel on the Internet, one of those cheap modern prefabricated hotels to be found on the outskirts of all French cities these days, the felt carpets of whose corridors always look as though large animals have been masturbating on them. I have never caught them at it, but I know that they are there and that they do it.

It was late at night and I was hungry. The hotel's restaurant was closed. I asked the jolly receptionist where I could eat round there, and I had a choice of two places: a bar with Tex-Mex and karaoke, or a Quick, one of a French chain of fast-food canteens. It boiled down to whether I wanted my compulsory pop music amateur or professional. I settled for Quick.

'Bonne soiree et bon Quick,' said the receptionist, with what I thought was a hint of schadenfreude. After an invigorating walk across a supermarket car park and a round-about, I reached Quick. Garishly lit, it was decorated in the primary colours of a child's first book. I was gasping for a beer, and was told by the assistant in traditional French baseball cap, T-shirt, jeans and sneakers that I could have one only if I ordered a 'complete meal', that is to say a burger and chips. This I duly did, adding a salad.

I took my plastic tray with my plastic containers and plastic cutlery to the plastic table and sat on the plastic chair. The food was disgusting, even by North American standards. The bread tasted as if it were made of bread powder to which water had been added. It had a certain consistency, I admit, but no taste. I shall spare you a description of everything else, except to say that it had that authentic North American ersatz taste.

Was this a French satire on the American way of life? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, here was flattery indeed. Then I noticed that on my tray was a paper sheet, printed with Quick's 'Seven Promises'. I immediately began to tense up; I began to suspect that I was in the presence of the kind of lies I encounter every day while working in the National Health Service.

Promise No. 1: A gourmet taste

Promise No. 2: Irreproachable ingredients

Promise No. 3: Quick savoir-faire

Promise No. 4: A varied menu

Promise No. 5: The strictest standards

Promise No. 6: Respect for the environment

Promise No. 7: Information without reserve.

Looking around, I found other, similar pieces of paper that explained each of the promises in more detail. Information without reserve: Quick has nothing to hide. Quick promises to inform you with complete transparency. We are ready to answer all your questions about our ingredients, our products, their nutritional content, their compatibility with your allergies or our policy of not using genetically modified food. For more information, you can contact the Quick Quality program directly [at 0.34 euros per minute]. …

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