Seriously, though go read this. It’s fascinating, in a morbid and awful way. Put short, it’s perhaps the apotheosis of the weird logrolling aspect of American food business, wherein perfectly usable food — like fruit, or meat — is processed beyond all recognition to be resold as something much less healthy, useful, or cost-effective so that an entity like McDonald’s can suck more dollars from the consumer. A taste:
Barbecue, while not an American invention, holds a special place in American culinary tradition. Each barbecue region has its own style, its own cuts of meat, sauces, techniques, all of which achieve the same goal: turning tough, chewy cuts of meat into falling-off-the-bone tender, spicy and delicious meat, completely transformed by indirect heat and smoke. It’s hard work, too. Smoking a pork shoulder, for instance, requires two hours of smoking per pound–you can spend damn near 24 hours making the Carolina style pulled pork that the McRib almost sort of imitates.
And for its part, the McRib makes a mockery of this whole terribly labor-intensive system of barbecue, turning it into a capital-intensive one. The patty is assembled by machinery probably babysat by some lone sadsack, and it is shipped to distribution centers by black-beauty-addicted truckers, to be shipped again to franchises by different truckers, to be assembled at the point of sale by someone who McDonald’s corporate hopes can soon be replaced by a robot, and paid for using some form of electronic payment that will eventually render the cashier obsolete.
There is no skilled labor involved anywhere along the McRib’s Dickensian journey from hog to tray, and certainly no regional variety, except for the binary sort–Yes, the McRib is available/No, it is not–that McDonald’s uses to promote the product. And while it hasn’t replaced barbecue, it does make a mockery of it.
The fake rib bones, those porky railroad ties that give the McRib its name, are a big middle finger to American labor and ingenuity–and worse, they’re the logical result of all that hard work. They don’t need a pitmaster to make the meat tender, and they don’t need bones for the meat to fall off–they can make their tender meat slurry into the bones they didn’t need in the first place.