I HATE whenever people bad-mouth McDonald’s. It’s my favorite food for when I’m feeling down or when I’m on my period. It’s also one of the only places open nearby when I’m at a friends and hunger strikes at 2 am. It’s the go-to for poor college students. Most people tend to accept this, there’s not much that they, us, can do. But what about other people. Poor is a taboo term that we avoid unless in the context mentioned before. It’s also a relative term. Let me tell you a story from about a year ago now.
My parents are both professionals, graduated college and everything. Whenever I mention that my parents are engineers people think I come from a pretty well off family. And I guess I was, until the economy crashed and my dad lost his job. Ever since then, (about 2009-10ish) he’s been working on and off, mostly contract jobs that pay him extremely irregularly. Sometimes he’d go 6 months without a paycheck. I’d have to chip in from my savings of birthday checks and grandma money to help pay the electricity, the car or the house.
There was a couple of months in particular that stand out. Our fridge broke. It wasn’t that big of a deal at first. Just eat everything fast, we’ll call the repair guy this week. A couple more weeks passed and it happened again. Another call and another bill. And then it happened again. This time my father talked with the guy on the phone. He had suggested replacing some part to avoid this happening again.
But by then we were being bled dry by both of our cars being repaired. One of my parents’ friends lent us a small white car, those old ones that zip on the seat belt for you. It was a 5 person car, but for a family of 5 it was pretty tight, especially with a 15 year old boy in the midst of puberty. Not only that, but if you know anything about the Puerto Rican public transportation system you know that it’s absolute trash and inaccessible to many people, especially if you live in rural areas like us. Not only that, but we had to drive to four different locations and drop everyone off before 8am every morning.
Back to the fridge. Because of our tight transportation, we were all on about the same, very long schedule. We wouldn’t get home until about 10 every night and there wasn’t any food at home. So we ate mostly fast food. Every day. For almost 6 months. It was our only option as we didn’t have the time or the facilities to make food ourselves. Some people would give me shit about eating at Burger King or Church’s almost every day at school. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $10 on white rice, pork chops and a bottle of water on University Avenue. I was using my parent’s extra debit card to eat, and the amount of places that didn’t accept cards is actually absurd. I would try to use my own card when getting breakfast or splurging for that $12 pasta. How are we gonna fix the fridge again if I kept spending on luxuries like bottled water and cutlery with my meals?
For some people, whether temporarily or for most of their lives, those dollar menu items and obscenely huge meals for a couple of bucks are literally what’s keeping them from starving. Don’t you think people know what’s in what they eat? The public isn’t as ignorant as they’re painted out to be. Yeah, it might kill us in the long run, but in the here and now it’s a life preserver.
I’m compelled to end here but there’s another part of fast food that I like. I wasn’t completely aware of it until an episode of Mad Men pointed it out. Because of my family’s busy schedule, eating out is the only time we really have a family dinner. During this period of time we spent a lot more time than usual together. I thought this would lead to strain, but my parents didn’t berate me for not being open enough, because I was almost always with or in contact with them.
There’s one night that really stands out in my mind. It was Thursday night, and we had stayed later at fencing than we normally did. It was almost midnight and we wanted chicken. We eventually made our way to a Church’s in the tourist area of town as it was the only one still open. We decided to dine in at the empty store after waiting about 15 minutes for our food. The staff was incredibly nice (probably because of its tourist location) and even brought our order to our table when it was ready. I remember I had a final the next day, but for the first time in a really long time I was actually enjoying spending time with my family. The conversation was fun, unlike the usual tense ones that ended in silence and bent up frustration. For once I felt like we were a functional, loving family out for dinner like the ones people post online