Saturday, February 26, 2011

Realizing "Supersize Me"

Yes, there are lots of thoughts in my head. But, I just have enough time for a number of them. I have to pick what I want to write about. And, here is what I would like to write about last for "tonight" (technically, it is morning already, but I shall consider and call it night because it is dark):

I just had a McDonald's cheeseburger value meal with large fries, and a big plastic cup of Coke. I call them now as a value meal, but later I will refer to them as "value meals" with double open-close quotes. But, to tell you honestly, what I just wanted was a large fries (in McDo terms, it was actually just medium), and a cheeseburger. I craved for it when I saw an amateur video online that, for a very brief moment, displayed a cheeseburger on top of a table (of course, it was at a McDonald's).

I then decided to grab my wallet with me and head straight to the nearest McDo franchise -- the one in Quirino Station. I am staying at a condo unit here in Manila to be able to focus more on my thesis, and give it more time (not really sure if that is what's exactly happening, haha, but it helps if school is a lot closer and nearer, based on experience).

I walked my way to McDonalds; it was just a 5-10 minute walk from the condominium tower I was staying in. I brought with me my all-time favorite Walkman that was about to die from a low-battery (its LED indicator was already blinking orange, and I have forgotten to charge it for a few days now).

When I got to McDo, it was a relief except that the queue was a bit long. I got there at around 11:15-11:30, and got back home at around 11:45. But, anyway, when I got my turn to order, I first asked the lady in the counter about my options for ordering. I already had what I want in mind, but I had to ask how things work. For a first, I felt like I had a choice, but then the reality of McDonald's "Supersize Me" ideal set in a bit later.

I wanted me some Large Fries (again, a medium for McDo) and a single Cheeseburger. I didn't want any drinks. I'd rather drink water at home than drink a really cold (plastic) cup of Coke (or some other softdrink). I usually don't finish them anyway, and I just do because of the feeling of waste whenever I leave food or drinks unfinished. I also remembered them never asking me what I wanted for a drink, because they just served me with a Coke. What if I did not want a Coke, but wanted something else? Well, I will reserve my thoughts about that for later. So there, what I had in mind was the two food items. The only thing left is making clear to the order-taker what I had in mind, so she gets it fully well because it wasn't a "value meal" that everyone orders. It wasn't a package that McDo perfectly cut for a regular "Juan" or "Joe", if you will. It was a menu that I created for myself.

I should not forget to mention that they had a menu of "budget" food items. You can order a small-sized french fries for 25 bucks, and a cheeseburger for 39 bucks. That was a total of 64 bucks. But, I also saw in their menu that you just had to add 10 bucks to upsize your french fries (or get a large one). So, that is what I wanted. I wanted to spend 74 bucks to get a cheeseburger, and an upsized, or "large" fries. Without drinks, I must not forget.

So, I asked away, and what followed was the reply of the lady. I first asked, to verify, how much the large fries would cost. She said that it costs 50-something bucks. Gosh. That was one and the most surprising response I got there. It was the most surprising, because the reality later set in, and there was more learning afterwards. It was the defining moment that set the whole mood of my experience this night in McDonald's. If you do not order the "value meal" (the one with the drink on it), you'll have to pay a bigger sum. I was of course shocked, and asked why it was so priced like that. The explanation was quite ambiguous and I only understood later that they do not sell "medium-sized" french fries, which is what I wanted. They only sold "large" fries, which is only available when you order a "value meal". I am the one who will "consume"; in this case, the one who will eat. And, what I wanted for food was just the cheeseburger and my "large" fries. But, later on I realized that McDonald's wanted something for me from the very start.

I can vent out my disappointed at the cashier, or their manager, but I also realized that they are not my enemy. They may be part of this oppressing system, but they are also only just victims like everyone else. They work to get paid. They only tell you what they're told to tell you. Some may tell you more, but it's not the usual thing that would happen when you walk into a McDo store on a a regular day.

I got confused. I thought I had a choice, and that I could make a wise decision when I entered the doorsteps of McDonald's. I thought that I was going to be a wise buyer, and maximize my funds while I am away from home, from Laguna. I thought that I could spend my money well, and probably even get to try out some "nasty" food like those from fastfood stores (McDo, etc.), and street sides (barbecues), and expensive foods like those from convenience stores (Mini Stop, etc.), and from wee bit expensive restaurants along Taft.

But, I realized that this is where the reality of domination sets in. This is how controlling corporations can be. In a desire to standardize, to maximize profit, and to streamline the processes in selling fastfood, customers have less choices, less power, and less of everything (health and whatnot). But, the individual customer does not readily realize that, especially the majority of eaters. However, if from a bigger point of view, it can be seen how massive and detrimental is the effect of this corporate thinking of domination and profit. What makes it more doable is just you are trying to scatter the bad effects to a vast number of consumers, not a single one, so it is not easily perceived nor felt.

In my opinion, we need knowledge, and we can use it to obtain power. Our decisions and actions are the realizations of our potential, and our power. It is our own personal power if it isn't (our decisions) driven or pushed by other beings, big or small, be us aware or unaware of it. This kind of knowledge, this truth, gives freedom. From this thought, I will quote a popular biblical passage about truth:

"32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." -- John 8:32

The truth indeed empowers, and sets free those who are enslaved by the powers of deceit. Ignorance is a great cause for inferiority. Another biblical passage that I would like to quote is the following:

"6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." -- Hosea 4:6

To continue my story about my night with a McDonald's meal, I ended up eating what I originally did not intend to have. I did not really want large fries, or at least the "large" size that McDonald's have in mind. That is a simple but grand display of how invisible yet tangible the imposing power of corporations like McDonald's is. I only wanted the "medium" one, for the money I intended to buy the food with. Next, I'm glad I had the cheeseburger. But, I did not want the Coke. Aside from me hating that extra sugar that stains my teeth, what could be worse is to have a large-sized one (a medium for McDonald's), and I just had one. Plus, all at the extra cost. I could have re-done my calculation, but things would be more complicated. The people behind the line I was in would start to complain, and the cashier would have to ask their manager to "void" my initial orders if I would try to experiment to find out what the perfect order combination for me would be. From that scene alone, it can be seen that I, the consumer, is not the only powerless. Even the layman who works for the "god" that is McDo does not have power. They need to ask a superior to "void" a simple change of order. That complexity in the process, that hierarchy makes it more difficult for people to be more flexible in their decisions, and to customize according to their needs.

You do not really have much of a choice when you step in a McDonald's, especially if you're just one small citizen. It's either you order what they tell you to order, both implied and intrinsic, or get nothing at all. Or, maybe you'll get to have what you want, but at the cost of making a scene.

Some of the other realizations I gained from this night's McDonald's experience also include the realization of why I dislike fastfood, and do not know why exactly. I'm glad I am able to understand it much clearer, if not the clearest. It's that feeling of being powerless, of having to do what McDonald's tells you to do, instead of you having the power to do what you want to do for yourself. It's that fact that you don't know what or what they do not put into your food--what you are taking and, or what you are missing. It's that deceiving label of a "value meal", if it really is for the consumers, or if it is for their corporation. Is it about the kids who know nothing about the dynamics and complexities of power, or is it about that red-head clown who hides a wicked, scary smile, and has the capacity for infernal thinking?

In a tiny way I can relate this to my discussion with a friend about the feebleness and the deceitful nature of the broadband companies in the Philippines. It started when I complained about how fast the internet was for a moment, and how rare that happened. I also expressed how I expect it to not last, as it has always happened. Then, my mate told me how misleading the ad that the internet service providers claim of their service as "4G", while in fact it is only 3G / HSDPA. I then linked to that chain the earlier instance when Smart Broadband (Smart Bro) first branded itself as Smart Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is a wrong term to refer to wireless broadband internet connection (what a loser, I exclaimed to myself during my conversation with the said friend). They (Smart) later changed their name to Smart Bro.

The talk went on to discussing how national politics, capitalism, ignorance, and the opportunistic grab and claim of power from the people's ignorance comes into play. At one point I expressed how I think that the citizens do not have power, in the form of the government protecting them, because the government itself is not powerful enough (or knowledgeable enough for that matter) to take this issue in its hands. There are lots of other stuff that I feel like the government cannot handle well yet for them to start delving into this issue about consumer rights, and a stronger protection of that entitlement.

Boy, am I glad I am not a commoner who lack knowledge about these things, although I may still be really ignorant. I am open to the fact that I may think that I know, but really do not. But, at least, I am proud to have been able to talk about this pressing issue on how the "big players" in the world oppress the small ones. It is better than being like straw, pushed to and fro by the wind, carried by and to wherever the wind blows*. I want to grow up standing on my own feet, treading places where I know I must go, not to where the clouds whisper to my ear that I go.

Notes: It took me a half-hour to at most an hour to finish this. Ugh! I am sleeping late again. :(

The friend I had a discussion with was Justin Go, who is also my thesis-mate. I am hoping to pass this project, despite the negative thoughts that I share with my other colleague, who is also named Matthew. We share the same thoughts because we are assigned to code the whole project, and we know what's going on.

I am also relating this again to my previous post about the question "What is Evil?" (Find post here:

I have high respect for the bible for the wisdom hidden within the folds of its pages and its words. Here is another one to quote about what I noted on ignorance, immaturity, and powerlessness (I have previously marked it in my writing with an asterisk):

* "14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." -- Ephesians 4:14

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