You can’t blame the fake food industry for wanting to inject a little fall spirit into their lineup.
Just don’t let them delude you into deducing that a caramel apple sundae is somehow better for you than a hot fudge sundae, or that the nutritionally less egregious caramel apple yogurt parfait is something that wasn’t born in a lab.
First, a confession: My cynicism is surely elevated by the fact that I sampled the parfait on the first day of fall, in a bit of a snit because I told the kids I’d take them to the pancake booth at the Bluffton Street Fair without remembering to replenish my cash supply. We wound up satiating our hunger with provisions from Kroger, then stopped at McDonald’s on the way out of town to sample their new caramel apple yogurt parfait — which, unlike the caramel apple sundaes currently being offered by both McDonald’s and Wendy’s, is at least not a dietary disaster, at 180 calories and five Weight Watchers Points Plus.
It’s just not very good — though once I broke through the layer of synthetic tasting caramel and apple chunks that appear to have spent some time in stasis, the yogurt itself was OK.
I don’t think I’m going to hurt anybody’s feelings at McDonald’s by saying so, either. McDonald’s doesn’t care about making good food. McDonald’s exists to give as many people on this planet exactly what they want, which is hardly the same thing as aspiring to make good food, or even good fuel.
There is no other explanation for offering two different caramel apple concoctions, one in a sundae form for people who like to indulge themselves on the fly — without aspiring to a real culinary experience — and one in a low-cal formulation for more responsible types.
Most restaurants attempting a caramel apple dessert would go all out and damn the calories. It’s somewhat commendable that McDonald’s doesn’t fall into this camp, but then it never has. It’s always been about efficiency. It’s really in the human fuel business, just as surely as BP is in the business of fueling vehicles. It wants to strategically locate its service stations to penetrate as much of the market as is fiscally sound, then make, market and deliver its fuel as efficiently and economically as possible.
McDonald’s has lightened up its menu considerably since the Super Size Me days, because that’s the vibe it’s getting from its customers. At least some of them want lighter fare, like oatmeal or “gourmet” salads or the thing that brings me back most often, those reduced fat vanilla cones.
Underneath this “embrace autumn” spirit at McDonald’s is some efficiency expert who noticed that they could manufacture two new menu items without investing in any new materials. Just mash up those immortal apple pieces now available with Happy Meals with pre-existing caramel sundaes, on the one hand, and substitute those toppings for the berry sauce on the standard fruit and yogurt parfait, and you’ve got not one but two “new” products.
Hang a few posters, tweak your marketing campaign, and when people get tired of them, just erase them from the menu and people’s memories. No harm done.
And I really mean that last part. At least in this sense: I don’t believe McDonald’s is out to harm America. It just wants to give us what we want. If we don’t want what McDonald’s is pushing, its business model fails.
I’m not lovin’ it. But I trust that the McDonald’s overlords will notice this, if enough other people feel as I do, and then they’ll come out with something else that they think we do want.
And they’ll probably be right. In the meantime, it’s up to us to raise our standards.