In books such as Fast Food Nation, or documentaries such as Supersize Me, fast food outlets are often conflated into one doughy, stodgy, inedible, undifferentiated mass. As a food enthusiast, I find the findings of such books and documentaries shocking. The idea of eating a burger made from several dozen different cows, or fries that never go mouldy, or drinks poured by the victims of highly exploitative work practices are not nice at all. Bizarrely, none of these things actually stops me eating junk food from time to time. Perhaps this is half the problem. But the other problem is a love that dare not speak its name: fast food, for all its faults, has an aesthetic logic of its own that can and should be appreciated.
Those of us who eat this stuff will know that there is good fast food and bad fast food, even when it comes to the same franchise.
Take the Kentucky Fried Chicken on East Road, Cambridge. It's okay but, sometimes, it's a little cold and nasty. But the KFC on the first floor of Sheffield train station? I've never had a dud meal there, ever. When renowned film director, Ang Lee, says that his wife takes him to KFC whenever he's feeling overwrought about work, I like to believe that he's getting the finest KFC on the planet: KFC that is more like Sheffield Station (or, indeed, like High Street, Oxford - that's another good'un) than East Road, Cambridge.
McDonalds, 5th Avenue, New York, tucked in a little side street just in front of the New York Public Library's main entrance (of Ghostbusters, Spiderman and The Day After Tomorrow fame). You'd expect it to be the finest on earth, yes? Think again. It's awful but the good news is that the one up Broadway, permanently occupied by the Bijoux Lady from Titanic, is far, far superior in every way. (Buy her some fries if you see her: she's crazy but harmless.) But the best is in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
And what of Burger King? The worst I've ever had is on King Edward's Street, Hull. It's an abomination, even to a junk-meat gourmand like my good self. I uesd to eat there when I worked in town and hated myself. But, interestingly, the best Burger King I've ever had is also in Hull, on Clough Road, in fact, wedged amongst warehouse outlets like B&Q, PC World, and Pets at Home, and a number of small light industry units. And let me tell you, it's good, it's very good. It's better than the Burger King off Platform 1 of Manchester train station even, which is very good indeed.
If we're to have junk food at all in this world, then at least let it be the best.
If we're to have KFC, let it be KFC fit for creative geniuses, chicken the good Colonel would himself be proud of.
If we're to have Burger King, then let it be food fit for kings. And as fast as this Lotus Elise that belonged to two guys who obviously knew a very good thing when they saw Burger King, Clough Road, Hull this weekend.