Curious How Big Macs Are Made? McDonald's Really Wants to Show You

The fast-food chain launches its 'Our Food. Your Questions' campaign in the United States.
Oct 13, 2014·
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

There was a time when no one sat down to dinner looking for a narrative. That may be hard to imagine in an era when food seemingly cannot make it from the farm to the table without being handcrafted in some manner or influenced by obscure history, personal nostalgia, or international travel.

The idea that food must convey a story has been spreading since the first farmer's name was included next to an ingredient on a restaurant menu. Today, it hit the mass market in a historic way. A year after McDonald’s Canada first opened the doors on its processing facilities, the “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign launched in the United States. While it appears to be an effort at transparency—the chain has hired MythBusters' Grant Imahara to host a series of online videos looking at the McDonald’s supply chain—that’s not the only thing going on here. McDonald’s wants diners to know that its food comes from somewhere; even if that’s not a small organic farm just hours north of San Francisco, that may be better than nothing.

“It’s not linked to the business performance at all,” Kevin Newell, McDonald’s chief brand manager, told Good Morning America Monday. “It’s linked to making sure that our customers truly know the story about McDonald’s food.”

Telling people that their burgers don’t contain pink slime is defensive. Telling people where the burgers comes from—and showing a public obsessed with food how they’re made and what they’re made from—is positive branding.

Your Big Mac isn’t made from lean textured fine beef (although it was between 2004 and 2011), and the meat isn’t treated with ammonia. As the footage from the burger factory visited by GMA shows—marking the first time the facility has allowed a camera crew inside—the patties are made from lean and fatty trim carved off “familiar cuts you may know, like chuck and round and sirloin.” They’re simply ground and mixed to have the right amount of fat—like the 80-20 blend “you’d get at the grocery store,” as the woman leading the tour says.

The tone of casual familiarity, conveying that this is the food that you know and that it comes from the farms and ranches that provide the groceries you eat at home, extends to the newly expanded FAQ page. No, the beef isn’t grass-fed, but cattle are raised on pasture for part of their lives and are “provided a balanced diet of grains, grasses and minerals.” Yes, the McRib is made from real pork—it’s ground pork shoulder, the FAQ tells us, implying that it’s just like the meat we might cook at home.

The campaign builds on a previous series of McDonald’s ads focusing on the farmers, fishermen, and ranchers at the far opposite end of the supply chain. Here’s the small, family-run fishing boat plying the pristine waters of Alaska, catching sustainable pollock for your Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

Except the company is now showing the less pastoral side of things, places like the processing facilities where those countless suppliers are pulled together into an anonymous aggregate. It’s less pretty, but it’s better that the spotless facility shown on GMA be part of the where in the narrative of a Big Mac than, say, the filthy Shanghai facility that recently brought about a temporarily vegetarian McDonald’s in China. The immaculate burger factory is the story about McDonald’s food that chief brand officer Newell wants you to hear—and he, and the chain, want it to sell very, very well.