The two or three of you who remember me will be surprised to hear that I’m not very popular back here in England.
I’m back experiencing Phase Eight in my life. Phase One lasted until about 13 years ago, when—at the age of 48—I decided I would never work for a “boss” again. The move out of that Phase, which passed unnoticed by anybody apart from my bank manager, saw me leave Big Business (notably Burger King). Phases Two through Seven you don’t want to know about, apart from the fact that I wrote several books that achieved un-Harry Potter-like sales figures.
The problem came with the last book. Carrying on with a lot of the ideas I first espoused in this magazine, I defended, in the loosest possible definition of the word, the quick-service industry. I was quite unprepared for what happened next. I found myself grouped with Holocaust-deniers, tobacco–advocates, Iraq war supporters, and Britney Spears fans. In other words, those who you might class as being beyond the edge of populist thinking.
Simon Mayo, the BBC’s wonderfully named afternoon radio jock, gave me a mild and quite entertaining battering, albeit expressing his admiration for what he called my “Hitlerian” defence of the industry. By this he meant my intimation that the whole thing justified itself because of the jobs created. I left the London studio feeling the need for some sort of Federal Witness Protection scheme. Sold a few books though.
Let’s face it: The members of the mainstream fast-food side of the quick-service industry are not popular just now. Of course, we are popular with those who create wealth within the business, with those who are employed within the business, with those who supply the business, and with those who enjoy the food. My estimate of that (combined) population is that it is in excess of one billion people, world wide—depending on what set of definitions you use. Still not enough for some critics.
Look, don’t get me wrong here. I want to make this point so quickly that my words are tripping up over each other as I type them on the page. Our industry has some daft ideas and some daft people. Some of those daft people are probably unpleasant as well—and driven by motives that you wouldn’t want to shine a light on. But the other side of the coin is truly positive and powerful: This industry adds enormous value to the planet, and that should never be forgotten.
Does the good “justify” the bad? No, not in this industry or any other. They exist side by side, in any size of industry or organisation, as they always have and always will. The trick is to minimise one and optimise the other. But if you are prone to whining about it, consider this: If this industry didn’t exist, what would replace it?