Home News Opinion | McDonald’s Sprite and Hamburger Helper Made Me Who I Am

Opinion | McDonald’s Sprite and Hamburger Helper Made Me Who I Am


I didn’t stop eating processed foods. In fact, I probably ate more of them. In the maelstrom of the last three years, a time filled with loss, uncertainty and change, in which I graduated from college during a pandemic and moved to New York to start a job that was supposed to last only a year, I sought an anchor in the foods of my youth. I wanted to recapture that magic, the excitement at the prospect of satisfaction and pleasure. So I ate McDonald’s and Little Caesars and Hamburger Helper, trying to achieve what the food writer M.F.K. Fisher describes as that “warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied.”

The old comfort, however, was nowhere to be found. It felt as if I was sitting at a slot machine, pulling the lever over and over, waiting for this order, this pizza, this French fry to make me feel like I’d hit the jackpot. But the food just made me feel sick. My skin would itch, my stomach would turn. I’d get a headache.

By the latter half of 2022, I’d turned my temporary job into a permanent one, renewed my lease and had begun to ease further into the life of a member of the professional-managerial class. The maelstrom, if not completely calmed, was abating. Around that time, I began to experience odd cravings. One evening, I wanted lettuce. With apples and walnuts. And chicken — cold. I had to Google it to be sure, but I realized I wanted a Waldorf salad.

My culinary tastes have changed along with my socioeconomic position. I have come to accept that the kinds of food we eat and appreciate signal to the world and to ourselves something about who we are, about who we were, about who we have become. I’m fundamentally happy to now live a life where I not only understand references to the madeleine in Proust, but have actually eaten one (and at a writing class in the South of France, no less).

But I am mourning the loss of something I loved — I wish eating a McNugget could still transport me to a time of warmth and love and safety, a time when I didn’t know what a madeleine was, when I didn’t know any better.

Adrian Rivera (@lwaysadrian) is an editorial assistant with Times Opinion.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

You may also like