It seems that burger culture is coming to the UK in a big way.
The world's two biggest burger chains, McDonald's and Burger King, are reported to be ready for big expansions to supply the nation's increasing appetite for fast food. McDonald's intends to open 100 restaurants each year until the millennium. This will create 5,000 new jobs next year, although most will be low-paid and part-time.
Wages for those aged over 18 will be going up to f3.50 an hour from mid-January. McDonald's claims that, by 2000, it will be the single biggest employer of those aged between 16 and 20.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames University, says "Burgers are fine if you eat them once a fortnight or once a month, but it is a sort of burger junkie that they appeal to." He believes that, "Essentially what's happened is that a grazing food culture has taken over the British. It is thought that 20 to 25 per cent of all our food and drink is now consumed out of the home. That is an enormous proportion."
Lang feels all this is unecessary: "There have been enormous improvements in British food culture with the arrival of cafes and places where you don't have to drink yourself silly to get food. But the burger bars represent an American greasy spoon essentially, arriving just as British food culture was beginning to improve." The answer, he says, having researched the subject for the Health Education Authority, is to get the British back into their kitchens by teaching children to cook.
The Conservative governnent refused to put cooking into the National Curriculum and the British are now in a mass experiment. A deskilled generation is now being created.
Children used to learn to cook either at home around the age of six to eight or at school between 12 and 15. Now they miss the second chance and are subjected to the "burgerisation" attitude: "why bother to cook when you can nip out and get a burger or a pizza?"
Last year McDonald's customers in the UK ate their way through:
Big Mac and French fries is the most popular meal, followed by chicken and then fish. In 1997, McDonald's opened in Ukraine, Cyprus, Macedonia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Next are the Re'union Islands in the Indian Ocean and Surinam, followed by Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
One million people work for McDonald's worldwide. The Union Bank of Switzerland uses a Big Mac index of purchasing power: it takes 11 hours' labour to buy one in Lagos, Nigeria, but only 14 minutes in Chicago.
McDonald's has 23,000 outlets in 105 countries; Burger King has 9,400 outlets in 56 countries.