If you know me personally at all, chances are you’ve heard about The Pie. Maybe I’ve even taken it out to show you, let you touch it, encouraged you to sniff it. The Pie is legend, and has been for a great many years now. And if you know about The Pie, then you know we’ve just passed a significant milestone on its journey through the ages and into immortality.
The rest of you I’m going to have to bring up to speed.
I mentioned an important anniversary several weeks ago in this blog. Not the one related to the blog itself, nor my comic book work. I’m talking about that other, mysterious anniversary, I was so specifically vague about. The twenty-five year anniversary.
Rather than recap the whole sordid story from the beginning, let us instead begin at the end – or at least the end as it stood before I started writing this blog post for public consumption. Allow me to share with you a letter I recently composed to a rather famous corporate entity. Yes, a proper letter, on paper, and sent through actual government postal systems to head offices in the United States and Canada. Here, without further ado, are the precise contents of those pages, followed by the pair of photographs mentioned as being enclosed in each copy.
2111 McDonald’s Dr.
Oak Brook, IL
1 McDonald’s Place
September 17, 2013
In late 1988, while at a McDonald’s franchise in Montreal’s west island, a friend purchased a McDonald’s apple pie for me. Although there were burgers and fries consumed that evening, the apple pie went untouched and survived to see the next morning as leftovers. However, it didn’t get eaten the next day either. Nor the next. In fact, it went largely forgotten for several weeks, at which point it was rediscovered, sitting in its cardboard packaging, looking just as fresh and scrumptious as the day it was bought. Amazingly, it hadn’t gone bad, didn’t smell, and appeared to be absolutely unchanged. It could have easily been reheated and served with no discernible loss in quality.
But rather than do just that, I held onto it. Perhaps I had already developed a sentimental attachment to the pie, or maybe I was simply curious as to just how long it could last. That was twenty-five years ago now, and I still have it. Lesser food would have rotted away to nothing, but not your resilient apple pie. It never developed so much as a spot of mould, never changed colour, never went bad, and never stank. Quite the contrary, it smelled strongly of delicious fresh apples for the first five years. Since then, the smell has faded but remains faintly detectible. The only sign that it’s any the worse for wear is that it has dried out with age. It still rests, as it has for a quarter century, in its original box, exposed to the open air through the windowed holes of the packaging. No attempts have ever been made to freeze it, refrigerate it, or even keep it in a properly burped Tupperware container. It just sits, day after day, in my office closet, stoic and unchanging. As a matter of fact, the cardboard box it came is has aged far less gracefully. That, at least, has yellowed.
I don’t know how thoroughly you test your own products, but I expect twenty-five years is considerably longer than the usual quality control checks and balances your food is put through. I am, obviously, astounded and amazed by the calibre of a mere dessert that can survive this long, immune to decay, bugs, and even bacteria. Apparently, McDonald’s makes food so good, it never goes bad.
To celebrate this silver anniversary, I’m planning a media blitz with my connections in local and national news outlets. This will include interviews, public appearances by the pie, and perhaps even a ceremonial tasting – all to be recorded and uploaded to the major social media sites. This story has all the human interest and instantly recognizable corporate-branding elements that journalists love. The copy practically writes itself. Fingers crossed, the story will go viral and draw the attention of international media. I fully expect your pie to be the world’s most famous pastry in 2014.
My reason for sharing all of this with you, is to give you the opportunity to comment on the miraculous product your chefs have concocted. If you’d like to weigh in with a few quotes, or dispatch a PR person to accept the accolades during the inevitable broadcast interviews, by all means let us coordinate our efforts. You may contact me at your convenience.
And, obviously, if you’d care to seize the moment to boost sales through word of mouth, now would be the time to start planning. I can see the advertisements now. “The McDonald’s apple pie: timeless;” or perhaps “McDonald’s: spoil yourself with the food that never spoils.” I’m not an advertising executive, but I’m sure you have people who would be proficient at whipping up a campaign to take full advantage of this exceptional publicity opportunity.
Enclosed you’ll find a couple of recent photos of your quarter-century pie I printed out for you. I’m sure we’ll be able to get some much nicer, tastier, glamour shots of it once the professional photographers start turning their lights and cameras on this remarkable pastry. I can’t wait for this story to break. Everyone I’ve spoken to is intensely interested in this story and anticipates overwhelming public reaction.
Thanks again for making such a splendid product.
Corporate baiting aside, this is all true. Well, mostly. Obviously, I’m not the naive media-rube I make myself out to be in the letter. I tried to play innocent, hoping that might provoke a response from McDonald’s better than a directly confrontational accusation of misdeeds at best, poisoning the public at worst. To date, there has been no reply at all from McDonald’s, U.S. or Canada, and their opportunity to weight in (or buy my silence) has expired. Now, at last, the whole truth must be told.
Here’s the real backstory of The Pie, purposely glossed over in the letter. On October 14, 1988, several friends and I stopped for a late-night bite to eat at a west-island Montreal McDonald’s franchise. We’d probably been out at a movie, but I don’t remember the exact context.
I wasn’t having anything to eat. Not that I was necessarily above a McDonald’s burger – I enjoyed eating there as a kid, I would eat there again a few times as an adult to recreate a specific mood for nostalgia purposes – but the food really is cheap crap. It always was. I also don’t care to have a bunch of minimum-wage teenagers prepare my food. I’ve heard stories.
While I was chatting at a table, one of my friends returned with his order and handed me a cardboard carton.
“I got you something,” he said.
It was The Pie – a McDonald’s apple pie, or “chausson aux pommes” as the bilingual packaging told me.
“You know I’m not eating this shit!” I declared, ungratefully.
And he well-knew why. Everybody at the table did.
Recently, we’d learned of a friend-of-a-friend who had enrolled in a course called Chemistry of the Environment at John Abbott College, the Quebec CEGEP we all attended. In this course, they performed studies on common chemical and organic materials we all encounter in our daily lives. One such study involved purchasing the major items on the McDonald’s menu and observing how they rotted over the course of several weeks. Food, of course, spoils, rots, and eventually decomposes. Different foods do this at different rates of speed and in different ways. The McDonald’s take-out was no different.
The burger of the study, it was noted, went rotten when left in the open air, much as you would expect normal food to. The fries, however, appeared unchanged after a couple of weeks. This was due to the exterior being coated in grease, which acted to preserve the surface. When broken open, it was revealed that the interior of each fry had gone bad and hollowed out. An interesting result, but not shocking. The fate of the other foodstuff also went largely as expected. But the apple pie… That was another matter entirely.
Over the course of the weeks of study, there was no change to the pie. None whatsoever. No indication of discolouration or spoilage or mould or rot of any kind. It appeared to be entirely inert. Further study and experimentation was warranted.
The apple pie was dissected and examined under a microscope. The results were astonishing. The McDonald’s apple pie proved to have no nutritional value whatsoever. It simply wasn’t food. It looked like food, it tasted like food, it smelled like food. But it was all a lie. There was no food in it. Not a hint. Not even enough to interest single-celled bacteria with the munchies. Wood and cardboard shavings were discovered in the crust under magnification. That was about as organic as it got. There were certainly no apples to be found.
This anecdote made the rounds with the expected level of interest and good humour. And then it was largely forgotten, until my friend presented me with an actual McDonald’s apple pie of my own he’d purchased with spare change. I expected he wanted me to eat it on a dare.
“No,” he assured me, “I want you to hold onto it.”
Even then I was known as something of a hoarder. “Collector” is a nicer way to put it, although I’d taken to facetiously calling myself “The National Archives” due to my pathological need to accumulate, catalogue, and file all the things that fit into my eclectic fields of interests. I knew immediately what he meant. He wanted me to file this purported food item away – for years in all likelihood – in order to definitively prove that it would never spoil, rot or otherwise go bad. And so I have.
“You still have that thing?” I’ve been asked from time to time over the years.
“How long has it been?” came the question at regular intervals.
New friends and acquaintances would have to be briefed on the entire backstory when it came up in conversation. I was never the one to bring it up. I’m sure entire years went by where I completely forgot I owned this thing that continued to rest, openly exposed to the time and the air in its original ventilated packaging, somewhere in a closet with my boxes of office supplies. When reminded, I would have to do the math to remember how many years had passed. I once threatened to heat it up and serve it to somebody I didn’t like (I had no one specific in mind) for its tenth anniversary. But that never happened, and another fifteen years have piled on since.
So what does one do with a vintage piece of fast food – so vintage now, it qualifies as an outright antique? Other than take it out and admire it occasionally? Well, I suppose one shares it — with the whole world (many of whom will read this and realize they’re younger than The Pie) via the internet (which The Pie also predates).
And how much longer do I plan to hold onto this thing? Will a thirtieth anniversary be celebrated? A fiftieth? After twenty-five years, I feel the point has been made. But it seems unlikely I can bring myself to part with it now. We are linked, The Pie and I. I can only hope McDonald’s itself contacts me with an offer to buy it for their files, where it will be suppressed, never to be seen or discussed again. Or perhaps a curator will want it as the only permanent display in a museum of twentieth-century foods. I know I don’t want to have to will it to someone.
My expectations for The Pie are modest, but my hopes are high, and I wish it well as it persists into an unknown future and an uncertain fate. Where it concerns The Pie, we can only be sure of one fact moving forward.
Nobody’s going to eat the damn thing.