After changing its name from the 'Aristocrat', the Big Mac has become a global icon, an index of real currency values, and made us forget our table manners
Who invented the Big Mac?
Jim Deligatti, a McDonald’s franchisee in Pittsburgh, decided in 1967 that his customers would like a “big sandwich”. His hunch didn’t pay off initially. Diners didn’t like the Aristocrat, as he called it, finding the name too hard to pronounce.
Luckily, Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year-old secretary in McDonald’s advertising department, suggested they call it Big Mac. Even then Ray Kroc, who made McDonald’s the most famous fast food operation in the world wasn’t too keen: he wanted to promote the Hula burger, a cheese-topped pineapple slice in a bun.
So how successful has it been?
It is estimated that 17 Big Macs are sold every second in the US alone. In the UK, it takes 400,000 cattle to keep up with demand for McDonald’s signature dish. Last November, New Zealand model Nela Zisser ate 22 in an hour, a new world record. Today, the sandwich usually consists of two 45.4g beef patties, iceberg lettuce, American cheese, pickles, chopped onions and a special secret sauce in a three-part sesame sea bun. (In India, where the cow is sacred, the patties are made out of chicken). Despite many lurid descriptions of what the burger does to the body (there’s enough sodium in one to kid your body that it’s hungry again after an hour), the Big Mac is so universally popular that in 1986 the Economist created a Big Mac Index to assess exchange rates. So, for example, if the burger costs $4.80 in the US and $4.51 in Britain that implies the pound should be worth $1.06. As the exchange rate is $1.43 to £1, sterling is markedly overvalued.
How has this all-American icon changed the rest of the world?
In 1974, the UK’s first McDonald’s opened in Woolwich, selling Big Macs for 43p (£4 in today’s money). Free milk shakes attracted punters and soon Britons began to change the way they ate. The established rival, Wimpy, served its fast food on plates with knives and forks. The Big Mac encouraged us to eat with our hands, a development that appalled many snobs. After Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary Super Size Me, McDonald’s was blamed for encouraging obesity, animal cruelty, deforestation and employee exploitation. The company changed some of its ways, broadened its fare (it’s all day breakfast menu has boosted sales) and improved its environmental record. It has pledged to work with 3,100 suppliers to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain and just struck a deal with UK papermaker James Cropper to recycle plastic coated paper cups.
Is there any country in the world where you can’t buy a Big Mac?
North Korea. There are no McDonald’s stores there, although head of state Kim Jong-un is said to have Big Macs flown in from China
Don Gorske, a 62-year-old Wisconsin man, has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as having eaten more Big Macs in his lifetime – 26,000 and counting – than anyone else. The burger accounts for 90% of his solid food intake.