Food and world affairs

No one denies the significance of food influencing the course of human affairs (think only of the time-tired identification tags of Germans as “krauts” and English as “limeys”).  However, fast food chains, a recent global phenomenon, have now been considered as  guides or measures of far-ranging human behavior.

Thomas Friedman in his best selling account of globalization, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” (1999) posited the “Golden Arches” theory of conflict.  This asserts that no two countries with McDonald’s shops on their national soil had ever engaged in war one against the other.

Less bold in assertion but of equal interest is a brief article in the October issue of “Fortune” that contends a probably good measure of American consumer concern over gas prices is the stock status of steak houses. Labeled the “Porterhouse Meat Index,” the proposed value of watching such stock fluctuations (Outback Steak House stock recently fell 23 points) rests in the fact that Americans enjoy their steak dinners. The stock index provides “a gut check on” the effect of the current economy on discretionary spending.

But not all steak stock slipped (Ruth’s Chris stock rose 6%, for instance), and Friedman’s theory about McDonald’s, which he later said was partially proposed tongue-in-cheek, was shortly after the book’s publication considered invalidated by the NATO bombing of Serbia.

If there is one well-known instance of food severely affecting social behavior, it must certainly be found in Dr. Seuss’s “Butter Battle Book.” And the particular plot of that book--involving buttered bread-- would probably not have been possible if a machine for slicing bead had not long before been invented, this ingenious development giving rise to the metaphor for some recent development as being the most important since the invention of sliced bread.

Ray Betts