The flier caused many a double take among followers of Sacramento’s food industry.
Patrick Mulvaney was clowned, and not in a circus kind of way. His usual Crocs had been substituted via Photoshop for the bulbous red shoes made famous by Ronald McDonald.
In his left hand, the figurehead of Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement holds a McDonald’s bag broadcasting the Golden Arches and its “I’m Lovin’ It” branding. In his right is a brown paper bag with the Mulvaney’s B&L logo. A tag line at the top reads: “McDonald’s & Mulvaney’s B&L have partnered on a very special evening.”
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The flier touts a Nov. 12 fundraising dinner at Mulvaney’s B&L, a $100-per-head benefit for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northern California. The organization provides housing for families for free or little cost when a child is hospitalized with serious, often grave conditions.
But some saw the flier’s imagery as taking the Mulvaney-McDonald’s connection beyond supporting a worthy charity. By sporting the clown shoes and holding a bag suited for Big Macs, was Mulvaney endorsing the fast-food giant itself? Given the chef’s passion for supporting local farmers and healthy-eating programs, an image of Mulvaney shilling for McDonald’s would be tough for many locavores to swallow – the equivalent of, say, Alice Waters gleefully holding a 7-layer Taco Bell burrito.
Mulvaney said he approved the ad and had no problem posing with the McDonald’s bag. He doesn’t see partnering with McDonald’s as selling out farm-to-fork’s ideals, but as a potential way to affect corporate change and share ideas.
“The truth is, McDonald’s will serve 60 million meals today,” said Mulvaney. “If we’re going to discuss how we as a city are going to move forward in a healthy manner, I want those people to be at the table. For me, it’s not an ‘us-versus-them’ situation. I want to look at it more as a ‘we.’”
Still, breaking bread with McDonald’s can be a tricky proposition, especially as introducing school kids to healthy, local foods remains a tenet of the farm-to-fork ethos. Mulvaney has shown ardent support for the Food Literacy Center, a local organization with teachers who wear carrot costumes as a way of showing young people that vegetables are cool, fun and tasty.
The Food Literacy Center has to work hard to compete with the marketing powers of McDonald’s. According to Kantar Media, a marketing research firm, McDonald’s spent $988 million on advertising in 2013. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University found that McDonald’s spent $42 million alone on targeting Happy Meal ads to kids in 2012.
“I don’t see it as sleeping with the enemy,” Mulvaney said. “There’s things I can disagree with, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue to engage. While McDonald’s is not the place to eat every day, they are a significant part of what people eat. If we just say ‘no,’ it seems to me we won’t ever be able to grapple with the whole issue around food.”
As Sacramento continues to promote itself as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” our chefs aren’t above eating fast food while proselytizing about local produce. Adam Pechal of Pour House and Pangaea’s Robb Venditti have been known to check into Taco Bell via social media. Because after a double-digit-hour work shift, sometimes only “Fourthmeal” will do. Even Thomas Keller, the most Michelin-starred chef in America, has professed a love for In-And-Out cheeseburgers.
For Mulvaney, his order is the same when he drops by McDonald’s for a bite.
“I’m a traditionalist,” he said. “I get a Big Mac, french fries and a Coke. But I make sure to have some hot sauce if I’m in the car.”
McDonald’s, meanwhile, has had a presence in other elements of Sacramento’s farm-to-fork activities. Table 66 at September’s gala Tower Bridge dinner was sponsored by McDonald’s, as designated by a small placard with the Golden Arches. It was perhaps a curious sight at an event celebrating local farmers who have a hard time competing with McCorporations. But Mulvaney believes the worlds of combo meals and organic farms can co-exist.
“My view is the bigger the table to have discussion, the more likely you’re going to get a positive outcome,” said Mulvaney. “Maybe we use (McDonald’s) as the starting point of a discussion that will bring more attention to what healthy food is and isn’t, and the responsibility to feed people in a healthy manner.”
So yes, Sacramento, you can have your farm-to-fork with a side of fries.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.
Farm to Fork For Families
What: A partnership dinner between Mulvaney’s B&L and McDonald’s
When: Nov. 12
Where: Mulvaney’s B&L (1215 19th St., Sacramento)
Cost: Tickets for the family style dinner cost $100, with proceeds benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northern California