This week I would like to turn to a topic that promises to have a lasting impact on our cultural landscape and may indeed mark a turning point for Western civilization as a whole. This topic is the recent decision by McDonald’s to serve all-day breakfast. While it may seem to be an ordinary—even banal—issue at first glance (i.e., “So I can eat an Egg McMuffin an hour and a half later in the day. So what?”), it may end up challenging our very ideas about time, space and the nature of reality itself.
Fast food breakfast has been undergoing a renaissance lately, not unlike the Renaissance that revitalized Western culture in 16th-century Florence. This may yet prove to be an even greater cultural achievement. One can trace the origins of the Fast Food Breakfast Renaissance (FFBR, for those of you who like snappy acronyms) to roughly 2003 with the advent of the McGriddle. The concept was simple enough: a standard (read: sausage, egg and cheese) breakfast sandwich that used two bun-shaped Hotcakes for the bread.
While seemingly ordinary in itself, the social function of the McGriddle was to shatter our conceptual categories of “breakfast foods” and how they can be used. Hotcakes now were no longer confined to a styrofoam plate and plastic utensils—they could be repurposed and re-contextualized as a sandwich. Who among us have not, after a certain quantity of booze, considered using pancakes as a sandwich bread? The McGriddle showed us not only that this can be done, but done while sober, and on an assembly line, no less. It offered a glimpse into what was possible.
The next great advance in fast food breakfast occurred on March 27, 2014. Taco Bell, long a bastion of stoner food throughout the continental United States, began a systematic postmodern deconstruction of the very idea of “breakfast food” itself. The key feature of the Taco Bell breakfast menu is that it managed to operate outside of any established traditions of either breakfast food or Mexican (or, perhaps more accurately, “Mexican-ish”) food.
By combining the substance of the former with the shape and physical structure of the latter, Taco Bell breakfast managed to be both and neither simultaneously. How does one categorize a waffle taco? A biscuit taco? Is it breakfast? Mexican? One can argue that Taco Bell has long been deconstructing the very concept of food itself (Is that meat? Cheese? What, exactly, is a “Crunchwrap Supreme,” and how did it acquire its unearthly shape? And does it really matter at 2 a.m. after a night of drinking?). In short, the Taco Bell breakfast menu challenged our conceptual categories of what a “meal” actually is. And yet, it was available only during normal “breakfast hours,” which implied a certain temporal essence to the meal we call “breakfast.”
The fast food breakfast renaissance continues. McDonald’s has, since Oct. 6 of this year, implemented all-day breakfast into its menu after years of resistance. The significance of this cannot be overstated. It will probably become a national holiday in the coming years, resulting in throngs of school children released into the streets. It will likely be rated in importance somewhere in between Bastille Day and Independence Day, and will be a day of celebration for all people.
Perhaps the greatest significance, however, is the way that it alters our own perception of time. Indeed, it seems to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity: time is relative. Breakfast is lunch. It’s all good.
Consider, for a moment, the implications of this: If breakfast can be served for lunch, then the breakfast/lunch dichotomy either no longer exists or has been rendered irrelevant. And with no clear distinction between breakfast and non-breakfast items, it begs a series of questions. Why not get a quarter pounder with cheese with a side of hash browns? Why not order an Egg McMuffin with a Shamrock Shake and a large fry? McDonald’s has done more than give us breakfast items on the lunch menu. It has given us a reason to question the ideological paradigms we are conditioned to accept. It has given us license to ask, why not?
Ultimately, the lesson that the Fast Food Breakfast Renaissance teaches humankind may be this: we are the existential masters of our own fates. We are no longer dependent on a social structure confining meals to a certain time frame.
So order a Big Mac. Order seven Big Macs. With eggs. Because the universe is in chaos and we can pretty much do whatever. This is both the beauty and the terror of being alive at this time in our history.