The disappearing Shamrock Shake
I tend to overstate my Irishness. I’m a gumbo of heritages, like most of you, but I contend that whatever Mick is in me bubbles to the top. If you met me you’d agree: I’m ginger-haired, ruddy, pugnacious and prone to spouting malarkey or singing “Danny Boy” in a fine tenor.
When St. Patrick’s Day arrives, however, I no longer observe it with much gusto. I haven’t quaffed green beer since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and the only parades for me are victory marches after winning World Wars. But I do retain a childhood desire to drink a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. And I can’t consistently get one anymore.
Growing up in Prince George, there was one McDonald’s in town. It was next door to the Spruceland Shopping Centre (which used to have a theatre). Being youthfully ignorant and free of cynicism regarding consumerism, my sister and I loved McDonald’s and would pester our parents—the kind of pseudo-hippie natural-food advocates that thrust cement-thick peanut butter upon us—until they submitted to a visit. To us, Mickey D’s was exotic dining. Now I only eat there in dire emergencies. Too much of it literally makes me ill. If I must go, I stick with two Filet O’ Fishes, which I insist on calling “fish sandwiches” out of sheer cussedness.
A friend once claimed, “Despising McDonald’s is the default setting of the intellectual.” I took “intellectual” to mean “pretentious, uptight food-prig.” When St. Paddy’s Day swings around I want a Shamrock Shake, though I know it’s a cylinder of minty chemicals. It’s not called a “milkshake” for it contains the same negligible amount of dairy as processed cheese. One of the main ingredients of this seasonal beverage is carrageenan, a thickener made from seaweed. Each spring I crave coagulated goo.
In the last couple of decades the Shamrock Shake has become as difficult to find as a leprechaun. It comes and goes, disappearing for up to a decade. People seem to like the beverage, so is this supply-and-demand manipulation? Some kind of corporate head-game played to build up anticipation? Whatever, I haven’t had one in 10 years and it’s aggravating.
And that’s the crux of the situation: I find the elusiveness of this quirky drink exasperating. Surely I have better things to occupy my mind. And yet, the unavailability of this minty slurry is part of my long history of favoured processed-food products that have disappeared. When I walk through a supermarket and look at the overwhelming number of products, I wonder why the really good ones are terminated.
For instance, whatever happened to Maple Buds? My beloved little chocolates were like Hershey’s Kisses built with flying buttresses. Vanishing at the end of the ’80s, they left a little maple-tinged milk-chocolate hole in my life. A strongly worded letter to their maker Rowntree proved futile.
Another product that hit the mark with me but died out was Ready Spaghetti, instant spaghetti prepared like ramen noodles that Mom, having relaxed on the wholesome food issue by the end of the disco era, allowed and even encouraged me to make for a snack.
In this manufactured world, one doesn’t have to be defined by one’s consumerism, but what one likes to consume becomes part of one’s life. This extends beyond indigestible. I’ve written with nothing but black Uniball Microfine rollerball pens for 15 years and recently they’ve been discontinued. I had Smithers’ Interior Stationery find every one within a 500-kilometre radius. On the whole, it’s as futile to lament a vanished product as it is to rue that lamentation. The Stuff keeps on coming and if you have the right eye, you can find a wave—maybe a synthetic green one—to surf for a while before it breaks on the shores of time.