In Japan, McDonald’s is introducing Tofu McNuggets: a mixture of fish, tofu, onions, edamame, carrots, and soy beans that is deep-fried and served with a ginger sauce.
I mention this not to comment on the gastronomic merit of Tofu McNuggets. I haven’t tried them, but I don’t need to taste them to know that they sound god awful.
Instead, I note this development only to point out the absurdity of modern corporate branding, and how it has become completely unmoored from roots or reality. Long ago, McDonald’s was a local hamburger joint. Then it grew into a chain. Then it became a franchise with outlets from sea to shining sea. Then someone at McDonald’s decided that the “Mc” in the original name had branding value, and the Big Mac and McRib and other annoyingly named menu items were born. Then the “Mc” branding was applied to new menu items like chicken, in the form of Chicken McNuggets. Even though the chicken was flavorless and crappy, the Mcbrand apparently had value — and Tofu McNuggets sold in Tokyo are the inevitable result. It won’t end there, either.
And so, a little business that once probably made and sold pretty good hamburgers to locals became a mega business that sells awful-sounding fried tofu in Japan, using the same brand that means . . . what? Everything, and nothing. In their own appalling way, Tofu McNuggets tell us something essential about our world.
When you reach your 50s, as Kish and I have, part of life is dealing with death. Whether it is more senior members of your family succumbing to age-related conditions, or colleagues who die in inexplicable, tragic accidents, or friends who finally are taken down after long battles with cancer, at some point death becomes a significant, unfortunately recurring part of the reality of your life.
The question is how to deal with the losses, particularly when the deaths come in bunches — as so often seems to be the case. People find themselves grappling with complex combinations of emotions that they don’t typically experience at the same time — such as grief, and guilt, and also anger — and everyone needs to deal with them in their own way. When multiple deaths hit in a short period of time, and strike down people who are about your age, you can’t help but think of your own mortality, and wonder.
Kish and I try to go to calling hours or memorial services, as a kind of tangible sign to the surviving family members of the significance and impact of the departed; I’m not sure whether the family members appreciate it or not, but it makes us feel better. Collecting your thoughts about the person, mentally composing your own personal tribute, and focusing on the good, also seems to help. And as we’ve gotten older, and seen how people respond to such losses in different ways, I find that I’ve become a lot less judgmental and a lot more accepting about how people respond.
Ultimately, though, you just hope that the period of bad news finally ends, and a period of good news begins. We’ve got a family wedding coming up, and we’re looking forward to it.