At first glance, the fork-like utensil, with its french-fry tines, causes a small mental schism, like when you see a movie character with a chain saw for a hand. It's just so . . . unnatural.
But unlike Ash Williams and his chain saw hand, the "frork" is real. Well, apparently real. I have yet to hold one in my hand. I've only seen it in photos, on social networks and in the video above with infomercial pitchman Anthony Sullivan, which, at this point, makes the frork as fictional as a horror-film hero with an appendage that can clear cut a small park.
McDonald's provides a US number to call to "learn how to get the Frork and coupons to try all three Signature Crafted Recipes," the new "premium" toppings that ostensibly are the reason you need the DIY utensil: to mop up those gooey ingredients with your vicarious spud fingers. I'll refrain from passing along the number because, when I called, I learned two pieces of potentially helpful information:
1. "Bad news: 'K, we're out of free things to give away on the phone," Sullivan cheerfully offers.
2. You can "maybe" secure a free frork if you show up at a participating McDonald's (only in the US) on Friday, which is the only day the burger behemoth is giving away the utensil.
So far, based on McDonald's own slapstick marketing of the frork and its limited availability (or potentially, no availability), I have to conclude the chain is just playing this for laughs, a useless utensil designed to provoke the push-button wrath of social media while promoting its own products. Twitter, of course, cranked up the outrage machine, as reliably as an old Ford. A small sample from those still annoyed that McDonald's has phased out Hi-C Orange and that the chain can't seem to keep its soft-serve machines in proper working order.
With frork in hand, McDonald's has accidentally, perhaps mindlessly, wandered into a relatively new field called "gastrophysics," which studies the stimuli that we perceive while eating and that affect our enjoyment of food. Utensils play a major role in our pleasure at the table. Researchers such as Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford, has discovered that the weight, material and texture of our forks can affect the quality of our meals.
McDonald's frork would seem to have no benefits. It's made from silicone (heavier forks are supposed to make us enjoy our meals more) and, worse, it forces diners to stop using their own hands to eat fries and, instead, resort to this intermediary tool. As Spence writes in his forthcoming book, "Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating," "Many people write to me saying that, for them, food really does taste better when eaten with the hands. This seems to be especially true for those from India, say, who have grown up using their fingers for this purpose."
More than anything, McDonald's frork promotion reminds me of a marketing campaign from a few years ago, in which a series of print ads promoted fake TV programs that seemed all too real, shows such as "Married to a Mime," "Bayou Eskimos" and "Knitting Wars." The ads were run to promote a PBS station in New York, and each one included this tagline: "The fact that you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV."
It seems like we could re-purpose the tagline all over again with McDonald's new campaign: The fact that you thought the frork was real says a lot about the state of fast food.