Want some mileage for your cause? Pick a fight with Ronald and friends.

I am a little over the constant criticism of McDonald's as if it is the devil's own fast-food chain. On those rare occasions when one utters the phrase "Appellation d'Origine Controlee" - say, when mangling it in an attempt to appear sophisticated at a party - it may be with thoughts of Champagne from that region of France, or Parma ham from the pampered pigs of Italy.

We may not realise it, but that exalted designation also applies to the humble Cornish pasty. Anyone can make a pasty, but European Union laws decree that a Cornish pasty can only be called such if: it is made in Cornwall; is a distinctive "D" shape; is crimped at the side (never on the top); and is filled with contents that can reasonably be described as "chunky".

Cornish pasty-makers are not only struggling to preserve their product's special designation, they are also fighting a rearguard action against a 20 per cent value-added tax that was slapped on the retro snack in this year's British Budget.

Sausage and bacon rolls, rotisserie chickens and a host of other hot, filling goodies have felt the weight of the levy, but only the pasty has its very own pressure group - the Cornish Pasty Association.


Should you have an excess of spare time, the CPA provides reams of information about pasties, making liberal use of Les Merton's Official Encyclopaedia of the Cornish Pasty (yes, really).

This authority suggests that cave paintings from prehistoric times depict a woman eating what looks like a modern-day pasty, though hers would have had who-knows-what filling wrapped in leaves, rather than the classic swede, potato, onion and chunky meat cocooned in pastry.

No doubt the leaf-wrapped prehistoric snack would taste better than some of the pasties New Zealanders can buy, but then, we are probably allowed a bit of license given that pasty-making spread to the outer ends of the British Empire, and now encompasses such exotica as curried meat and mint sauce.

The Cornish Pasty Association has recently been up in arms yet again, this time against an even darker threat: burger conglomerate McDonald's, which described the pasty as, gasp, a "meat pie".

The company, which was an official sponsor of the Olympics, included the inflammatory description in a guide to British words for American reporters during the international festivities.

Almost as outrageous, it consistently called a "pasty" a "pastie", which is actually something a burlesque dancer uses to cover her nipples.

All in all, a poor showing from McDonald's which, by now, should have learned to tread very carefully outside the world of Big Macs and Happy Meals. Be it big picture stuff, like attempts to absolve itself of blame in the national obesity conversation, to the largely inconsequential, such as the pasty gaffe, or the graphically mating turtles in a book about the lifecycle of animals my kids got with a Happy Meal, Ronald McDonald does sometimes take his eye off the ball.

And yet, I am a little over the constant criticism of McDonald's as if it is the devil's own fast-food chain. Those Cornish pasty-makers picked a fight with the burger giant solely because they knew they would get lots of mileage out of the stoush.

They have got lots of mileage, too. Thousands of miles away, someone like me who has never tasted an actual Cornish Cornish pasty, has heard of the snack's struggle against the dark forces of globalisation.

But, alas for the Cornish Pasty Association, in the end it is much easier for any of us to buy one of those hot beef sandwiches they sell at the Golden Arches.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com