x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Kobe steak or Dh3 burger

I'm hungry. Should I buy a beautiful and delectable piece of Japanese steak, or 3Dh hamburgers? I know what I want, but there is a recession on, isn't there?

I'm hungry. In fact, these days I'm a lot hungrier than I used to be. This isn't because I'm a greedy guts or have just spied a steak and kidney pie temptingly sitting on someone's window sill. It's because of lots of other stuff. These days, thanks to the tedium of the global credit crisis, I get far less money for my mince. I've also just started running in a desperate bid to regain some fitness, and I am trying to eat fewer carbs and none after 6 in the evening. Or so the internet has told me. But let's face it, the image of mother baking for the family sadly evaporated a long time ago, along with the dream that we would all one day be flying to work with jetpacks.

Only Sean Connery managed that, and if you've watched the first six Bond films you'll recall that you never saw the tuxedoed secret agent tucking into a plate piled high with sausages and mash at the blackjack table. He lived on a diet of martini-soaked olives and the finest Beluga caviar. Well, no such luck any more, matey. In future outings, and as we honest citizens plough on through the next few years of recession, I'm looking forward to seeing the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, dressed in a tatty suit, sipping gruel in a bedsit.

So perhaps - while the world's banks are melting down faster than the Arctic's last few remaining ice sheets - I should instead reconsider shifting a few pounds and go back to my previous sedentary brunch and air-conditioned cinema-inspired lifestyle. Then again, all that opulence costs money, money I could use to feed myself to stay alive. Thanks to a deepening recession and the increasing cost of living here, money will soon become, as an ugly, redheaded, translucent-skinned crooner from Birmingham once warbled, too tight to mention. But if you look around - and you don't have to look that far, judging by the amount of fast food outlets here - there are plenty of other ways to fill your boots when times get tough than eating a pair of mayo-covered Doctor Martins.

Last weekend, for example, I took my usual 10-minute Friday stroll to the supermarket to get my newspaper and some fresh-ish air. Feeling quite peckish, I walked through the aisles looking for something healthy. I'll have a nice salad, I thought. Lettuce from Holland - Dh45. Hold on a minute, Dh45 for a single, sorry looking but mildly edible, green football-shaped vegetable? US bagged mixed salad - Dh31.50. You must be joking. That much for a bag of torn-up grass? And tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers? About Dh20 per pack? Knock me down with a bag of King Edwards! Surely this is asking far too much to remain healthy.

So then what did I see lighting up the creamcake aisle, turning the chocolate eclairs a bright shade of yellow? The glowing golden arches beckoned, trapping me in an imaginary tractor beam that so many recession-hit punters have been sucked into in recent months. I was in and there was no way out. But on closer inspection there was no reason to leave. To my amazement, the infamous clown-endorsed fast food chain was selling its most basic food - a beef burger - for an incredible Dh3. Yes, Dh3! That's 81 measly US cents, 51 meagre UK pence and a minimal 63 euro cents.

This has to be the McCheapest and most McAffordable ready-made hot food on the planet. Unsurprisingly, in times of crisis, the public swap climbing into gas-guzzling Hummers to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster at their furthest-away Multiplex for a 50-metre walk to the DVD shop and replace French-inspired fine dining for mass-produced processed junk food. But maybe they're right. Why pay Dh300 for one portion of Kobe beef when you can fill your stomach with a budget burger meal? It didn't take long to work out. If he or she so desired, a cash-strapped citizen could buy 166 value burgers for just one succulent slither of massaged beef. I know which one I would rather have, but of course needs must, and I quickly found mysef wolfing down two of the smallest but cheapest items of food I have ever purchased. The only problem I had, once I'd saved the burger centre until last - after all, the guerkin is the most nutritious part - was that only days later McDonald's announced its third-quarter net income, seeing it rise 11 per cent on a 6 per cent sales boost.

Its image had been reborn, as had its reputation as a solid business that, despite several lows in recent years, has managed to buff up its image as a place to hide from recession. The latest wave of consumer frugality is being translated into more business for the fast-food titan. Chief Executive Jim Skinner's decision to promote dollar-menu foods in the US and abroad was winning sales from more expensive restaurants.

We may have tightened our fiscal belts, but as the next few years unfold we may as well loosen our trouser belts and learn to appreciate cheap calories in times of financial hunger. jbennett@thenational.ae