The artist in Trafalgar Square, where Marc Quinn's Fourth Plinth model of her body was unveiled in 2005. Photograph: Richard Ansett/National Portrait Gallery.
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The needs that make us human: "To love, to be loved, to be accepted, and to be respected"

Artist Alison Lapper was born without arms and was denied the affection she needed as a child. Here, as part of our "What Makes Us Human" series, she reflects on her experiences, and what they can tell us about humanity.

The problem with the question “What makes us human?” is that you have to find universal characteristics that link people such as Hitler with Mother Teresa. I could have a stab at it, and say freedom of choice and the desire to humanise everything, but an anthropologist might hiss: “What about X?” And you’ll always get the plonker who will yell: “You don’t even look human, love, so how can you talk?”

However you cut it, human beings are incredibly diverse, so this is a nightmarish question, unless you are an expert. But I’m only an expert on my life, and the challenges disabled people face. Based on that, I think there are four vital things that make us human: the need to love; the need to be loved; the need to be accepted; and to be respected as a human being in the first place.

In a scene in the film The Elephant Man, John Merrick is chased into a railway toilet and trapped between two rows of urinals. With his back against the wall, he screams at the mob: “I am not an animal! I am not an animal! I am a human being!” And of course he was. But to be treated like a human being, you have to be accepted as one.

When I was trapped at Chailey Heritage School (for disabled children), I was too afraid to scream, but then I was only tiny and didn’t even know that I was different. I understood that I was one of the 250 “strange little creatures” that lived there. But we were in the majority, so acceptance wasn’t an issue. It only became an issue when we were faced with the outside world. That was a whole different ball game.

As toddlers, we were taken to Brighton Beach, and we emptied it in ten minutes! We were never asked if we minded being repeatedly sprawled naked in front of ten to 15 medical professionals and endlessly poked, pulled, rotated and photographed. Every Wednesday afternoon, wealthy donors would peer at us through the classroom windows. They didn’t seem to see children, just poor, pathetic, unloved creatures.

Although we’ve come a long way since then, I’m still stared at; some passers-by will do a double-take if I’m heard making an intelligent comment; I’m told I intimidate people; I make people feel uncomfortable, or even turn their stomachs. Why? Disabled people aren’t a different species. We are human beings with the same needs and aspirations as everyone else, and everyone has a basic need to be accepted.

I think that is why John Merrick said to the doctor Frederick Treves at the end of the film: “My life is full because I am loved.” Now he could die in peace, because society had finally accepted what he had always been – a human being who just happened to be disabled. I believe that loving and being loved also make us human.

When I was little, the ward sister would say: “Put that crying baby down. They don’t need a hug.” In her eyes, children like us didn’t need human contact, let alone love. We were all treated the same way, so we grew up thinking that that was normal. Mind you, at the age of five I also thought it was normal to be taken to Lewes Prison to visit the inmates. Our surroundings were so alike, that it seemed that the only contrast between us was that we were locked away as punishment for being different, and they were locked away as punishment for doing wrong.

Yet I was aware that kindness made me feel loved. Kindness that I had experienced from my foster parents, my sister, some of the nursing staff and all the teachers at Chailey. But of them all, my rock was always Nurse Mary Shepherd. Because of her, I recognised that human beings were more than just fed, watered, educated and disciplined.

Despite my upbringing, the need to love and be loved was instinctive. As I grew up, I felt love and respect towards my friends and myself. As I grew older, I fell in love, I made love and experienced the joy of parental love.

I still do, but these feelings – feelings that make us human – are often denied to people like me because of our disabilities.

So, what do I think makes us human? Four needs: to love; to be loved; to be accepted; and to be respected.

This is the latest article in our series published in association with BBC Radio 2 and the Jeremy Vine show

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The secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s

As a new film focuses on the real founder of McDonald’s, his grandson reveals the unlikely story behind his family’s long-lost restaurant.

One afternoon in about the year 1988, an 11-year-old boy was eating at McDonald’s with his family in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire. During the meal, he noticed a plaque on the wall bearing a man’s face and declaring him the founder of McDonald’s. These plaques were prevalent in McDonald’s restaurants across the US at the time. The face – gleaming with pride – belonged to Ray Kroc, a businessman and former travelling salesman long hailed as the creator of the fast food franchise.

Flickr/Phillip Pessar

But this wasn’t the man the young boy munching on fries expected to see. That man was in the restaurant alongside him. “I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘But I thought you were the founder?’” he recalls. “And that’s when, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, my grandfather went back on the [McDonald’s] Corporation to set the history straight.”

Jason McDonald French, now a 40-year-old registered nurse with four children, is the grandson of Dick McDonald – the real founder of McDonald’s. When he turned to his grandfather as a confused child all those years ago, he spurred him on to correct decades of misinformation about the mysterious McDonald’s history. A story now being brought to mainstream attention by a new film, The Founder.


Jason McDonald French

“They [McDonald’s Corporation] seemed to forget where the name actually did come from,” says McDonald French, speaking on the phone from his home just outside Springfield, Massachusetts.

His grandfather Dick was one half of the McDonald brothers, an entrepreneurial duo of restaurateurs who started out with a standard drive-in hotdog stand in California, 1937.

Dick's father, an Irish immigrant, worked in a shoe factory in New Hampshire. He and his brother made their success from scratch. They founded a unique burger restaurant in San Bernardino, around 50 miles east of where they had been flogging hotdogs. It would become the first McDonald’s restaurant.

Most takeout restaurants back then were drive-ins, where you would park, order food from your car, and wait for a “carhop” server to bring you your meal on a plate, with cutlery. The McDonald brothers noticed that this was a slow, disorganised process with pointless costly overheads.

So they invented fast food.

***

In 1948, they built what came to be known as the “speedy system” for a fast food kitchen from scratch. Dick was the inventor out of the two brothers - as well as the bespoke kitchen design, he came up with both the iconic giant yellow “M” and its nickname, the “Golden Arches”.

“My grandfather was an innovator, a man ahead of his time,” McDonald French tells me. “For someone who was [only] high school-educated to come up with the ideas and have the foresight to see where the food service business was going, is pretty remarkable.”


The McDonald brothers with a milkshake machine.

McDonald French is still amazed at his grandfather’s contraptions. “He was inventing machines to do this automated system, just off-the-cuff,” he recalls. “They were using heat lamps to keep food warm beforehand, before anyone had ever thought of such a thing. They customised their grills to whip the grease away to cook the burgers more efficiently. It was six-feet-long, which was just unheard of.”

Dick even custom-made ketchup and mustard dispensers – like metal fireplace bellows – to speed up the process of garnishing each burger. The brothers’ system, which also cut out waiting staff and the cost of buying and washing crockery and cutlery, brought customers hamburgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds.


The McDonald brothers as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

McDonald French recounts a story of the McDonald brothers working late into the night, drafting and redrafting a blueprint for the perfect speedy kitchen in chalk on their tennis court for hours. By 3am, when they finally had it all mapped out, they went to bed – deciding to put it all to paper the next day. The dry, desert climate of San Bernardino meant it hadn’t rained in months.

 “And, of course, it rained that night in San Bernardino – washed it all away. And they had to redo it all over again,” chuckles McDonald French.

In another hiccup when starting out, a swarm of flies attracted by the light descended on an evening event they put on to drum up interest in their restaurant, driving customers away.


An original McDonald's restaurant, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

***

These turned out to be the least of their setbacks. As depicted in painful detail in John Lee Hancock’s film, Ray Kroc – then a milkshake machine salesman – took interest in their restaurant after they purchased six of his “multi-mixers”. It was then that the three men drew up a fateful contract. This signed Kroc as the franchising agent for McDonald’s, who was tasked with rolling out other McDonald’s restaurants (the McDonalds already had a handful of restaurants in their franchise). 

Kroc soon became frustrated at having little influence. He was bound by the McDonalds’ inflexibility and stubborn standards (they wouldn’t allow him to cut costs by purchasing powdered milkshake, for example). The film also suggests he was fed up with the lack of money he was making from the deal. In the end, he wriggled his way around the contract by setting up the property company “McDonald’s Corporation” and buying up the land on which the franchises were built.


Ray Kroc, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

Kroc ended up buying McDonald’s in 1961, for $2.7m. He gave the brothers $1m each and agreeing to an annual royalty of half a per cent, which the McDonald family says they never received.

“My father told us about the handshake deal [for a stake in the company] and how Kroc had gone back on his word. That was very upsetting to my grandfather, and he never publicly spoke about it,” McDonald French says. “It’s probably billions of dollars. But if my grandfather was never upset about it enough to go after the Corporation, why would we?”

They lost the rights to their own name, and had to rebrand their original restaurant “The Big M”. It was soon put out of business by a McDonald’s that sprang up close by.


An original McDonald restaurant in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/George

Soon after that meal when the 11-year-old Jason saw Kroc smiling down from the plaque for the first time, he learned the true story of what had happened to his grandfather. “It’s upsetting to hear that your family member was kind of duped,” he says. “But my grandfather always had a great respect for the McDonald’s Corporation as a whole. He never badmouthed the Corporation publicly, because he just wasn’t that type of man.”

Today, McDonalds' corporate website acknowledges the McDonalds brothers as the founders of the original restaurant, and credits Kroc with expanding the franchise. The McDonald’s Corporation was not involved with the making of The Founder, which outlines this story. I have contacted it for a response to this story, but it does not wish to comment.

***

Dick McDonald’s principles jar with the modern connotations of McDonald’s – now a garish symbol of global capitalism. The film shows Dick’s attention to the quality of the food, and commitment to ethics. In one scene, he refuses a lucrative deal to advertise Coca Cola in stores. “It’s a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs,” he rants. “It’s distasteful . . . crass commercialism.”

Kroc, enraged, curses going into business with “a beatnik”.


Photo: The Founder

Dick’s grandson agrees that McDonald’s has strayed from his family’s values. He talks of his grandfather’s generosity and desire to share his wealth – the McDonald brothers gave their restaurant to its employees, and when Dick returned to New Hampshire after the sale, he used some of the money to buy new Cadillacs with air conditioning for his old friends back home.

“[McDonald’s] is definitely a symbol of capitalism, and it definitely sometimes has a negative connotation in society,” McDonald French says. “If it was still under what my grandfather had started, I imagine it would be more like In'N'Out Burger [a fast food chain in the US known for its ethical standards] is now, where they pay their employees very well, where they stick to the simple menu and the quality.”

He adds: “I don’t think it would’ve ever blossomed into this, doing salads and everything else. It would’ve stayed simple, had quality products that were great all the time.

“I believe that he [my grandfather] wasn’t too unhappy that he wasn’t involved with it anymore.”


The McDonald’s Museum, Ray Kroc’s first franchised restaurant in the chain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite his history, Dick still took his children and grandchildren to eat at McDonald’s together – “all the time” – as does Jason McDonald French with his own children now. He’s a cheeseburger enthusiast, while his seven-year-old youngest child loves the chicken nuggets. But there was always a supersize elephant in the room.

“My grandfather never really spoke of Ray Kroc,” he says. “That was always kind of a touchy subject. It wasn’t until years later that my father told us about how Kroc was not a very nice man. And it was the only one time I ever remember my grandfather talking about Kroc, when he said: ‘Boy, that guy really got me.’”

The Founder is in UK cinemas from today.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.