Known to be a family-friendly fast-food restaurant, McDonald’s makes sure to steer clear of any controversies that can harm its branding. Surprisingly, one of McDonald’s controversies in the 1970s was its tie to illegal drug use.
McDonald’s changed their spoon-shaped coffee stirrers as these plastic utensils became increasingly tied to cocaine use, with drug dealers and drug users using the spoon to either snort cocaine or measure a dose of cocaine with it.
The Bizarre 1979 McDonald’s Controversy
The correlation of McDonald’s to cocaine use seems too bizarre to even occur, but during 1979, this surreal possibility manifested just from their coffee stirrer.
In the late 1970s, McDonald’s used small spoon-shaped plastic utensils as their coffee stirrers in America, with millions of these utensils present in its countless branches. The coffee stirrer looked like a long stick, with a small spoon on one end and the company’s name with their well-recognized arch on the other. The stirrer was essentially harmless as most people used them for their intended purpose, to stir coffee.
With that said, people soon started to discover an alternative way to use the McDonald’s coffee stirrer, and it was to snort cocaine. McDonald’s tie with illegal consumption of narcotics began in the 1970s as both drug users and drug dealers started to use the stirrer more frequently as they’ve found that the plastic coffee spoon could hold sufficient powder for a potent sniff. Another benefit to the coffee stirrer is its 5-inch size, small enough to be tucked for repeated usage. (Source: Mental Floss)
In the late 1970s, it became apparent the small plastic coffee spoons at McDonald’s restaurants were being used by some immersed in the drug culture for other than their intended purpose of stirring hot beverages. These plastic implements had become a popular item of drug paraphernalia, a sort of Everyman’s coke spoon, and were being used to measure and snort powdered cocaine as well as PCP.The Snopes Staff
The usage of the McDonald’s stirrers became so widespread that a dose of cocaine was dubbed a McSpoon in some cities. (Source: Snopes)
The Resolution of the McDonald’s Controversy
The illegal practice soon gained mass media attention in October 1979 with the release of Marcia Kramer’s newspaper story. Her piece focused on a New York City loft private party where a massive brass bowl filled with cocaine and lined with 20 McDonald’s’ coffee stirrers welcomed the guests.
Following that, congress began to hold hearings on the sale of drug paraphernalia. The congress hearings aimed to restrain the items’ availability common to the drug trade by making legislation intended to ban their selling.
Joyce Nalepka, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth former president, reached out to McDonald’s president at that time, Edward Schmidt, to address their spoons. The company responded to the controversy, redesigning its stirrer by replacing the little spoon with a flat paddle. Their redesign achieved its goal of distancing McDonald’s from the usage of illegal drugs. (Source: Mental Floss)
Doug Timberlake, a McDonald’s corporation spokesman, explained why they redesigned their stirrer.
It has been brought to our attention that people are using them illegally and illicitly for purposes for which they are not intended.Doug Timberlake, Corporation Spokesperson of McDonald’s