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Once upon a time, the spread of freedom and democracy was measured in the spread of hamburger franchises. Beaming network correspondents would report from places like Moscow or Beijing on how formerly gray and monolithic communist societies had opened their doors to the Golden Arches. This, truly, was freedom’s fruit — man’s inalienable right to two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and a high-fat diet.

At the time, fast-food franchises were seen — not without reason — to represent America’s entrepreneurial spirit, a capitalist triumph of cheery service, low-priced product and clever branding. They also stood for other, darker things such as union-busting, a deskilled workforce and advertising campaigns that targeted children, but it took a while for these aspects to become as recognizable as the giant butts that their high-calorie diet was creating all over America.

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