The Viral “McRib Girl” Wants You to Take Her Seriously

December  9, 2016

Perhaps you’ve seen headlines supposing “You’ll Never love Anything Like This Woman Loves the McRib," pointing to a video of Santa Clarita, California resident Xanthe Pajarillo pleading with her city council members to re-stock the McRib, the boneless pork patty slathered in barbecue sauce and dangled as a seasonal offering at local McDonald's locations. Pajarillo, now a photography student in her last year at CalArts, was dismayed at the wall of silence she was met with by council members after her unsuccessful bid. (She figured lobbying councilpersons directly would be more effective than going through McDonald's corporate hoops; she's since found a Santa Clarita McDonald's that carries the McRib.) And so she composed a paean to the McRib in the form of a song.

Because this is the internet, it's yet another bit of old news that's recently been recycled and repackaged as if it were new. All of this happened last year.

“If you don’t know me, my name is Xanthe,” Pajarillo intones at the beginning of her song, gazing forlornly into the camera. “Also known as 'the McRib Girl,' as the internet has seen fit to name me.” She looks and sounds pretty sad; what follows is a genuinely lovely song. Even so, a few people chalked Pajarillo's song up to a stunt. A year later, people still contend it was just carefully-choreographed performance art.

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“No, it’s not performance art—that’s not true at all, but I can understand why people would say that,” Pajarillo told me over the phone yesterday. She is kind and soft-spoken. “It seems like people are just judging me based on how I look. Nobody takes a person with pink hair—though I don’t have it anymore—talking to the city council seriously. People don’t take artists seriously.”

She has no idea why the video has gone viral again—perhaps people have started to Google the McRib, she thinks, giving rise to a resurgence in its popularity. But she contends that her plea, song, and subsequent eleven-minute documentary recounting her obsession are not stunts. They are real.

Pajarillo’s love for the McRib, this seasonal speciality some consider a delicacy, was instilled in her since early childhood. Pajarillo, an only child, was an army brat. In the 1980s, her parents immigrated from the Philippines to the States, where her dad worked as a mall busboy. He loved the McRib, which had been introduced in 1982; she believes she inherited her affinity for the McRib from her father. Pajarillo's father joined the United States Army after a few years and fought in Operation Desert Storm. A few years later, she was born—the family then moved from Virginia to Germany, where her dad would be stationed. While there, her mother worked in food prep at a McDonald’s. She doesn’t remember the first time she had a McRib, or the precise feeling it gave her. But she remembers her mother handing the family free McRibs when she was four of five, and, since then, she's been hooked.

Pajarillo described the McRib as one of the few constants for her itinerant family. Eating the McRib was a source of comfort, a place to seek solace; for the Pajarillos, it became a tradition. She and her family would move back to Virginia from Germany, and her affair with the McRib would continue on through adulthood. She moved to Texas to join the Air Force for five years before deciding to go to school for photography.

A happy Veterans Day with free @hacksawridge screening 🇺🇸

A photo posted by Xanthe Pajarillo (@xanthep) on

By the time Pajarillo began college, the McRib had become such permanent fixture of her life that it threaded her family together even when they lived apart. In 2013, when Pajarillo first started school at CalArts, she had found out that she had ovarian cancer. She had to have intense surgery. Her mother came from Virginia to California to take care of her; Pajarillo's father, then stationed abroad for military service, couldn't make it. During a painful recovery, Pajarillo subsisted on hospital food. She is now cancer-free, though it's left her without a left ovary. All she craved in those days was a McRib, and her mother understood. After being discharged from the hospital, they both visited the nearest McDonald's and each had their own McRib.

Pajarillo still eats McRibs regularly these days—she most recently had it a few days after Thanksgiving, back near school. There is no other food that makes her feel as passionate as the McRib, though she has an affinity toward the Filipino food her family cooks, along with spaghetti. “We’re at the mercy of McDonald’s in this situation,” she said. “I wouldn’t do this for this anything I could make myself.”

What food makes you sing? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.

1 Comment

Sam1148 December 10, 2016
You know if José Andrés did a reconstructed 'rib' using transglutaminase (Meat Glue) to take cheaper cuts of meat and turn it into rib shaped bits. He'd get 30 dollars a plate for them.