McDonald’s may seem ubiquitous, but there are some places in the world where you’d be hard pressed to find that pair of golden arches. In Iceland, the country’s three McDonald’s locations closed their doors in 2009. Still, the memory of the fast food chain lives on through an artifact that’s been displayed across the country: a 12-year-old Big Mac.
Atlas Obscura digs into the history of the preserved burger, which was purchased by Hjörtur Smárason on October 30, 2009, one day before the locations closed. He then found the bag with a Big Mac and fries in his garage three years later, completely untouched even though mice had seemingly chewed up everything around it—not the greatest endorsement for the appeal of the food. And the state of the food after all that time seems a bit worrying as well. According to Smárason, “it looked like I bought it just 15 minutes earlier. And the same with the fries, it all looked almost new. Just turned cold on the way home.”
Questions about the makeup of these items aside, Smárason correctly decided that this was a piece of history, something that the whole country would need to see and experience. The mint condition meal first went on display at the National Museum of Iceland for a year, then spent a few years at the Bus Hostel Reykjavik, and now lives at the Snotra House in southern Iceland.
While you might see a handful of known fast food joints in Iceland, the prices at places like Taco Bell and Subway are much higher than in the States because of rising import prices and deflation of Iceland’s currency, the króna. When McDonald’s first came to the country in 1993, it was seen as a huge step for Iceland entering the modern, global world. Its closure, in turn, was a devastating blow. That complicated history with McDonald’s makes the Big Mac even more valuable to understanding Icelandic culture.
“I don’t think not eating a hamburger is the most remarkable thing I have done,” Smárason says, “but if you do an image search for my name, you will mostly see pictures of an old hamburger.” Next time you forget about your value meal, don’t be quick to toss it out. You just might make history.