Carneal describes Maggi this way: "...It gives every dish the same three characteristics—a soy-sauce-like umami, explosive saltiness, and the odd sweet-savoriness of monosodium glutamate." And yet, it's clear that Carneal holds a grudging respect for the seasoning, even admitting that he misses it on the rare occasion that it's absent in a dish.
It would be easy to bemoan the loss of traditional Malian cooking for this cheap short-cut, but Carneal makes an argument in Maggi's defense. He says the seasoning isn't about faster cooking or even, necessarily, cheaper cooking; it's about function. "Fridges are rare and freezers unheard of," he points out, "There's no luxury appliance for storing savory stocks or stews." This doesn't fully explain how dishes were seasoned pre-Maggi and why this was abandoned, but presumably, Maggi cuts down the food waste from using other, more perishable seasonings and cooking methods.
But it also sounds like there's a simpler and more basic human explanation: the seasoning just tastes darn good. Like our American fast food, the more you eat it, the more addictive it becomes.
Have you ever tried Maggi? Blessing or a curse?
"Bien Manger" by Jack Carneal appeared in Issue 3 of Lucky Peach (subscription available here)