I've done my share of bagging on McDonald's. It's the punching bag of the fast-food industry, isn't it? It's fun to punch, right? It's old news that this stuff is bad for you, but that won't stop many of us from condemning the clown's house of burgers with one side of our mouths while cramming the other side with his delicious fries.
I harbor no delusions when it comes to the world's largest purveyor of scientifically formulated, meticulously marketed, franchised frankenfood, and thus I usually refer to McDonald's as McDeath. Eat enough of what McDeath is selling and your waistline will expand as surely as your lifespan will contract. Yes, there are plenty of rational reasons to rage against the company's practices and avoid everything on the menu, but I will freely admit that once and a while it really hits the spot. It's made to be tasty and satisfying. Salt, sugar, syrup, corn and fat, when combined with the right chemical flavorings, textures and mouthfeel will definitely do the trick, and chances are, there's a McDeath open near you, right now.
Food chemists are working nonstop in scientific research labs, worldwide, to ensure maximum taste satisfaction for the masses, and McDeath sits at the vanguard. Due to its overwhelming ubiquity, when first you think of fast food, McDeath and its golden arches will appear in your brain, a distinctive crimson and gold flag--looming, beckoning, an affordable port in your personal hunger storm, a siren's sexy song singing sweetly of milkshakes, apple pies and salted carbs. Why not just drive though? You may not admit it in polite company, but you know you want those fries.
Considering whether to drive through is one thing, but if and when you read much of anything about fast food, you will likely be reading about McDeath. In something like 120 countries with around 1.7 million employees working a McJob, serving about 68 million customers EVERY DAY via 34,000 restaurants or so, McDeath is by far the fattest fast-food elephant in the room.
If you read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of The All-American Meal (2001), you'll learn much about McDeath's poverty wage supporting, union-busting, unpaid overtime requiring, worker exploiting shenanigans and quite a lot of other scary facts about the actual food-like substances that are created in McDeath's labs and chemically combobulated to be irresistible. Pink slime with a side of bone paste, anyone? Mechanically separated chicken parts and sugar water, anyone? Tasty! You'll learn of McDeath's even scarier livestock farms and (scariest!) livestock processing plants, though they have improved some since Schlosser's reporting with the help of people like Temple Grandin.
Schlosser wasn't alone, of course. Morgan Spurlock put the twin arches in the crosshairs with his film Super Size Me (2004), by living on a steady McDeath diet for three meals a day, 30 days in a row, measuring his impending doom with a series of regular doctor appointments between Hamburglar visits. McDeath has been on the defensive ever since, quietly extracting the term "super size" from its menu options in the wake of Spurlock's film and desperately trying to manage the fallout by offering "healthier" options ever since, like carrots or apple slices in Happy Meals, sandwich "wraps," melon slices or fancier salads. In some locations, they're even replacing Happy Meal toys with books.
They're still trying to get even healthier, though this really is a losing battle, isn't it? Nobody goes to McDeath to eat salads with a side of melon slices, do they? That's like ordering a grilled cheese sandwich at a Chinese restaurant. Why? If you want something healthy, why would you go to a fast-food joint in the first place? You wouldn't. If you really like salads and know anything about them, you'd know that McDeath's salads suck, and you'd go somewhere else.
If you read this recent report on fast-food television advertising from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a respected nonprofit health improvement organization, you will learn of McDeath's ongoing and determined target-marketing of children, despite Ronald's public signing of an industry-wide pledge not to do so. Burger King was the first runner-up, but the gap between the two was considerable (70 percent versus 29 percent of the total offending ads). Wendy's, Krystal, White Castle, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Chick-fill-A, Arby's, Hardee's, Popeye's, Bojangle's and KFC didn't even make the list. Clearly, McDeath's child-selling technique is unparalleled in the industry.
So McDeath is still targeting children with their ads after promising not to, convincing another generation of kids to grow up loving the garbage-passing-for-food that they sell, when a lot of kids live in urban areas where fresh produce is about as common as flying monkeys, and more and more young people are stricken with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension every year, setting them on a spiraling path toward heart disease, stroke and early death.
More than a third of American adults are already obese, but it's not all McDeath's fault, is it? They're just one part of the problem, right? They just sell a hell of a lot of this stuff to a hell of a lot of people. But why can't they just admit that what they sell is garbage and advise people to eat it less often? Wouldn't that help? They'd still sell plenty of fries. I'd still buy them occasionally on road trips.
Maybe McDeath should consider the truth-in-marketing path of the Heart Attack Grill, a restaurant featuring the "quadruple bypass burger," where patrons weighing over 350 pounds eat for free, where guests are given a hospital gown/bib before eating, where two restaurant spokespersons have actually died on the premises from heart attacks, where employees and customers alike are literally dropping like flies, where they advertise that "the food is bad for you, it will kill you...and you should stay away from it..[other chains] are in nutritional denial." Call it a gimmick, which of course it is, but I think this truth in advertising approach is refreshing. McDeath and the other big chains should follow suit and just tell it like it is. Some chronic abusers of McFood might even listen if McDeath just came right out with it:
Look folks, we sell crap, and you really should not eat it. Just go ahead and avoid regular consumption of this stuff unless you want to get fat, sick, ugly and die young...But once in a great while, stop by, because it tastes really good and maybe you're on a road trip or your judgment is temporarily impaired. It's damn convenient, and fast...usually...but nobody should eat this garbage on a regular basis. Trust us.
This approach is not one that McDeath has ever been comfortable with. They get all squirmy about the simple reality that fast food is junk food, but why not just admit it and quit "trying to trick kids" as one bold nine-year old girl put it, serving the smack-down to the McDeath suits at their annual shareholder meeting earlier this year? Why not engage in a real dialog with employees like Nancy Salgado, a McDeath veteran and single mom living in Chicago who still makes $8 and change per hour after a decade with the company and can barely afford to feed her kids? When she stood up at a ballroom meeting to ask why her pay was still so pathetic, she was ignored and taken away.
McDeath USA President Jeff Stratton responded by saying only "I've been there 40 years." Gee, that helped, Jeff. Maybe you could invite Ms. Salgado to one of your fancy offices to chat, or at least acknowledge the existence of the Fight For 15, a Chicago-based movement currently underway to provide fast food workers with a living wage and the opportunity to unionize without fear of retaliation. Ask Nancy to tell you about how and why taxpayers pay $7 Billion a year to support struggling fast food workers who can't afford to live without public assistance programs. Tell her how you're going to help make this right with the help of your company's annual revenues, which, if one believes Wikipedia, are just south of $30 Billion. You know it can be done, Jeff. The golden arches should be leading by example, treating their employees better than anyone else and motivating other chains to make positive changes.
Unfortunately, the gates of the golden arches just don't open wide for criticism. Their marketing and PR machines pummel and deflect these little shots of truth like Luke Skywalker dodging blaster shots with a lightsaber. McDeath might even sue you if you trash-talk them in the UK. If you watch the documentary McLibel (2005), you'll have a few more reasons to jump on the McDeath hatewagon.
Yet there are still reasons to love McDeath, aren't there? Plenty of us obviously do. Well, let's see...there are those fries. They're pretty damn good, right? Some people don't just love McDeath. They adore it. They create their own food challenges based on the menu and their desire to eat all of it or at least far too much of it. Kids in Korea and Japan have made international news of late for loving those fries so much that they were thrown out of the restaurant. A Wisconsin man loves McDeath so much that he got an early start on his bucket list by making what he dubbed a McEverything sandwich, which consisted of every sandwich on the lunch and breakfast menus. It took him a week or so to eat it, but he was quite pleased. A woman in Florida gave birth at McDeath and decided to nickname her child Ronald. Maybe she was just kidding.
So, in the immortal words of the double rainbow guy, what does it mean? Collectively, are we eating more or less McDeath than ever before? The New York Times wrote that McDeath "came back bigger than ever" last year, but just last week the Wall Street Journal claimed that we are losing our taste for McDeath. So which is it?
McDeath is a blue-chip, SMP-500 company, so perhaps its fortunes will always fluctuate with the market, but I think it is destined to remain an ingrained presence in the lives of its 68 million daily customers around the world and in the lives of however many million of the rest of us who stop by occasionally for those delicious fries and perhaps feel a twinge of guilt. We'll keep stopping by once and a while, but those who make a living at McDeath deserve a living wage and the right to organize, just like the rest of us. Are you listening, Jeff?
I know the question you're just dying to ask: What if Satan and Hitler opened a McDonald's in Hell? Luckily, Wired has your answer, with photos!
And why do we keep eating McDeath despite all this knowledge? Jim Gaffigan pretty much nails it right here.