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The McTruth About McDonalds
We all know that obesity is a (*ahem*) growing problem in the western civilized world, and it is easy to blame a number of factors on this serious health crisis. Not enough time to fix healthy meals, long work hours and even longer commutes, and who can even think about exercise? In recent years, print and film media have come out with a couple of shocking documentaries about fast food that may make you want to slow down and take a little bit better care of yourself, however! "Super Size Me" and "Fast Food Nation" both take aim at corporate behemoths like McDonald's that pump out french fries and other greasy fare faster than you can say McWaistline. To make matters worse, the prices are so low (consider for example, McDonald's Dollar Menu), that just about anyone can buy their way to artery-clogging heaven.
Fat: Read All About it
Is there truth behind the claims of FFN and SSM? Or were they simply based on the hype of similarly greedy individuals hoping to rake in their own big bucks at the expense of corporate America? I had to find out for several reasons. McDonald's was my first job, back in the 1980s. Yes, I got to wear the chocolate brown polyester uniform that warmed in a suspicious manner every time I got too close to the fryer. Now that I think about it, I don't recall fire extinguisher training there... On a positive note, I was very proud of my name tag and the three areas for "medals" (bronze, silver and gold), for cooking, cleaning and cashier service. Plus, as a bonus, we got free meals at every shift. Pies not included.
When I started my family, the very first corporate logo that my son recognized was - you guessed it - McDonald's. And it wasn't even because we took him there for Happy Meals. I'll be honest, Starbucks was a close second, but I'm guessing that in a dark corporate backroom somewhere are two middle managers (one in green/black and one in red/yellow) arm wrestling for the "build to suit" rights for the last vacant lot kitty corner from the gas station on Main Street USA. But I digress...
If we are going to eat this convenient food, or Heaven Forbid, feed it to our children, shouldn't we know the truth about it? O.K. then, let's proceed. But I am going to warn you... only read on if you think you can stomach it.
Fast Food Nation Trailer
- The Golden Arches are more recognizable than the Cross
- McDonald's is a more famous brand than Coca-Cola
- There are more playgrounds operated by the company than any other private entity in the United States
- There are approximately 30,000 Mickey-Ds in the United States, with 2,000 new ones added each year
- In 1968, there were only 1,000
- The U.S. has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation in the world
- 44 million adults in the United States have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 30; 6 million adults are more than 100 pounds overweight
- As American fast food restaurants have gone overseas, obesity rates have climbed correspondingly in other countries, such as Great Britain and Japan
Fast Food Nation: The Book
If you read this book, you may not ever eat fast food again. I am not exaggerating. It was published in 2001 by an investigative journalist, Eric Schlosser, with the primary aim of uncovering the influence of the United States fast food industry, both locally and abroad. Among the most disturbing revelations in the book are those concerning slaughterhouses and meat packing. For example, Schlosser discusses the rendering of dead pigs, horses and chicken manure into cattle feed, which led to Mad Cow Disease in some cases. In another chapter, the description of the odors emanating from the slaughterhouse may almost guarantee that you will never eat hamburger again: rotten eggs, burnt hair and a "greasy smell." I will not describe the actual slaughter of the cattle. But suffice it to say, it is not a clean, nor pretty job.
Even without these horrific tales, I think we can admit that we know, deep down that this stuff is not good for us. So why do we keep coming back? Well, that too, is discussed in the book. Way back at the beginning of McDonald's time (1950s), Ray Kroc and his company decided to implement a Disneyland-type marketing theme for the restaurants. They put Ronald McDonald at the forefront, and added his friends to attract children, parents and caregivers. The thought was that not only would it create brand loyalty, but also - eventually - nostalgia. So, maybe on some subconscious level we are still digging the Fry Guys.
I'm feeling a little duped. Are you?
Original McDonald's Commercial
If you like reading Fast Food Nation, then you should definitely watch the movie based (loosely) on the book with the same name, starring Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, and Bruce Willis. Released in 2006, it is a bit of a sleeper, but definitely entertaining and thought-provoking. It is not as edgy as the book (after all, they could not possibly create a family film with slaughterhouse scenes), but since it is told from the perspective of the industry, as opposed to a documentary, there is some unintentional humor.
Super Size Me!
Not too long after Fast Food Nation was published, independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock undertook a famous experiment in 2004. For 30 days, he subsisted on nothing but McDonald's food, and filmed his entire experience in so doing. Spurlock ate there 3 times a day, and when asked if he wanted to "supersize" his meal, he would always say yes. He estimates that he consumed more than 5,000 calories a day!
In a mere 30 days, Spurlock gained 24 pounds, lost his sense of humor, and damaged his liver. Oh, and he had trouble in bed. While he quickly put the weight on, it took him over a year to take it off. And Spurlock was a healthy 185 pounds before he decided to undergo the "Super Size Me" investigation.
His work was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, and Spurlock has done additional short films demonstrating the ill effects of fast food (see video below). It is a bit scary when, after 10 weeks, french fries do not even start to decompose. What are they made of? Plastic?
A bit of good news - the Super Size option was removed by McDonald's not too long after the film was released to record earnings for a documentary. Not without significant grumbling and finger-pointing, however.
Super Size Me: Fast Food Test
Healthier Options Exist
Yes, it is true that you can order a salad at McDonald's or at other fast food restaurants. Your kids could also get apples instead of fries with their deep fried chicken nuggets (whatever those are). The bottom line is that if you are going under the Golden Arches, you are probably not looking for something organic. Its all about eating it with one hand, while driving or otherwise running around, on the go.
If you are a busy mom or a student, think ahead and pack your own fresh fruit. Apples and bananas can also be conveniently packed and consumed. Sandwiches are easy to prepare the night before a busy day, and you know what is going on them - particularly if you are choosing nice, fresh vegetables!
One of the simplest steps to take to ward off extra pounds is to stay away from sugary soft drinks. Bottled water is convenient, but also expensive and unnecessary. Purchase a safe plastic container that can be reused and washed, and fill it up yourself with cold tap water and ice.
After reading the book and watching the films, I am convinced more than ever that fast food simply is not worth the convenience for me or my family. Perhaps more importantly, it is not worth the risk!