McDonald’s Saves the Day

Australia, a country renowned for it’s love of sports and outdoor lifestyle has just been named the ‘Fattest Nation in the World’. Oh what a proud moment in history that is, let’s bring out a double cheese burger and chuck it on the barbie to celebrate.

What on earth has happened to this world and it’s waistline, and who is really to blame? Is it the companies who make the junk food, the media who promote it or the consumer who thinks if they buy a meal that’s ‘Happy’ then they must be onto a good thing.

At a time when the world seems to be sinking into financial hardship, ‘cheaper than chips’ food is even more appealing to those who are forced to budget and tighten their belts. Of course not eating the junk food would help considerably with the tightening, but that’s neither here nor there.

Still not to fear. McDonald’s (the all American hero) is one company that has ever so kindly stepped up to the plate and is fighting the good fight to ensure that the world doesn’t go hungry, and it seems that the public is incredibly grateful.

Grateful enough that in the UK alone, McDonald’s, the countries largest low wage employer, has recently created 4000 new jobs in their 1,200 outlets. Jobs evidently needed to keep up with the demand of the 2 million new customers who are flocking in through their doors every month, to fill up on a menu that seems to get cheaper by the week.

Now I have to say, that with the world media so heavily focused on the growing problem of obesity, and a staggering 58% of the world’s population predicted to be obese by 2030,  I just don’t get it.

Why are so many people still refusing to grasp the simple fact that it is not called ‘junk’ food for nothing?

The definition of junk according to my (Websters) dictionary is ‘discarded useless objects, rubbish, trash, any narcotic drug, such as heroin’. How very appetising. No wait, let’s wrap that in shiny paper and stick it in a box with a big smiley face on. OK, that looks much better. Now it’s good enough to eat.

Yes of course there is no denying that a ‘Value meal’ may be cheaper than buying all the fresh ingredients you need to cook a meal. Yes of course it is undoubtedly quicker to queue up and have your food thrown together for you than it is to stand in your kitchen at the end of a day and make it yourself. Yes of course kids will love it and therefore the threat of enduring yet another argument over how long it takes them to eat their dinner is significantly reduced.

So yes, yes, yes. I get that it can be a quicker, easier, cheaper and less stressful option all around. But that doesn’t mean it’s a better option. Cutting straight across a crowded road might be quicker than walking an extra 50 yards to the nearest flashing green man, but it doesn’t mean you will get to the other side in one piece. Several flattened pieces perhaps. Or, if you are in Singapore, with a fine for Jay walking.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you consume your body weight in Big Macs and McNuggets every month then the likelihood is you will get fat, you will get sick and you will die… years before your name ever comes up on the Grim Reaper’s call sheet.

Surely no food is worth gaining weight or dying over? I reckon if every McDonald’s had a pair of scales at the counter and you had to climb on them to place your order, it might make a whole heap of people think twice before stepping through the door and in turn, cut down the queuing time for those ‘Super Size’ fanatics who really don’t care.

Of course I know from experience the occasional burger might be nice. Or more to the point the idea of a burger might be nice – when you are out, hungry enough to eat the furry contents of your glove box and too far from your own fridge to make it through till the next meal. The reality of it is very different if I  remember rightly (since cutting red meat out my diet I haven’t been back). You go in through those doors starving and full of hope that it’s just what you feel like and come out 15 minutes later feeling bloated, greasy and in need of a colonic irrigation.

Now I know that it may seem like I have a real axe to grind with McDonald’s (or those who eat it), but that’s not the case at all. All fast food places are as bad as each other and wherever you go, the menu is nothing more than a recipe for any number of chronic medical conditions.

When it comes to the kids, these places are especially bad news. Nearly every possible combination of children’s meals in all these fast food joints are too high in calories, exceeding 430 calories – an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day. Incidentally Subways is the healthiest of them all and apparently the only one that doesn’t offer soft drinks with kids meals.

It seems crazy that some parents are OK with their kids filling up on empty calories and nothing else. If they were asked to make their child neck a bottle of vodka and chain smoke a packet of B&H for their tea would they agree? So why would they let some clown called Ronald help pour a load of saturated fat down their throat instead.

The reason why McDonald’s bugs me the most is because they base all of their promotion and advertising around families, suggesting that it is the perfect place to take your 2.4 kids for a nice meal out. Hey, who needs a Sunday Roast in a nice country pub when you can sit on a plastic bench, get ketchup all over your shoes and leave stinking of chip fat instead

McDonald’s spends over $2 billion a year on advertising – a large chunk of which would be used to target young kids. Their marketing encourages the use of ‘pester power’, the bain of every parent’s life. They know that if you stick a small plastic piece of nothing in a box, link it with the latest product, film or event then those little McNugget loving consumers will come a running.

And when chunky little Jo Junior hankers after the complete set of McAction ‘limited edition’ toys that come with his Happy Meal, then the rest of the family will invariably also come along to chow down at the Temple of McDoom. So what you have is the whole family now eating a load of cr*p just so they can get their hands on something that won’t even make it out of the backseat of the car. Clever marketing it maybe, but should companies be allowed to lead little lambs in for the slaughter like this?

I know for a fact this marketing works. The other day on the walk home from school, my daughter asked out of the blue if I would take her to McDonald’s. Obviously my eyebrows disappeared into my hairline and she had more chance of growing a second head, but I still asked her why she wanted to go. It turns out that it wasn’t for the food or even the play centre (the ones they put in to trap parents and get them to buy more food). No, it was because she desperately wanted some beanie thing that McDonald’s have brought out in honour of the Olympics. Sadly my daughter won’t be getting one, but seeing as she had forgotten she had even asked by the time we got home, I don’t think it will stick in her childhood memories and scar her for life.

Talking of the Olympics, there’s another really clever marketing campaign.  Who else could possibly be more suited to help promote the world’s most famous sporting event than one of the world’s leading sponsors of obesity. Strikes me as a bit of an odd partnership that one, much the same as if you held a sex convention in a nunnery or an AA meeting in a pub. But then, as every company knows, you should never underestimate the power of positive association.

Of course fighting McDonald’s cause along the fatty highway and creating a positive link between health and the McHeart Attack are some of the world’s most celebrated Olympians. Namely the 8 time gold medal winner Michael Phelps and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.

Phelps, who once again has put Flipper to shame with his speed in the water, has talked about how he consumes a massive 12,000 calories a day, including foods from his favourite eatery – McDonald’s. Bolt, who makes slow motion look fast has revealed that he doesn’t eat breakfast and fills up instead on nuggets before hitting the track.

Oh yeah. Bang goes any hope of parents using these athletes and the extraordinary feats that they have achieved to motivate our children into eating well. I personally think Phelps should get back in the water and keep his eating habits to himself. If the average person took a leaf out of his book and thought that consuming this much food would help them win a gold (and we know there is always going to be someone dumb enough to try it), then Greenpeace would have to be called to dredge them off the nearest sandbank.

Despite their claims that they care and are working to help stamp out obesity, McDonald’s are only there to feed those who come knocking. Of course they are, that’s the nature of what they do. Their policy is not to restrict portion sizes and dispense nutritional advice with ketchup. Many light years ago my husband did a stint at a McDonald’s. After a few weeks on the job he was fired. Not because he stole fries or dropped a gherkin slice on the floor, but because he asked one very overweight ‘little’ boy, when he came up for his third Big Mac, “Don’t you think you might have already had one too many?” Straight talking is obviously not a trait they look for in their employees.

Please McDonald’s, enough with the celebrity endorsements and sponsoring of sports. Just start making the food a tad healthier and then maybe, just maybe, the obesity trend will be brought under control and in 50 years time there will still be enough space left on this planet for all of the people to squeeze in.

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