Some of us eat for pleasure while most eat because we have to (unless you are able to subsist on air and light like the real-life Barbie). Alas, amidst the Olympic Games hype, potential university strike and playing too many indie horror games, I am left thinking about what to eat. You see, during the tenure of law school, I have seen the advent of my eating habits go whacko. In 1L, I embraced the need for quick energy through consuming one too many Halloween-sized candy bars with possibly a dash of PB&J.
At the commencement of 2L, I embraced Tim Hortons double-doubles and maple dip doughnuts like there was no tomorrow. While in 3L, well…let’s just say I believe UberEats is the best thing and it even supplies me with unlimited amounts of macaroons. I recognize that eating during school can be tough when living on one’s own (albeit the potential roommates we may or may not have who do or do not cook for you). Yet, there is always that craving for something tasty and nostalgic…McDonald’s. Oh, those golden arches as a child made me so excited and I loved my chicken nugget happy meals. I would get some iced tea and eat my brother’s French fries when he was not looking. Now let’s be real, the ‘us’ of today appreciate fast food in our fast-paced academic and career lives and it seems just what the food doctor ordered. It is significantly easier to tap your credit card and acquire a meal that makes you happy and satisfied than the one you prepared and took up most of your weekend purchasing, prepping, cooking, and storing it. However, McDonald’s remains a beloved staple as we sip on their coffee and get excited about their breakfast sandwiches.
When I was a child, I did not know what calories were, and yet McDonald’s is now attempting to be transparent about what children are eating. McDonald’s is trying to go on a health campaign by removing cheeseburgers and chocolate milk by 2022. McDonald’s campaign aim is to lower the calorie count of “Happy” meals by 20% and have them average around 600 calories. What are 600 calories in a children’s meal worth in terms of a healthy diet? Well, it means that cheeseburgers and chocolate milk options remain, but the onus is on parents to request them. Better yet, McDonald’s continues to provide the humble calorie packed hamburger and the pink-glob of four-to-six chicken nuggets as healthier options. It is almost ironic how McDonald’s is promoting how they will engage and encourage responsible marketing to children but then inform the public that the healthy direction the company is moving toward essentially can be circumvented by simply ordering a cheeseburger Happy Meal. Furthermore, pledging to serve more grains, fruits and vegetables does not fundamentally address the impacts of their high calorie, high preserve, high sodium, high fat, and high sugar food. More often than not, the fruits at these establishments tend to be higher in calories and fats than the meat products! My mind still cannot wrap itself around how a salad is worse for me at McDonald’s than a Big Mac.
What is extremely frustrating is how much praise McDonald’s is receiving based on their decision. The American Heart and Health Association claimed that it is a step in the right direction for fast food companies to follow because of the number of children who eat fast food daily. There have been accolades for McDonald’s to replace Minute Maid with Honest Kids apple juice which has a slightly lower sugar content. Their decision is as soft as some international environmental law policies out there. You see, there simply lacks any true means of enforceability. How do you stop parents from ordering the two options when they are simply not as visible to them? Does the financial pull of their customers against their competitors hinder one of the largest fast food chains from legitimately being a happy meal?
To quote Peter Griffin, you know what really grinds my gears? The interconnection between fast food and unsustainable eating practices. If we think about it, fast food promotes overconsumption of precious resources – arable land, water, livestock, and energy. The amount of cattle raised contributes to significant amounts of methane released into the atmosphere which is a greenhouse gas. Most of the fast food industries cutlery are not actually recyclable. Most of the boxes, cups, and napkins you eat with, and off of, are removed from recycling bins once at a facility due to the high number of synthetics in their composition. Fast food is relied upon as a quick fix to hunger but as we have seen time and time again, convenience and the shortcuts that humanity takes has detrimental implications for our global environment. I know that people “crave” McDonald’s for its tantalizing taste on our tongues. However, nothing comes without a price even if it comes from that simple tap of your credit card. The instant gratification that satisfies the hunger in your belly ends up hurting what we perceive a “happy meal” to be. Happy meals should help kids and adults feel better—meals that make you feel good about the food you consume and your impact on the earth. I am not here to advocate a plant-based diet as I am an omnivore (minus eating pork and as little red meat as possible). Rather, my advocacy is rooted in our collective need to pay slightly more attention to what we eat; if not for our own health benefits and maintenance, then at least for the rehabilitation of the world. The price of a fast-paced work and school environment should not be our food choices. Yes, grocery shopping can be a pain and more so the need to deal with the groceries. Yet, there is a serenity in knowing what is in your food, if you are supporting local businesses and farmers, if you are reducing your fast-food intake to only once or twice a week. To me, that is what a happy meal consists of.
Yet, kudos to you McDonald’s for the improvement of your image among parents while reducing your own food costs by reducing the number of dairy products you supply. I am very certain the executives of the company relish at their own dining tables munching on lobster and caviar because who would really be happy with a meal that never rots?