It’s an interesting phenomena I’m sure we will see more and more of as our nation’s obesity rate climbs from 33% today to 50% by 2030 – the defense of fast food.  Within the past month I’ve read two articles critical of McDonald’s and watched virtually the same public outrage repeat itself in each instance. One would think with increased obesity, increased cases of diabetes in children, and with a gaining movement away from processed foods that criticizing the poster company of crap food would be a noble cause in publications like the New York Times and Salon, but that isn’t the case.

The first article was a piece in the NY Times discussing McDonald’s move to self-regulate itself into better nutritional outcomes in its Happy Meals product: “McDonald’s Trims Its Happy Meal”.

The second article came last week from Salon where Monday’s PopRx Health writer pondered the seemingly obvious hypocrisy: “Why children’s hospitals tolerate McDonald’s”.

Both pieces took question with McDonald’s intentions. For instance the Times article shared the reasoning:

“McDonald’s made it clear that it was changing the composition of Happy Meals in response to parental and consumer pressure. It also pledged to reduce the sodium content in all of its foods by 15 percent, with the exceptions of soda and desserts. It set a deadline of 2015 for limiting salt, and said it would spend the rest of this decade cutting back on sugars, saturated fats and calories and making adjustments to portion sizes.

The Salon article factored down McDonald’s presence in hospitals to simple economics:

“‘Like any business, when the restaurant is in or on the hospital campus, we lease the space and pay rent,’ said Dr. Cindy Goody, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition. Follow the money — the marriage between fast food and children’s hospitals is, at its root, a side effect of competitive market forces in healthcare.”

Though to be fair, the Salon piece did start from the foot in the door McDonald’s gets from their philanthropic angle from the Ronald McDonald’s House program which is a very well respected charity that benefits families going through some serious child health issues. The article really wasn’t critical of the philanthropy itself, but rather shined a spotlight on how the company uses it to gain more access into hospital food offerings.

The Salon piece kind of reminded me of soft drink machines in schools.  Where cola makers do philanthropic activities for the schools and generously pay for placement in school hallways or cafeterias. It’s part philanthropy and part paying for critical product placement. That’s basically what the Salon article was questioning.

Reader Comments Outrage

One would think that the comments from readers would be critical of fast food. Sure there were a few people who shared their disgust with fast food and their dollars buying access to hospitals or doing very little to ward off government intervention.  Instead what happened in both cases was consumer outrage at the authors.  That outrage came in four distinct forms:

  1. Parental Freewill: Don’t criticize fast food marketing or quality; instead, blame parents for not making the right choices for their kids.  It’s not the company’s fault. It’s the parent’s fault.
  2. The How to Order Better Helper: Stop saying everything is bad for you at a fast food restaurant. If you buy x, don’t get y, and ask for z instead of s than you can eat a healthy meal there.
  3. Brand Defenders: Stop using <insert fast food restaurant name> as a scapegoat. There are all kinds of temptations in life leave <insert fast food restaurant name> alone!
  4. Deep Throat Defense: Follow the money. It’s all about money. If you solve the money spigot issue you’ll solve the problem. (for those who don’t know the phrase ‘follow the money’ was coined by the Watergate scandal film ‘All the President’s Men’. more here.)

So next time you’re reading an article critical of fast food changes or where it buys its way into unexpected places, read the online comments and I’m sure you’ll find one of the four “defenses” coming from an outraged reader.