You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t recognize McDonalds’ signature “Golden Arches.” The big yellow “M” that looks suspiciously similar to a couple of limp French fries. When you’re driving down the highway and you see this symbol towering high over the rooftops you are almost immediately reminded that you are utterly famished, and of course you have no choice but to stop in for some French fries, maybe a soda, and it is near dinnertime so let’s throw in a Big Mac. Why not make it two Big Macs, because you can’t Supersize anymore.
Of course most people have fond childhood memories from McDonalds; romping in the play place, opening up the happy meal that Mom and Dad got for you as a reward for being good while they ran errands, and finding the cool toy stashed in the box along with your tasty burger, fries and small soda. As we grow up, we hold on to these fond memories and we return to McDonalds again and again in the hopes of feeling the simple joy that we felt there as a child. We also come to realize that McDonalds is a source of fast, cheap food. Though most of us are well aware of the fact that fast food is unhealthy, we normally ignore this knowledge and keep on eating it. Typically, once the signs that fast food is hurting us start appearing, signs such as a growing waistline or decreased energy, the food has already taken hold of your body and you have developed an addiction. How does the McDonalds Corporation lure customers in and hook them for life in spite of the well known fact that the food served in the restaurant is unhealthy? Are there subliminal messages? Are there special addictive chemical additives? The McDonalds corporation uses several methods, including business practices, that encourage overeating and addictive ingredients, to lure customers in and hook them for life. “Our bodies crave fats, salt, and sweet. For millions of years they were hard to come by. Now everything we eat is bursting with them, dripping with them, caked in them. But our bodies still think it’s the bad old days, and they can’t get enough.” (Spurlock, Pg 84) McDonalds loads up all of it’s foods with an excess of each of these ingredients. Inconclusive data suggests that a meal high in fat may dull the hormonal signals that your body usually sends itself to let you know that you’re full. (Spurlock Pg 84) McDonald’s food tricks our bodies, first into thinking that we need the “nutrients” being supplied, and lots of them, and second into eating far more than our fair share of the food because we can’t tell when our stomachs are full. (Spurlock Pg 84)
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a major contributor to the overeating and the weight gain that normally result from dining at McDonalds. HFCS messes with the way that your body functions because your body processes it differently than it does regular sugar. It causes your liver to throw more fat out into your bloodstream, which causes your body to store more fat, as well as tricking your body into wanting to eat more. And McDonalds loves to make use of it. A lot of food manufacturers do. It’s cheap and it extends shelf life. And obviously if you want to eat more, then you’ll buy more. HFCS can be found in virtually every item on the McDonalds menu, from the burger buns to the sodas. (Spurlock Pg. 97)
It’s very easy to ignore the nutritional information in a fast food restaurant. This ignorance is encouraged by the restaurants, most of which will place the information in an area where you’d really have to search for it, if you bother to look for it at all. The nutritional information for a restaurant’s food is supposed to be readily available to the customers, but many restaurants don’t have any at all, or their employees are not aware of it. Most of the people eating in fast food restaurants have no idea how much fat, salt, or calories are in the food that they are consuming, much less the ingredients that the “food” is made up of, though one could also assume that most of the people dining on fast food don’t care. The consumers who do try to be health conscious may be stopping in as a last resort on a road trip because there’s not another restaurant for miles, and by ordering chicken or fish instead of beef they may be doing even more damage than if they were to order a hamburger. “…many chicken and fish products contain more fat than a hamburger or roast beef sandwich” (Jacobson and Fritschner 89). Even the salads are bad for you because they contain more sugar than a Big Mac! McDonalds fools people into believing that there are healthy options on the menu. McDonalds was able to regain a large number of their customers after films exposing the restaurant for serving foods that are unbelievably destructive to our bodies scared many customers away. By simply adding salads to the menu and allowing the consumers to believe that they are making a healthy choice and doing something good for their bodies. The sugar in many of the salads simply adds to the addiction and the customer is back to including Big Macs and milk shakes in no time. When the company is slapped with another frivolous lawsuit for someone gaining weight from eating at McDonalds, the corporation can claim that they provide healthy options, but really there’s no easy way to eat a balanced meal in the restaurant.
The cash registers at McDonalds are even programmed to prompt the employees to push more food on the customers. “If a customer orders a meal without a dessert, the cash registers remind the worker to suggest a hot apple pie or an ice cream sundae” (Kincheloe Pg 70). A few years ago McDonald’s workers were trained to encourage each customer to “Supersize” their meal. Since the film “Supersize Me” was released and caused a wave of attention to sweep across the nation, people began to complain about McDonald’s unhealthy menu and the “supersizing” option has been removed. To “Supersize” meant that the customer would receive a gargantuan amount of food for only an additional 30 cents or so, on top of the ridiculous amount of food that they would have received anyway. We think that we’re getting a great deal, and no one likes to pass up a bargain, so we go for it every time. Instead of realizing that we are getting more than enough food already and saving that 30 cents, we take the food and eat every bite of it because we don’t want that great deal to go to waste. “Waste not, want not” is a proverb we have all been raised on.
What it all comes down to is that the fast food company is doing everything in it’s power to turn us into McZombies, by pumping chemicals, fats and sugars that trick our bodies and throw them out of whack; but we have the majority of the control over what we put into our own bodies. We all have at least some iota of knowledge as to what’s bad for us. It’s a battle, but it’s one that we can’t afford to lose. We have options; we don’t have to hand our bodies over to the corporations. Short of growing all of our food in an organic garden at home, the best thing that we can do is to make wise decisions when we dine. Low income families can research ways to make healthy meals on a low budget. Travelers can pack healthy meals and snacks to eat on road trips. It’s not always easy to fight off temptation, and corporations shouldn’t be able to trick their clients by erasing the line between being a loyal customer and an addict.
Kincheloe, Joe L. The Sign of the Burger Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002
Michael F. Jacobson & Sarah Fritschner The Fast-Food Guide New York: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1986
Spurlock, Morgan Don’t Eat This Book New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005