Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ronald McHummer

I am officially undecided on a leading food policy question of our times: Can fast food restaurant chains engage in labor, nutritional, and environmental reforms in response to public pressure, or does their corporate constitution make them structurally incapable of real improvement, such that all one can ever expect is lies and public relations?

But I may not remain undecided for long.

As McDonald's introduced salads, better nutrition labeling information, and half- hearted progress on trans fats (not eliminating trans fats, but at least ending the corporate falsehoods about trans fats), my family began to visit occasionally while traveling by road. But, as a passionate advocate of cycling, tiny cars, and public transportation, I was nauseated by the recent Hummer toy in my boy's Happy Meal and the corresponding girlie toy that was given to my daughter. My family will now return to full boycott status.

See boingboing for a link to a funny website called Ronald McHummer, which lets you create your own McDonald's road sign.


dennis said...

Loved this post.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What would your vision be of how a good citizen McDonald's would look? They seem pretty good to me, compared to Burger King.

Should children be prohibited from eating there? Should McDonald's eliminate children's meals, toys, play yards, characters, and its advertising to children?

Should corporate laws be changed to immunize corporations and directors from lawsuits when they take socially positive actions that reduce the value of the corporation to shareholders, adversely affect franchisees, and perhaps result in layoffs?

usfoodpolicy said...

Mark, what interesting questions. But, I'm not quite clear where you are going with it. Par.1 suggests that perhaps McDonald's is already pretty good on grounds of nutrition and citizenship, so perhaps the current system is working. I won't belabor it unless I must, but I don't think that's a promising line of argument.

Par. 2 emphasizes the disadvantages of stricter and more burdensome government regulation in response. If we discussed this approach further, I'd point out some ways to regulate the industry that would pass muster with sensible economists, but the bottom line is we all still have to concede your point that increased regulation has a down side.

Par. 3 explores what it would take for a voluntary system of corporate citizenship to work well. For one thing, it would require relaxing the legal and financial constraints that force corporations to maximize short term profits at the expense of all else, including ethics, nutrition, and the environment. Perhaps one could imagine changes that increase the viability of family owned proprietorships and partnerships over corporate arrangements, allowing more flexibility to pursue a combination of social and profit goals? Or, if the corporation disclosed its dual goals to its shareholders in advance, perhaps Ben&Jerry's style dual goals would be legal?

Given that I doubt you can make the case for par.1, I'd genuinely be interested to hear whether you think par. 2 or par. 3 is more promising. I can tell you don't like the government-led approach, but sometimes I think that decent moral people in major U.S. corporations might almost enjoy working hard to maximize profits within the constraints of clearer and stricter ethical parameters stipulated by the democratic government.

Anonymous said...

McDonalds food still does not settle well on my stomach, so I still try and avoid them even when on the road....

Though I did eat it on the road on Sunday, and sure as anything, Sunday night, I was quite sick, and was not right until Monday evening.

So, no matter what McDonalds does in a corporate sense--I am just -too- used to whole foods to eat there--the artificial stuff, grease and sugar make me ill every time.

Which kind of sucks when one is on the road....

Anonymous said...

fyi...McD's "corporate responsibility blog" has an entry on this issue entitled, "Toys and Environmental Protection"

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that fast food can do better in some respects because McDonalds *does* do so much better than other fast food from an environmental and health perspective and so much worse from a taste perspective.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with government regulation. I am 100% expedient and practical, and if it works, fine.

The biggest immediate, practical, likely-to-happen step that I can see is better nutritional disclosure. McDonald's leads everyone here. Roll that out to other restaurants, and you will have accomplished a lot. The MEAL Act or similar legislation would help here.

If people know (1) how much they're eating, and (2) how much they're supposed to be eating, and this is shoved in their face every time they eat, I think it will help to roll back obesity to maybe 1990/1980 levels, and it will embarrass restaurants into offering smaller portions.

The great thing about McDonald's is that not only is their calorie/nutrient disclosure the best anywhere (internet, counter leaflets, back-of-tray-liner, wrapper -- in Japan, there are even cell-phone-readable bar codes on the wrapper), but they also, uniquely in the industry, tell people what the figures mean in terms of daily values, what *percentage* of their daily food intake the items represent. You can see clearly that your "breakfast" used up 45% of your daily calories -- do'h!

Rather than beat McDonald's down, I think they should be praised as the example for everyone else to meet. Quiznos? Outback? IHOP? Waffle House? California Pizza Kitchen? Cracker Barrrel? Cheesecake Factory? Checkers/Rallys? Claim Jumper? Let's see some data.