What does your child learn from eating fast food? That’s the question that today’s entrant in the IMDD poses. Superimposed over a blue background, hovering over a Happy Meal from the worlds most famous clown’s hamburger joint, with an image of Ronald himself (his eyes covered by a black bar to protect his anonymity I suppose,) frozen uncomfortably in mid-sentence, our meme rattles off a couple of quick bullet points.
- poor health choices
- immediate gratification
- convenience over sustenence
- supporting large corporations over small businesses
Well ok then… I can already hear some of you asking “What exactly is the problem with all that?” It’s been 15 years since the publication of Eric Schlosser‘s Fast Food Nation, which detailed the history of fast food and the many problems linked to our nation’s dependence on convenient mobile food options, including the rise in obesity, environmental degradation and insidious marketing to children. It’s been 11 years since Morgan Spurlock‘s independent film Super Size Me showed how the fast food industries marketing techniques have disturbing similarities to those used by tobacco companies to sell us coffin nails. Plus the fast food industry has an awful record of opposing unionization efforts and minimum wage increases.
I’m gonna give a quick take here and then hand the microphone off to the rest of the Grounded Parents for some round table action, because this meme sparked some great discussion on our private super secret Facebook group. Then we’ll come back to me… then you can go home.
So what’s wrong with hating on Mickey D’s? Seems like a public service, right?
Normally I’d say go for it, even as someone who enjoys a quick convenient fried up slab of cow from time to time, there’s enough wrong with the industry to make it worth mocking. The problem with this meme isn’t how it addresses the supposed target. It’s how it addresses its audience.
“What does your child learn from eating fast food?”
The message hearkens back to that moldy old anti-drug PSA from the 80’s “I learned it by watching you!” It plays on the anxiety that every parent shares that they will fail to set a good example for their children. It shames parents, and one of the overarching themes of the IMDD is that it is shitty to shame parents for making unpopular but largely harmless choices. It shifts the burden for societal change from collective political action onto the backs of individual parents, (mostly mothers), who usually already have enough on their backs. Like children. Who are hungry all the time, who need to be fed on long car trips and during layovers at the airport and after soccer practice and so on and so on. One of the reasons that fast food is popular is that it is fast and convenient. And in a country like the US, where more and more parents are two (or more) income households to make ends meet, that convenience can be a lifesaver.
What is more, fast food in the US is a major industry. How many children out there are learning from this meme that what their mother or father or grandparent does to put food on the table for their family is somehow shameful, even harmful to society. And how does this kind of shaming effect current campaigns to raise the minimum wage or increase union membership in the fast food industry?
Those who follow me on Grounded Parents know how much I like re-writing song lyrics to make them better. Even though I am a vegetarian, and our family rarely eats fast food, it definitely has a place in our food culture. This meme’s broad stroke shaming of less expensive food options is classist. It’s also inflammatory and hyperbolic. Convenience food is, well, convenient. Parents choosing fast food on busy nights are not irreparably harming their children. And people who choose fast food more than occasionally likely aren’t really in a position to “choose.” Everyone would be better off if people kept their eyes on their own plate and their food issues to themselves. Plus, I simply refuse to believe that being a good mom means that I should always sacrifice my time and happiness to meet society’s unrealistic expectations. So here’s my re-write. Enjoy!
What do my children learn from eating fast food?
- It’s okay to eat treats. There are no good or bad foods. French fries aren’t scary.
- Dipping French fries in various substances changes their flavor (vanilla ice cream or mayo are my favorites)
- Busy parents deserve a break once in a while.
- Fast food restaurant employees work hard and deserve a living wage. We should treat service employees well.
- It’s possible to have dinner together, even on nights when mom gets off late and has a conference call or deadline, sister has soccer, and bedtime’s at 8.
- It’s possible to feed a family of six for under $40 on a road trip.
Things your child learns from this shitty meme:
- That a parent’s time (usually the mother because we are still a society that is retrograde as fuck) is only valuable if it involves sacrifice.
- That it’s totally okay to shame people for their choices.
- That it is never okay to prioritize convenience and time saving.
Thanks fellow Grounded Parents! Now before we go, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the good folks who, if they didn’t create this meme are certainly propagating it. Eat Local Grown (eatlocalgrown.com) appears to be an advocate for eating locally, as opposed to chain restaurants, as well as buying locally grown food for the home. Their “How it works” page explains…
The eatlocalgrown project is a crowd-sourced community driven tool that helps you find, rate and share locally grown food.
There are categories for:
- farmers markets
And also all kinds of artisans like butchers and cheese makers.
I decided to give it a whirl, it found all the farmers markets in Cincinnati, but none of the nine or more locally owned restaurants within a brief walk of my house.
The founder, one Rick D. explains his motivations.
Prior to 2007, my only interest in local food was a couple of tomato plants in my backyard. I considered myself an average, pretty healthy guy that exercised regularly and for the most part ate a healthy diet.
And then I read a book – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. That book changed the entire game for me. I bought 12 copies to give to family and friends. I became incredibly passionate about supporting local food in my community. To say that I was a bit crazy with the whole idea was an understatement. And I’m sure my ranting and raving was a bit tiresome to those within earshot. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read everything I could get my hands on, watched dozens of documentaries. Basically just soaked up as much information as I could find.
In hindsight, I was ANGRY…
In hindsight, I was ANGRY! That doesn’t quite say it. I was really ________ angry! You can probably think of a few key words to put in front of angry and you’ll get a bit closer to my true state of mind.
That’s right, he read The Omnivore’s Dilemna, proceeded directly to Google University and gobbled up all the anti-scientific garbage the anti-gmo zealots, food fetish guru’s and the organic food industry could shovel in. His website promotes articles about superfoods, scaremongering about plastic, and of course “9 Startling Facts about Monsanto!”. If you are a regular reader of Grounded Parents, especially our own GMO Shill in Residence Kavin Senapathy, you should be able to spot the pseudoscience that infests websites like this. Even if he has some valid points about the ubiquity of fast food in our culinary universe, he undermines it all by embracing conspiracy minded pseudoscience, something his inspirations Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman fall for as well.
None of us are arguing that McDonald’s is great food. It’s actually pretty far down my list of preferred hamburger joints, which includes some places that hardly rise above the greasy spoon category of eatery, yet would qualify as “local” under eatlocalgrowns criteria. And I appreciate a good local place and access to great fresh fruits and vegetables as much as the next guy. But acting as if the fast food industry is uniquely villainous, and that parents choosing to feed their families there are co-conspirators in that villainy is unfair, misleading and very very classist. As long as food desert’s exist As long as our society values its workers and parents time and energy the way it does, fast, convenient, consistent food options will be necessary. Shaming parents for availing themselves of the options available isn’t helping.
Featured Image Credit: Daveblog at Flickr