Calling in to a filling station the other day, Sally saw a discarded booklet, which she thought I might enjoy reading. It featured the words Our Food in big letters at the top, and the McDonalds logo at the bottom. It must be said that Sally knows what winds me up . . .
The full title of this 22-page booklet is “The simple facts about our food,” with the last two words writ large, the whole message encased in a user-friendly sans-serif font and an acceptably eco-responsible olive green colour. Oh, and let’s not forget the funky cartoony chicken on the front – after all, we want to keep all those kids tugging at their parent’s sleeves, don’t we? It beats me why anyone would need 22 pages to say, “Our food is awful,” but then what do I know?
Allegedly, the booklet is designed to ‘share with you the story of McDonald’s food.’ Now, call me pedantic, but I am inclined to say that the use of the word ‘food’ in association with the words ‘McDonald’s,’ where the latter is a certain well-known global brand, is a contradiction in terms. In my Oxford dictionary, ‘food’ is defined as ‘a nutritious substance that can be taken into an animal or a plant to maintain life and growth.’ I have it on good authority that Maccy D, in order to maintain their business mantra of ‘the same everywhere,’ sources the ingredients for its products from agri-business monocultures, CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and processing factories. Therefore, by definition, these ingredients will be mass produced, contaminated by chemicals and growth promoters, and degraded by processing; thus they are quite simply no longer ‘nutritious substances.’ The stuff might look like food, but it isn’t. It is more like what Michael Pollan described as ‘edible food-like substances.’
According to the leaflet, food quality “begins at the very first link in the supply chain, whether this is dairy cattle, lettuce seedlings or the flour used in our buns.” Well, of course it does. I certainly couldn’t take issue with that as a statement (although ‘quality’ and ‘the flour used in our buns’ is once again contradictory), but I could easily dispute what they say next, where they talk about their highly trained team of professionals who work closely with suppliers ‘to develop and maintain the highest possible standards of food quality, safety and traceability.’ Whoops! Looks like they omitted a phrase there. Obviously what they meant to say was, “highest possible standards within the context of a global fast-food industry.” Oh well – it’s an easy mistake to make.
There are many other interesting phrases in the booklet. I don’t need to labour the point here. Greenwash is a fascinating and engrossing new manifestation of corporate spin, and I know that some find it riveting. McDonald’s themselves are keen to show you how good at it they are so, for the dedicated amongst you, have a look at www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk to assess their proficiency in what has become a highly competitive marketing ploy.
As a taster of what you might find, here are a few phrases from the booklet for you to think about:
“All of our ingredients have to meet exacting specifications.”
“High quality menu choices.”
“Industry-leading animal welfare standards.”
“Fresh dairy milk . . . sourced from British farms.”
“Potatoes . . . grown with loving care and attention.”
“Potatoes . . . carefully harvested.”
“We will not use ingredients that have not received the necessary approval by the relevant UK authority.”
Although there will be millions out there who will use this leaflet to give McDonald’s the big thumbs-up (the expected result of course, after spending a lot of money on its production), the company will have to work a lot harder to persuade me that their food, or indeed their ethos and business model, is efficacious, particularly when the quantities in which they deal cannot efficiently be sourced from anything other than the industrial food system. I cannot see how such a global organisation, which depends entirely on a homogenised menu, is ever going to have a place in the kind of world we need to foster. So, as far as I am concerned at least, I look forward to the day when we can say, “Goodbye McDonald’s; hello local burger bars.”