Monday, July 10, 2006

Happiness Is...

McDonalds? I wanted to title this post something else, but it would have violated the terms and conditions from the McDonalds media website that provided the photos for the post. I've been slammed today with evidence of what a fantastic job McDonalds has done in making McDonalds equate to a family event.

This morning, Beo took Sprout on his first ever fishing trip. I got up to see them off. As Sprout loaded up, Beo confessed that his first thought was to take Sprout to McDonalds (where we have not set foot for at least 6 months) to get a breakfast sandwich--just to make the day more special. He was shocked to see himself trying to make their special father-son day even more special with a trip to McDonalds. Sprout had organic yogurt for breakfast instead. I think he probably would have told Beo that we don't eat at McDonald's because of the "icky chemicals" anyway.

When I was little, fast food was definitely a special treat. Even on long drives my Mom would pack PB&J sandwiches and apples. I remember the first time that we actually stopped for fast food on the 14 hour drive to my grandparents. I was in middle school. I also remember the first time my Dad stopped at a gas station and actually got snacks and drinks, not just gas. At that time I was in high school. Those kinds of convenience foods had never been a part of everyday life. Today, one third of America's children eat fast food every day.

Later that morning as I waited for Bird to finish her snack, I flipped through a parenting magazine. Towards the back was a full page ad for McDonalds. The majority of the page shows a black and white image of a young girl in a tutu and tiara, clutching a happy meal. She is pictured from the back, running towards her mother who is blurry in the background, carrying a large McDonalds bag. Beneath the photo, in a scrapbook looking setting, is the following. I kid you not.

she took the stage and did exactly what all great ballerinas do. she waved to her mom. and later, as we were eating our McDonalds food, celebrating a girl's first ballet recital, her munching on Chicken McNuggets made with white meat, fresh Apple Dippers and a low-fat milk jug, and me enjoying an Asian Salad with warm all-white-meat chicken breast, it occurred to me that if i had to choose only one day to replay the rest of my life, this would be hard to beat.

I'm not really sure what to say from here. I literally stared at the page in open-mouthed shock. I won't even get into the errors in English Language. This company, this magazine, wants me to believe that memories are to be made from over processed, fat filled, chemical laden industrial food intake events. Disgusting--not just nutritionally, but to me, ethically. Yes, McDonalds has started carrying much healthier options, calorie and fat wise. The Happy Meal they describe is 380 calories and 13 grams of fat. That's not hideous. What's hideous is the quality of the food, and the equation of happy memories with taking your kid to a fast food joint. (Once again, the McDonalds corporation media website forbids me from using such words as "Chemical" with "Mc" in front of it. Otherwise I would.) I also wonder how many kids actually make those particular choices at McDonald's. After all, there's a meal just for big kids--to make sure they get enough to fill those big tummies.

I suppose this is really what McDonalds has long been about--providing an oh-so-convenient family meal, so that the family can just sit back and enjoy eachother's company without worrying about things like meal preparation, cleanup, or nutrition. Yet in today's world, this relationship is even more offensive to me. According to the American Obesity Association, "approximately 30.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3 percent are obese. For adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 30.4 percent are overweight and 15.5 percent are obese". How can we continue to swallow what we're been served--on our plates, and in our advertising? This mentality has to end. Attending a potluck lunch at my in-laws chuch yesterday, I watched two visibly overweight pre-teen girls repeatedly filling their plates. After eating approximately 3 times what I had eaten, the younger girl came back to the table with another full plate of cheesy baked pasta. Her caretaker scolded her and said: "Well you better eat every last bite of it!" She then turned to us and said: "That's what my Daddy always told me. 'If you take it, you eat it.'" I couldn't keep the look of sheer disbelief off of my face. The girl's sister soon returned to the table with 4 pieces of cake on her plate.

I realize that our dietary patterns are not the norm. That said, I don't see why they shouldn't be. Shouldn't the fuel we put in our children's bodies be of the utmost importance to us? Shouldn't the longterm consequences of feeding cheap, fast food outweight the "cost" of healthy foods? At first my thought was that I was "lucky". The last time we ate out, Bird asked if she could have fresh melon instead of french fries. I realize now that it's not "luck" at all, but the fact that she's been provided with fresh, organic fruit, and realizes how much more satisfying it really is than fried, tasteless starch. I have yet to make that realization on my own, but I have hope for Bird (and Sprout) that having formed these preferences now, she may carry them on in life. For now, I choose not to worry about my kids getting ostracized for telling their classmates that they don't eat McDonald's because their food has "icky chemicals". My kids are good-looking, intelligent, and funny. They'll have plenty of friends. Maybe, just maybe, one of those kids will tell their own Mom that they don't want to eat at McDonald's next time. Maybe there will be one more child released from a childhood of McDonald's Memories. I've never liked clowns anyway.

1 comment:

e4 said...

Wait. So happiness is.... not found at the bottom of a Happy Meal? Shouldn't they call it something else then? I guess Icky Chemicals Meal doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same way.

Thanks for the trip down Nauseating Ad Copy Lane...