Independent Media Centre Ireland

Obesity With That Sir?

category international | consumer issues | opinion/analysis author Thursday January 20, 2005 15:08author by James R

The latest McDonalds’ ad is telling. A man rushes to the counter and proceeds to push a microphone into the face of some bewildered kid bedecked in a green smock. “So what’s in your burgers?” he asks, in pursuit of the sort of anti-corporate expose that has fuelled Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me. Pressed, the kid blurts “100% Irish Beef.”

The reporter is left to stare despondently into the camera. Since the early nineties campaigners have systematically undermined the craftily manufactured identity of a global giant. After years of silencing activists with legal action, McDonalds found itself embroiled in the McLibel case, a magnificent act of corporate suicide, leaving behind a grinning skull with dollar symbols for eyes, and buckets of dirt to fling in Ronald McDonald’s face. Despite winning, the corporation unwittingly provided the defiant defendants a platform to expose the dangers of its food, its anti union record, its deliberate exploitation of kids through ads and its shoddy work practices in the longest running case in British history.

Years of ads have socialised people into wolfing down fast food, and outlets were forced to up their portion size in response. Images of overweight people dragging themselves around in motorised carts seems like off-kilter sci-fi, yet over-eating is as liable to kill an American as smoking. By 2000, there were 300 million obese adults. Not surprisingly this has created employment opportunities for people like Debora Senytka, a design engineer in General Motors' human/vehicle integration department. Hers is the responsibility of accommodating the ever-growing American waist-band without sacrificing extras like CD Players, cup-holder and god forbid airbags. Marshal Cohen, an industry analyst described the battle between clothes retailers and manufacturers, ‘designers didn't want to ruin the reputation of their brand by having anyone who was overweight walking around in their clothes." When regular sales slackened off, executives found fat people waddling around badly dressed and now 23% of all American sales are plus-size.

During the onslaught against McDonalds, other companies like Subway stepped into the ring, consciously targeting consumers with healthier options. In one of their most popular ad campaigns, a former heavy weight slips into his old trousers, they collapse around him like a circus tent. Transforming him into an icon of hope for the American obese. Provided of course, they change brand loyalties. Of course the health lecture is old hat. In the face of such competition and ailing profits, the latest McDonalds ad campaign sees them on the offensive, product images are being manipulated and now the brands are subverting the brand-bashers.

Changes in production methods prompted the development of the fast food industry. Where we see food being moved around but its production remains purposefully hidden. In 1960 a revolution occurred in the meat industry, a company called Iowa Beef Packers created a "disassembly" line for cattle that eventually did away with skilled workers. Many feedlots are owned or controlled by the four giant meatpacking firms, slaughtering 84% of American cattle. Family farms gave way to factory farming, just as family retailers gave way to WalMart. The skills of the local butcher were replaced by the automated modern slaughter house, just as the skills of the cook were replaced by the automated processes workers in McDonalds use. It’s easy to trace the origins of fast food corporations back to the early diners that sprouted in American factory districts to feed workers. As large scale production dispersed, they followed the shifting nature of work to harness the consumption of transient crowds of city centre shoppers and commuters. Instead of grubby factory worker hangouts, clever marketing transformed them into youth and family eateries. Just as political ideologues convinced us the working class was dead, and all that remained was consumers.

Fast food is intimately linked to our working lifes. 15% of Americans experience their first employment with McDonalds, if you can keep your head down in that boot camp and come out with a reference you are signalled out to future employers as someone who will swallow all sorts of shit for a pay packet. With conditions so severe in fast food joints, they normalise slightly better, yet crap, work elsewhere. As one group of McDonalds workers state ‘‘’first jobs’ at places like McDonalds have replaced national service as an often temporary stage of disciplining and preparation for a lifetime of subservience to capitalism.’ Fast Food Nation regales in how an alienated society has created an alienated means of feeding itself. Obesity and fast food does not just arise from the choices we as individual consumers make, it is intimately linked to how we are organised and disciplined in the workplace. Its interesting to note that in 1989 white collar workers consumed 32% of fast food in France and students another 32%. Just as old style American diners were the choice of factory workers, modern fast food outlets are the choice of low paid workers and cash strapped students.

With rampant property speculation forcing people into boxes ever further out in the suburbs, government undercutting decent public transport in favour of half assed private iniatives like the LUAS and traffic chaos. Returning home for lunch is no longer an option. After two hours sitting on a bus to get home, TV Dinners and junk food are an easy choice for a tired, stressed work force, just as a drive-through solves the problems of a starved commuter. Forced into fast food, as our work-breaks and the real value of our wages decrease, this is a real case of give me convenience or give me death. Give me obesity or 45 impatient minutes sitting in a restaurant for proper food. More and more of our lives become dominated by getting to and from work. Or over-coming its monotonous repetition. We have less and less time to prepare our own food. In the ‘60’s designer and psychologist Louis Cheskin persuaded McDonalds to keep the yellow arches logo, in some freudian way he argued they represented the nourishment of the mothers breast. As kids we were turned against ma’s cooking by ads, just as the early McDonald’s slogan “Give Mom a night off”, tempted working mothers away from aspects of their unpaid double shift in the home. Like most of our creative impulses, with cooking, there is no economic value in it for industry, if we do it for ourselves. It seems obvious, we should make sandwiches. But there is a whole philosophy of advertising dedicated to tearing us away from such self-sufficiency, others dedicated to taking on that role for us at exceptional costs, even the most simplistic aspects of our lives are colonised for profit.

People like Eric Schlosser see change arising from individuals making better choices in the market place, corporations will "sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit." It is that simple. But playing brands off against each other leaves the social system breeding them in tact. Using the logic of profit and creating a consumer demand for healthier options, might give them a more ethical façade, more annoying ads and us a trimmer waist-band. But it will probably also add to the existing numbers of under paid and abused soya workers and exploited part-time teenage workers will remain. Nothing will change about the willingness of corporations to psychopathically ignore the concerns of society in pursuit of profit. If the present ordering of work and its domination of our lives by profit is the root, then breaking away from that and reclaiming a degree of control over such fundamentals as the companies producing what we eat is the solution. That requires organisation, and such organisation means anything but the atomised actions of individual consumers.

Comments (18 of 18)

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author by Mcpublication date Thu Jan 20, 2005 17:44author address author phone

author by eh....publication date Thu Jan 20, 2005 17:46author address author phone

the above link that is

author by Chris Bond - Labour Youth/UCD students unionpublication date Thu Jan 20, 2005 23:19author address author phone

Mcdonalds introduction of a salad is part of a fraudulent and cynical strategy to depict themselves as a healthy food outlet. In morgan spurlocks film fast food nation, it was discovered that the Mcdonalds salad actually has more fat and calories than a Big Mac.

author by jsrpublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 02:57author address author phone

morgan spurlock did "Supersize Me". Fast food nation was by Eric Schlosser. A swing and a miss!

author by Linapublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 07:51author address author phone

Yet another copy and paste article. yawn

author by Chris Bondpublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 16:03author address author phone

I am aware of that it was a typo, im reading fast food nation at the moment and got mixed up between the two.

author by healthy eaterpublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 16:16author address author phone

McDonald's food is muck.

But if people want to eat muck and get fat. THAT'S THEIR CHOICE! It's not up to me nor you to make their decisions for them.

We seem to be turning into a culture of ditching personal responsibilty in favour of blaming someone else [in this case McD's] for our own poor choices.

I don't want no food police getting rid of fast food. It's nice sometimes [I do like a Burdock's fish and chips and I have no illusions as to its calorie content].

If people choose to eat an occasional fast food burger as part a controlled and sensible diet it does no harm - but I'd go for Eddie Rockets 'cos they have nicer burgers.

What's next? Ban full-fat milk and sugar? That's the most insidious thing of all. Also, the manufacturers of "diet" foods. Insinuating that you can lose weight by eating the same portions you ate before!

If you wanna lose weight exercise regularly and do not eat too much. If you get fat; it's your own bloody fault!

The assault on brand label fast-food is a political stance, not a health one. If that's your game, state it plainly and don't use peoples' health to hoodwink people out of their freedom of choice.

author by Tribunepublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 18:53author address author phone

Although covering a popular theme, it appeared in the UCD College Tribune yesterday

author by Seamus Ó Raghaillaighpublication date Fri Jan 21, 2005 22:37author address author phone

Hey ''healthy eater'' have you not noticed the cynical way McDonalds brain wash the most vunerable and impressionable members of our society -ie the children.From an early age they are encouraged in by a creepy clown and told to have their birthday parties there. Also come and play is the big theme in these so called restaurants, most have play areas for young children. What choice do these children have? Ive no prob with people eating rubbish if they want to. No one mentioned banning fast food, but as its a health hazard and a destructive force against the environment its important people are educated as to what McD is really about. Have you noticed how much waste accompanies each McD "meal" ???

At least ban their cynical advertising and luring of children. They prey on children like paedofiles, you wouldnt suppport that now would you?

author by A10publication date Sat Jan 22, 2005 00:05author address author phone

are parents who have reneged on their parental duties and responsibilities in rearing their children properly on proper food and in proper eating habits.Of course your kids are going to turn into obese little pigs if you couldn't be arsed cooking them somthing proper and healthy,and you are too busy watching soaps or guzzling down in the pub to be botherd about doing anything about the porky couch playstation playing animals that you call your kids.
In reality it takes two parents to raise a child not a whole village or some other new age Pc thought crap like that.
It's time we start taking responsibility for our own actions again,not blaming all in sundry for our screwups.

author by Den Fujitapublication date Sat Jan 22, 2005 00:44author address author phone

Just found this scary qoute!!!!

"If we eat McDonald's hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white and our hair blonde"
— Den Fujita, president of McDonalds Japan.

author by Donald McRonaldpublication date Sat Jan 22, 2005 06:41author address author phone

"we will become taller, our skin become white and our hair blonde"

People who eat a lot of McD are more likely to grow outwards rather than upwards, their skin will become anaemic, and their hair will most likely become grey rather than blonde.
Still, one out of three is not bad.
That's what comes with clowning around with your food.

author by Chris Bondpublication date Sat Jan 22, 2005 13:53author address author phone

Just to clarify that the person who published this is actually the person who wrote the article in the tribune. Its good to get the article to people outside UCD.

author by Consumerpublication date Sat Jan 22, 2005 17:38author address author phone

As a precautionary measure a meat processing plant and a farm, both in Carlow, have been sealed off awaiting further results of tests. Preliminary results "detected symptoms in the pigs similar to those of foot and mouth".

Full report from RTE:

Related Link:
author by Mr Murphypublication date Tue Jul 05, 2005 18:10author address author phone

"The real clowns
by A10 Friday, Jan 21 2005, 11:05pm

In reality it takes two parents to raise a child not a whole village or some other new age Pc thought crap like that.
It's time we start taking responsibility for our own actions again,not blaming all in sundry for our screwups."

I completely agree with this post. Even before "Fast Food Nation" and "Supersize Me" I never knew anyone who was under the illusion that McDonalds food was anything other than unhealthy. No one is forced to eat this food. We eat it by our own choice. If you have a weight problem because you eat McDonalds food, it's your fault because you bought it and you chose to eat it. Tough shit

author by Mr Murphypublication date Tue Jul 05, 2005 18:13author address author phone

"In morgan spurlocks film fast food nation, it was discovered that the Mcdonalds salad actually has more fat and calories than a Big Mac."

This post is inaccurate. The truth is if you buy a salad with all the dressings, and choose breadcrumb chicken instead of grilled chicken, then it has more calories than a Big Mac. The dressing free, grilled chicken alternate is actually healthy

author by Mr O' Dowd - Nalvern Enterprisepublication date Wed Apr 12, 2006 01:15author address author phone

I have too many comments on a topic like this, ill try keep it short:

1) You cant blame Mc Donalds alone for people being overweight, How many people opt for processed ready made meals in their diets?

2) Yes the salads did contain many grams of saturated fat, as a previous author said, this was with the bread crumbed chicken with dressing. The salad dressing was the most harmful and Mc Donalds has since changed the supplier for their salad dressings to low fat Newmans Dresings.

3) Subway's adds were decieving, You may get a low fat sub.....but what about the cookies and fat laden crisps and carbonated drinks offered along with the "Subway Meals".

4) As Mc Donalds is the most successful business in this range, it is always going to be an easy target for people to criticise. Mc Donalds has much higher standars than most other fast food restaurants around and has also been voted one of the top 50 best companies to work for in Ireland.

Nobody is forced to eat Mc Donalds, if you dont want to, then dont.
Anybody stupid enough (Morgan Spurlock) to eat the same type of food three times a day for 1month is bound to face some dietary problems.

author by blaisepublication date Wed Apr 12, 2006 04:11author address author phone

the French couldn't stop Macdonalds - how in the world would the Irish? If you don't want it - don't buy it. Supply and demand. It's there for a reason. People want it. Tourists like it to. Cheap coffee. Use the toilets. Hang around. Look at faces. Quick fill up. Sure it's not that good for you but it's still up to you - to go there - or not - once every 2 months - once a week - once a day. Your choice. Should we have banned all the chippers? They're pretty greasy. But you can circumvent - take the batter off the fish - put it into a bun and you're off to the races. They're are much bigger fish to fry than talking about this.

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