Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Happy Meals”

McDonald’s: Diet for a Bankrupt America

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show couldn’t resist a dig at San Francisco in their first show of the year (Monday, 03. January 2011).

I can rarely resist a dig at McDonald’s. I didn’t here, or here, and couldn’t help mentioning this about San Francisco legislation to force McDonald’s to raise the nutritional value of their children-directed Happy Meals or face a ban on toys being included to induce children to pressure their parents to eat at the Golden Arches.

Hans Bader takes an opposite stance in this article attacking the legislation and sharing his disdain about the Californiazation of America. I will leave it to you to read my post and Hans’ perspective.

What I want to focus this blog on is the feeling that there are probably three main areas where we can pull ourselves out of the recession and into a competitive 21st Century economy.

The first concerns the war machine – the need to be constantly subsidizing a war somewhere. This feels the most complicated and I am going to skip it for this post at least. The second regards sustainable energy and possibly will help solve the first as a not-so-fringe benefit.

However what is relevant for this blog post is the feeling that we simply cannot afford bad health and this will always begin with nutrition. There is a $1 trillion-dollar health (or rather sickness) industry and it is, for the main part, possible to tackle.

We can do this by focusing on the lifestyle and diet we adopt. Now I don’t want to change this great country to a bunch of Tai-Chi loving vegans (actually, to be perfectly honest, I do), but it just seems that food that is nutritionally devoid of anything of worth might be cheap in the short run, but is bankrupting us in the long run.

Not only is this a sick nation, but sickness leads to a lack of productivity and creativity, and these are the resources we need to rebuild America. For a great overview of the sickness industry and an optimistic look into the future, try Paul Zane Pilzer’s The Next Trillion.

There is hope. There is always hope – if not for us, then for our children, but not if they learn about health and values from Ronald McDonald.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Food Justice San Francisco Style

Our City (capital C intended) by the bay has a proud history of food justice and environmental policy. We are perhaps one of the first cities to make the connection between low academic scores and nutrition.

Banning sugar-saturated soda in the school grounds or plastic bags from groceries is one thing. Taking on McDonald’s, however, now that is brave. McDonald’s have no compulsion to take on anyone and everyone, threaten them with court action and intimidate them until they back down. There is a roll call on the McLibel DVD of all the newspapers, magazines and talk shows that have crossed swords with McDonald’s. All have meekly sheathed their swords and mumbled an apology rather than go to court.

Of course, there were two young people who refused to back down and embarked on what became the longest court case in British history. Click here for the factual account, and here for the fictional one.

Back to San Francisco and a city ordinance has been proposed that will ban McDonald’s from offering a toy with the purchase of a Happy Meal unless there is a limitation on calories and the addition of fruit and vegetables. This proposal is, by the way, aimed at all fast food chains, but McDonald’s Happy Meals seems to have provided the impetus for the initiative.

McDonald’s, naturally, aren’t impressed with a Left Coast concern for growing childhood obesity or the plummeting school grades that are becoming common around our country. When Supervisor Eric Mar proposed the law, McDonald’s Corporation sent a team of executives to City Hall to protest.

The rest of us should feel grateful to McDonald’s – you can fight City Hall. McDonald’s claimed that this proposal would deny their customers the freedom to chose and is an attack on their and other businesses models of marketing.

To be fair, McDonald’s are not the only business exploiting children. On the other hand, City Hall is not just going after the fast-food industry. Our Mayor, Gavin Newsom (Link) has signed an order banning sweetened sodas from vending machines on city property, broadened a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies to include grocery stores and big-box stores that also have pharmacies.

But with election season looming, the mayor has slowed his support. His opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, has accused him of trying to be the food police.

Karen Wells, who is McDonald’s VP for Nutrition and Menu Strategy claims that it is the responsibility of the parent to decide what their child should eat. Fair point. She also claimed that it would be difficult to implement. Now you’ve lost me.

“It’s different from what we’re doing today and different from what we’ve done for 25 years, successfully,” Wells said.

Now you really have lost me. It is a generally accepted principle that the companies who survive and thrive for decades do so because they are able to adapt to changing consumer consciousness and demand. While a multinational corporation is governed by the bottom line, surely there must be some acknowledgment of society’s need. In fact, if we all die of obesity connected disease, who will buy the burgers?

McDonald’s nutrition director, Cynthia Goody, points out that there is no evidence suggesting childhood obesity would be reduced by requiring a fruit or vegetable with all meals. It doesn’t deserve a comment…

…But I can’t resist.

If children see McDonald’s as an amazing place to go to and eat, couldn’t McDonald’s provide an educational example, a role model, for healthy nutrition? If children get used to eating fruit and vegetables at such cool places as McDonald’s, won’t it make eating fruit and vegetables at home easier?


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com




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