The Fast Food Industry – You Pay Them to Kill You, While Still Making Hefty Profits

The power of advertising has made the public rethink their unhealthy habits. After the September 11th terrorist attack, the marketing department of the Department of Health used this angle to decrease the desire in young adults to use drugs. We’ve all seen these public service announcements from time to time, and I have mentioned them previously: “My drug habit lead to the ruination of lives far from where I live, I am directly helping organized crime… In other words, my drug use has financed murder…”

This chapter is using another angle to get the right point across. “Today, I built up the plaques in my arteries, I increased my triglyceride level by 30%.” I guess this is a blunt way to make a point. By eating fast food, you literally finance your death.

While several worthwhile books have been written in recent years about the broader social implications of a meat-centered diet (Erik Marcus’ “Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating”, Gail Eisnitz’s “Slaughterhouse”, and Howard Lyman’s “Mad Cowboy”, to name a few), none has been greeted more warmly by the mainstream press than Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation”. They all make one point in common: the dangers of eating fast food. In spite of this bad press, we haven’t seen many fast food corporate giants go under. Actually, some are doing very well, indeed. How can we comprehend the fact that despite everything that health magazines, newspapers, and television documentaries say about the dangers in the food we eat, such as hamburgers, fries, soft drinks, etc., people still find themselves filling the seats of these restaurants without thinking about the consequences of their actions? We are talking about your health here. A well-researched and trenchant expose of the fast food industry has caused some people to sit up, take notice, and perhaps even rethink their unhealthy eating habits.

It is obvious that a book talking about the causes of obesity talks about the fast food industry as well. Eric Schlosser’s book “Fast Food Nation” has enabled many to understand how fast food is being processed. Today McDonald’s is the country’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes, and it’s the second biggest purchaser of chicken – which should seem obvious to us all. With their restaurants in every corner of America and beyond, millions of tons of meat and poultry are being processed in the slaughterhouses that supply meat to McDonald’s.

They can only offer their promotions, 2 burgers for $2.22, if their expenses are low. The point here is to make you realize that each time you enter their restaurants, order food, and pay the cashier to eat their food, you are signing your death warrant. Some statistics are truly staggering: In the early 1970’s, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they shelled out more than $110 billion, more than they spent on higher education, computers, or new cars. McDonald’s operates about 28,000 restaurants worldwide and opens 2,000 more every year. That equals six McDonald’s/day. If they follow the same trend for the next decade, they might reach the 50,000 franchises mark. In real life, opening more franchises will mostly send more Americans to their doctors or the emergency room to get diagnosed with several diseases, including high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. There is at least one positive outlook of these corporate giants. They keep our labor force working by creating many jobs in America and abroad. The 3.5 million fast food workers are by far the largest group of minimum-wage workers in the world; not too bad for the fast food industry.

However, creating jobs should not be used as an excuse, though. They are still convincing people to eat their food by using the media and other sources of advertising. Fast food chains collectively spend about $3 billion annually on television advertising, most of it directed at children-talk about creative marketing. By reaching out to kids, they (the fast food giants) assure themselves a future. What is the point in reaching the older crowd since they are already hooked to their food? They need to reach a virgin market. Yep, ladies and gentlemen, they are targeting your kids. While you are trying your best to teach your kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle by making their lunch everyday, making them participate in after school sports activities, encouraging them to avoid unhealthy temptation, the industry is spending several millions dollars to brainwash them about what food to eat. I guess you agree with me that these are counter-productive measures. Can this ever end? I don’t think so. Unless Congress confronts one of the underlying factors in health costs for the country, we might never see any progress.

There is some good news, though. We’ve seen some changes in this industry in the past few years. McDonald’s and other fast food chains have tried to implement some healthy items in their menus. Americans are finally seeing some choices offered to them: salad in a cup accompanied by low fat salad dressings is one positive result. Although, most consumers are still not ordering these healthier items, they do have the choice anytime they desire.

Diners can now order salads, baked potatoes and grilled chicken sandwiches, some of which weren’t on restaurants’ original menus. Jeff Bonasia, Burger King’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, says customer surveys revealed that 41 percent of Burger King’s “heavy users”, the beef eaters, wanted a vegetarian burger on their menu.

“We’re not necessarily going out to appeal to people who are strict vegans or vegetarians,” Mr. Bonasia says. “It’s meant to provide more choice and variety for the people who love burgers.” When the BK Veggie Burger idea came up, Burger King officials envisioned it as anchoring a nutritious meal combination, possibly paired with a side salad and bottled water. That didn’t register with customers, Mr. Bonasia says. “Their reaction was, ‘I’ll get the Veggie Burger, and I’ll have my fries’,” he says. Most fast-food chains supply customers with the nutritional content of their menu items, either through Web postings or handout guides.

Fast-food restaurants may have consistent menus, but items typically can be customized on request. Often, Ms. Gensler, a Chevy Chase Maryland Dietician, says, “the delivery time of such meals is the same as with a standard order”. “Today’s consumers appreciate a flexible, heart-friendly menu,” says Wendy’s company spokesman Bob Bertini. The burger chain just went nationwide with four new entree salads after successfully test-marketing them last year in five cities. The Garden Sensations salad lineup offers “ingredients that consumers are not used to seeing [in a fast food restaurant],” Mr. Bertini says, from Mandarin Chicken Salad to crispy rice noodles and roasted almonds. Condiments are included separately.

“The whole approach now is not as much on strict diet regimes … it’s more now about balance and choices,” he says.

“For too many, those choices involve super-, mega- or ultra-sizing the meal in question,” says Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian in New York and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. Super-sized meals also contain excess fat, salt, and sugar, the three main items people crave. The chains (fast foods giants, that is) “know exactly what they’re doing,” Mr. Ayoob says.

Too much fast food leaves diners susceptible to weight gain and all its risks, including diabetes and high blood pressure, not to mention the strain on the heart. Moreover, fast food tends to offer small amounts of fruits, vegetables and fiber, three components that counteract obesity and other health woes. Mr. Ayoob says: “Americans won’t stop eating fast food, but if they eat it wisely, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that”. “Go eat it, but eat smart,” he says. “Find the food there you like the most and have it in a more modest portion. As long as your weight is being maintained and you eat a low-fat, balanced diet,” he says, “An occasional journey into a fast-food restaurant should present no problem.

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