Friday, August 19, 2011
McDonald's: I'm Not Lovin' It. Have the golden arches really changed?
I quit eating at McDonald's when I was 19. (I also refuse to shop at WalMart, but that's an entirely different post all together.) I didn't have much reason at the time other than the fact that I felt nauseous every time I ate there. When I was a teenager several of my friends worked there - I even worked there myself for a whole 2 weeks. I used to like going to McDonald's to visit my friends. At some point though, I realized the effects of eating Mickey D's food. On top of that, I was really concerned about watching my weight so I was trying to be careful not to eat too much bad food.
Even as a small child I was very particular about what was okay to eat at McDonald's and what wasn't. I once ate a chicken nugget and bit into a piece of gristle. I never again touched another McNugget. I got to the point where all I would eat is a plain hamburger. I always ordered it plain so I knew it was cooked fresh for me rather than sitting under a heat lamp for an hour.
Several years later, in 2004, the documentary Super Size Me came out, and all my complaints about McDonald's food were confirmed. Not only was I correct in believing that the food wasn't healthy and it was therefore making me feel ill, there was a lot more wrong with it: the massive size portions, the overall unhealthiness of the food, and the lack of alternative healthy options. Around this time I was attending San Diego State University. I took a writing class in which we had to watch Super Size Me and write a research paper on the topic. For this paper, I also read Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation and through all my research I became thoroughly disgusted with fast food in general. To this day I still cringe at the thought of eating at most fast food burger joints other than In-N-Out. On occasion I will still stop at a Carl's Jr or Jack in the Box if I'm on the road and need a meal, but McDonald's has always remained the one place that I absolutely refuse to stop at.
Which brings me to the new conundrum I am facing. Over the past couple of years I have become vaguely aware of McDonald's trying to change their image. I try to avoid all things Mickey D's so I haven't paid too much attention, but when I was at BlogHer a couple weeks ago McDonald's was a very present sponsor of the conference. Not only did they have a booth at the expo but they also were the big sponsor of Saturday nights' CheeseburgHer party. (Yes, I did partake in eating a McDonald's cheeseburger. And for the record, I was not impressed at all, although I did not feel sick afterward.)
I know that McDonald's has been pushing their coffee drinks in recent years but I don't really drink caffeine anymore, and when I do I'd rather go to Starbucks or my favorite local coffee shop (I love you, Lush!). At BlogHer, McDonald's reps were handing out samples of their new Pineapple Mango smoothies. Over the past few months I have become a huge smoothie fan but I kept shying away from the samples at BlogHer just because I knew they were from McDonald's. I finally decided to give in and give one a try though. The smoothie was good - it tasted like a smoothie should, and I hope that it was at least somewhat healthy. While I was at the booth I picked up a fruit and yogurt snack container and grabbed some literature.
It got me wondering. Has McDonald's REALLY changed? I see their new offerings such as smoothies and apple slices, and my first thought is "Whatever...they are still the same old company that disgusts me. This is too little, too late." But now I am starting to think "Maybe they really HAVE changed and I am just being closed-minded. Maybe I should give them another chance."
McDonald's really does seem to be changing their image. They are saying that they are "committed to supporting families and championing children's well-being". Their new Happy Meals will automatically come with apple slices and the new kids' fry containers are tiny. They are pushing their meals for 600 calories or less. They are now offering oatmeal for breakfast. They say their meals cover all the food groups.
But still I'm skeptical. My feelings on this are that yes, putting apples in the kids' meals is great. But what about the other food in the meal? Are the burgers any different and any healthier than they used to be? Or are they still greasy and processed? Meals that are under 600 calories are great (although I try to keep my meals closer to the 300-400 calorie range), but I wonder what kind of nutrition is actually in those 600 calories. Do they now have whole grain wheat buns? Because the one I ate at BlogHer was still a processed white bun.
I know for sure that I won't be taking Sam to McDonald's on a regular basis. My parents were careful to feed us healthy food while we were young, and now that I'm older I really appreciate that. So while I know I definitely won't be making fast food a common thing in our household, we do make the occasional infrequent drive-through visit. Now I'm wondering if my bias against McDonald's is unfounded. I'm really torn. Should I stick with my resolution to avoid McDonald's at all costs? Or do I open my mind and give them a chance?
What do you think? I would love to hear your input.