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.


Kristine V said...

I'm in full agreement! McDonald's is just a wolf in sheep's clothing. They see there's money to be made by offering healthy-sounding options but, really, they've made billions by getting people addicted to all the wrong things. They have no incentive to truly change their ways. Now it's up to the public to see McDonald's 'healthy menu' for what it is: crap. That new oatmeal of theirs? Puhleez. People need oatmeal without extracts and color, real apples without calcium ascorbate, sundried cranberries and something other than cream. THEN it's healthy :)

HIP_M0M said...

I have not eaten at McDonald's in years although I admit eating there during college when budget was my priority.

Now health and nutrition is a priority for me and for my kids so we make our food at home and we shop at the farmer's market and make sure our kids see and appreciate the colorful fruits and veggies that adorn their plates. Because of this, my son will eat pretty much anything. He loves broccoli, beets, tomatoes and all types of fruit.

We even make our own smoothies since it's a fun activity to do together and healthy treat we can enjoy on the go.

Rarely do we order take out or go to fast food places. Sure, it'd be easy to just drive through and pick up food but in most cases, what is easier is not what is best.

San DIego Deals and Steals said...

i agree that it might be 'too little too late' but it is a small step in the right direction. i do remember being a kid & I had to have the 'healthy' soda (sprite or orange soda - LOL!)
it still is overall quite a bit of junk (unfortunately America buys that junk) but I do appreciate that they have several healthier options....still not great - but better than before and I just wanted to point that out.

When we were at the hospital we popped out for some fast food and I must say I really enjoyed their Asian Chicken Salad that seems to be fairly healthy =)

(Im not a huge McD fan either - but I just think they are trying to move in a better direction and want to give them a pat on teh back for that =))

zebe912 said...

I think you said it right: they're "changing their image". I don't think that's the same as actually changing. They still need to mass market to everyone & formulate the carb to salt ratio just right to keep our taste buds craving it just right. I had one of their smoothies and thought it was terrible. It tasted fake & I'm sure it had HFCS in there somewhere. I sort of can't eat there by default due to being gluten free, but I sort of think that's a good thing!

Anonymous said...

We quit eating there as a family about the same time. Still I was amazed your little sister kept wanting to go there in spite of never even seeing their ads, but we resisted. And, now she won't go near them either.

We switched to Wendy's for several years when we would do fast food with friends or travel. "Dave" at least had a few healthy choices, and it wasn't a steady diet for us.

Don't be so hard on the corporation, Kristine. They DO have an incentive to change, and it's called profit. If the company is not going to make money, there's no point in their existence. And profit generally means somebody wants what is being sold.

But Mickey D is not likely to get my business back. There are just too many emotional factors that will keep me from looking at them again. Our tastes have changed, however, and they may change again. If the word gets around that McD's really is a new, healthy player we might check them out. But we are as likely to avoid any food served next to a Big Mac as someone with a peanut allergy watching other nut products.

Marissa said...

We went to McDonald's recently, because of the free coupons from BlogHer and the fact that the people at the expo booth were really nice. Unfortunately, the food tasted fake and awful. Even the smoothie tasted like it was made with a powdered mix. The restaurant was also really dirty. Too bad, because I really wanted to like it but I don't think I'll be going back.

Anonymous said...

I love McDonalds. But I don't go there for a "good burger" I go there b/c their burgers have tasted the same for 30 years. :) It's a special treat for the kids, they can play and get a lame toy. But they like it, and I don't mind it as an every once in awhile thing. Regarding them changing their menus, it's not really beneficial for middle class, nutrition concious moms that *maybe* eat there once a month. It's aimed at the people that eat there regularly to help and at least try to do something about the childhood obesity issue and offer "healthier options."

It is what it is. It's McDonalds. It will never be a health food restaurant. I'm just happy they are getting rid of the caramel apple dip for no other reason than it's a freaking mess.

Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

I'm not a fan, can't stand the taste and the fact that their restaurants are usually filthy. I haven't been inside one in years.

I do LOVE their breakfast... I'm a total sucker for it. I'll indulge about twice a year. My teeth always feel like they are wearing sweaters, but it is so good.

Free Range Chick said...

I stopped going for years. Haley's first trip she was around 3 or 4. It's hard to avoid McDs when you are out with other people's kids. Sometimes they are the ones that insists and those are the parents that cave. Sometimes you just want to treat your kid cause they love a Happy Meal. I've learned that I do like their breakfast platter, but otherwise I don't order or get a salad.

There is the new McDs Bistro Cafe in Del Mar that serves pasta and sandwiches if you ever HAVE TO go with friends.

McDs is changing their image but it think everything has gotten better, but is still not healthy enough to be regularly in your diet. After all it's still fast food.