The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite For Profit, Chapter 4

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Appetite for Profit, Chapter 4 - Nutriwashing Fast Food


Nutriwashing is the food industry's version of greenwashing: using claims that make consumers believe a product is superior in some quality of responsibility when it is, in reality, just as problematic as its analogues.  McDonald's, which has borne a lion's share of nutrition criticism, also leads the pack among its fast food peers in creating options that seem more healthful.  Its claims of reducing availability of its least healthy options such as "supersized" fries and soft drinks are also little more than lip service.

In 2004, McDonald's launched a "balanced lifestyles" campaign that featured a healthy-seeming adult meal complete with a pedometer.  But instead of causing consumers to make healthier food choices, the initiative just made people feel better about walking in the door.  This is referred to as the "halo effect."  After all, they have healthy options!  Why not go in?  Once at the counter, though, even those customers who come in based on the promise of salads and bottled water are likely to order a burger and fries.  This is not to mention that McDonald's salads sometimes contain more fat, salt, and calories than its classic offerings.

The bottom line is that the fast food restaurant model is not conducive to healthy options.  Produce has a short shelf life, lending itself to food waste and lost profit.  It's also just not why people go to a drive-thru.  Expecting healthy fare to be both available and popular at a fast food restaurant is simply unrealistic.


The information in this chapter is somewhat out of date.  However, some things don't change.  Fast food companies are up to the same old tricks, trying to get customers in the door with healthy-seeming options that are actually anything but.  The McDonald's Egg White Delight McMuffin, is currently being promoted on its web site, marketed as a "masterpiece" bursting with protein and whole grains.  This sandwich, claims McDonald's, is "wholesome made delightful" - despite this ingredient list:
Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Whole Wheat Flour, Yeast, Maltodextrin, Cornmeal, Contains 2% Or Less: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Barley Malt, Wheat Gluten, Corn Flour, Rice Flour, Soybean Oil or Canola Oil, Salt, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Natural Flavor (Plant Source), Dough Conditioners (DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono- and Tricalcium Phosphate, Enzymes), Fumaric Acid, Calcium Citrate, Citric Acid, Wheat Starch, Vitamin D Yeast, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbitan Monostearate.
AND THAT'S JUST THE ENGLISH MUFFIN.  Here's the ingredients for the egg:
Ingredients: Egg Whites.  Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid Soybean Oil and Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Soybean Oils, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Mono-and Diglycerides, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color).
Don't that just scream "wholesome?"  Don't even get me started on the "cheese."

I also noticed something conspicuous in the nutritional information provided:

The bold bar across the top explains there are 8 grams of fat total in the breakfast sandwich. The details beneath note that there are 3 grams of saturated fat. But what makes up the other five grams? If you already know about such things you can infer that it's unsaturated fat... but why would McDonald's choose not to just provide that information? This is a web site with plenty of white space left on its pages, so there's no argument of design constraint.  Such obfuscation is confusing at best to consumers, and can easily be seen as downright manipulative - perhaps McDonald's would like us to concentrate on that innocuous little 3, rather than that significantly more hefty 8?

When McDonald's claims that it is "on a continuous journey to meet [its] national nutrition commitments and provide [its] guests with menu offerings and information to address their needs," what it means is that it will do whatever it takes to continue getting our money.

Let's pick on McD's for just one more minute.  I noticed this billboard for "Southern Chicken Select Tenders" in Mid-City and in Treme this week - the re-addition of which to its menu will fuel the capacity growth of chicken producers.  Assuming that "TLC" is meant in its common usage of "tender loving care," its message is completely appalling and patently untrue from every conceivable angle.  We can say with certainty that it does NOT treat its animals, its workers, the environment, or anything else it touches with anything approaching "tender loving care."  What purpose could such a blatant lie serve but to make consumers feel better about buying products that are, in reality, shameful?

Billboard at the corner of Bienville and N. Scott - which is a super weird place for a billboard btw.

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