Friday, April 29, 2011

Economic growth we could do without

My husband is in construction and regularly receives requests from general contractors to bid on upcoming commercial projects. Lately, he’s been seeing an increase in the number of bid invitations for new McDonald’s stores. Also, not long ago, the company announced that it would be adding about 25,000 jobs to their payroll. It seems the company is planning an expansion.

It is likely that McDonald’s anticipated growth is the result of market research the company has conducted to determine feasibility. In other words, they wouldn’t be expanding if there wasn’t a “need” or demand for their product. And this is exactly what I find so troubling – that this development reflects what consumers want.

I boycotted McDonald’s over 20 years ago. The only way I’ll step foot in one now is if I’m on a road trip and need a bathroom. For me, the company embodies so much of what’s wrong in the world today, namely 2 things: 1) the disappearance of many “mom and pop” restaurants that served homemade food that simply cannot compete with fast food chains with their enormous buying power, and 2) that these mega chains have grown so large that they have begun to dictate to farmers what to produce and how to produce it, and what varieties to produce, thereby virtually eliminating crop varieties in favor of those that produce the greatest yield, fight the most bugs, look the best, etc. Slowly disappearing are the varieties of fruits and vegetables that we once knew and I think these big companies have something to do with that. I find these developments to be harmful to not only farmers and the environment (let's face it - these farms are not organic, that's for sure), but also to the consumer. There is less and less to choose from and less and less control and we are losing out because of it.

Large global corporations are not concerned about the welfare of others. They are driven by profits, and will cut every corner possible to save money and increase the bottom line for their shareholders. I was a business major, so I understand this concept. I am living it, too, running the day-to-day operations of a small business. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I do when it comes to food. How have we arrived at this point where we have lost nearly all control over the purity of the food supply? Why have we allowed companies to get so large and powerful that they’re telling farmers what to grow, and us what to eat? (For example, McDonald’s is the nation’s largest purchaser of potatoes. Imagine the kind of power the company has in determining the type of potatoes to grow). Are we asleep at the wheel, folks?

Mostly, I am dismayed that our food standards are so low. Today, when there is so much good food available to us, in terms of quality (produce at farmer’s markets and health food stores) and abundance, why people would settle for cheap fast food, so devoid of fresh taste, nutrition and value of ANY kind, is beyond my understanding. And it's not even that cheap! I can make dinner at home for less.

Despite fillers in the meat, genetically-modified fruits and vegetables, high-fructose corn syrup, and all the fat and calorie-dense, nutritionally-deprived, addictive foods they produce (oh, and let's not forget the harmful chemicals in their food containers)…Americans want more - more McDonald’s!

So, while I am excited that there are companies out there wanting to expand and thereby improve our sluggish economy, I am not happy about this one.
Though I find this news terribly depressing, I am encouraged when I hear about the organic movement gaining momentum, and that more and more people around the globe are questioning what's in their food. I believe we need to make one another more aware of what's going on in companies like McDonald's so that we can make better choices. Who we buy from sends a strong message. We may be individuals with little power, but collectively we can make a difference and evoke changes for the better.
For more reading on these subjects, you can visit the websites of the Environmental Working Group and Generation Green for starters. I hope you are then encouraged to investigate further and make informed decisions.

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