Fast food companies need to take responsibility

Published Dec 30, 2013 at 6:34 am (Updated Dec 27, 2013 at 9:12 am)

America’s fast-food industry has been under fire for quite some time. The unhealthy, albeit way too convenient, foods have been linked with obesity and the slew of health problems that come with it – heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more. It’s not new information, but with movies like the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” and books like “Fast Food Nation,” published in 2001 by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, a crusade began to make the offerings by places like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell and Wendy’s more healthful, and for people to seriously cut down how much they visit the establishments, if not cut them out all together.

It is not new information that the affordability of fast food versus the higher prices of more nutritional, less fattening choices makes fast food a winner to those with lower incomes or less time on their hands to stop and savor a salad.

And, anyone who has seen the “pink slime” photos or videos knows that the way that the “food” is produced is far from appetizing.

Industry spokespeople have long shifted the blame to the consumer, stating that they are freely choosing to consume the food.

This makes what went public on Dec. 23 laughable. That day, CNBC reported that a post on the McDonald’s employee website, complete with a photo of McDonald’s menu items, read: “Fast foods are quick, reasonably priced, and readily available alternatives to home cooking. While convenient and economical for a busy lifestyle, fast foods are typically high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt and may put people at risk for becoming overweight.”

In another post, there were two meal examples. The unhealthy choice was a photo of a hamburger, fries and a sizable drink that appeared to be soda. The “healthier choice” depicted a lunch meat sub packed with veggies, a side salad and a cup of water, and the information notes that it can be a challenge to eat healthy when dining at a fast food restaurant.

The site was taken down entirely after subsequent reports came out that it had published a sample budget over the summer that omitted food and gas, as well as included income from a second job – remember that fast food strike where workers demanded minimum wage be raised? Perhaps even more preposterous, was that earlier this month, the employee website also offered advice on how much to tip pool cleaners and housekeepers – luxuries that those working minimum wage job almost certainly cannot afford.

The company released this statement on its public website: “A combination of factors has led us to re-evaluate ... Between links to irrelevant or outdated information, along with outside groups taking elements out of context, this created unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary.”

Really? Taking elements out of context? We find it hard to believe that the anti-fast food information would have taken on any other meaning in a different context. Perhaps the housekeeper or pool cleaner information was misplaced – maybe it was meant to go on a part of the site only accessible to the company’s top corporate executives. Doubtful.

It’s time for companies to take real responsibility for their mistakes and products, and to stop producing the perfect public relations responses that they think America wants to hear. It’s time for them to get real.

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