Monday, August 15, 2011

Food Snobbery, Class and the Golden Arches

Mr7's most fervent wish was that we go to Maccas for his birthday lunch. Just as the marketers planned he wanted to go there for the toy in the Happy Meal, with the meal itself being very much a secondary affair.

Now, I have a confession. This is not the very first time ever Mr7 has been to the Golden Arches. Of late, I have had two different mum friends tell me with clear (and justified) pride that their children had never been there. Ever. And I felt a little bit sheepish, a little guilty and defensive.

While not serial attenders, we are possibly of the triannual variety give or take a few. And when we do go I become a bit of a kid again. Fries, burger, chocolate Sundae. All that sweet and salty loveliness. And now with free wifi too.

On our return trip from Canberra a few years ago, we found ourselves passing through the outer south western suburbs of Sydney and were in need of a meal. 4 kids, long car trip, tired. You guessed it. Maccas again.

Inside, I noticed the table opposite us was celebrating a birthday dinner. Not a child's birthday. But an older adults. It was a happy affair, and had the air of being a special occasion. Which made me think. About food and snobbery and money.

I forgot to mention that at our birthday lunch today Mr12, recent convert to ethical food production, refused to eat a single thing. He even carried a copy of Fast Food Nation with him just in case we missed his point. And I respected him for his stand. But I also wanted him to understand that being able to choose to buy all your beef grass fed, your eggs free range and your milk organic, is a privilege. A really expensive one.

We have two Whole Foods within close proximity of our home. It is the mecca of the organic free range ethical and environmental food movement in the US. However, it fails in one area. And I don't think this failure is a coincidence. The CEO of the company bans unions*. Oh, the irony. It is almost too delicious.

When I explained this situation to Mr12 he was shocked. It was a tough lesson, to learn that things are not so black and white and also for him to understand that my value system puts the health and well being of workers at the top of the chain. That smug glow that you get on your way out of Whole Foods cannot be sustained if you care about the people who work in the stores, the people who don't get paid enough to be able to afford to shop at Whole Paycheck.

Just for the record I refuse to shop at Walmart. And they also now sell organic product. Why? They have the worst record in the area of industrial relations and workers rights that I have come across* (with, quite shockingly, Whole Foods coming in as the 2nd worst large corporate offender in this regard although on an international stage McDonalds may be the worst offender of all***).

I am proud of my Mr12 but I also want to make sure that an ethical stance does not come with a large dose of arrogance. Eating well is a great thing, for our own health and the environment. But for some people, and in a global context more so, eating at all is a great thing.

* You can read more about Whole Foods and their anti-union stance here http://www.counterpunch.org/sharon05082009.html
** Insight into what it is like to work at Walmart and in low wage America from acclaimed journalist and author of Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich
*** And to read a comprehensive international review of McDonald's union busting activities read this http://www.mcspotlight.org/campaigns/tactics/unionall.html

12 comments:

Mark said...

So many issues. :-)

As far as eating at McDonald's is concerned,while I wouldn't take my kids there on a regular basis (and I didn't when mine were little) an occasional visit isn't going to wreak the same havoc.

As for the political issues, they can be just as pressing. But as you point out, things are not always black and white. Still, the best way to voice your opinion is with your wallet ...

Life is never simple, is it?

Sarah said...

I am not at all enamoured of the fast food industry but neither am I (or my children) immune to it. Whilst it's great that some people choose (and can afford to) take a hardline approach to 'never eating there', for the rest of us it is not as simple as 'being aware'.
I pick my battles and for me, an all-out boycott of McDonald's and its ilk is not one of them. Having said that, I do make an effort to minimise the frequency of visits.
My grandparents were pensioners and I fondly remember them 'treating' us to a meal out at McDonalds, which would always be wrapped up with a 30c cone at the end. They never failed to exclaim over the cone's value and deliciousness. I will always remember that enthusiasm. They were so appreciative that there was a place they could take us to 'spoil' us that they could afford. Yes, I know, these days it would probably be cheaper to make a home-cooked meal from scratch, but again - not a luxury that the elderly could manage very easily. Thanks for the reminder of the complexities of these issues Michelle.

Joni Llanora said...

Very thought provoking post. I do try as much as possible to be more consumer aware and responsible but still when money is tight, often the right choice is hard to get by. And my child loves the toys at Maccas too. Burger usually doesn't get eaten at all.

expatbostonians.com said...

E gets a weekly trip to McDonalds after her gymnastics class. It's lunch with Mommy and Daddy after class, and we all enjoy it. We also go once a week because in terms of E, she's losing ground on her weight again...and some extra empty calories 1x per week have the ok of her nutritionist (and sometimes even the extra apple pie once and a while).

Honestly, I've met the "MY kid has never been" moms...and while they're totally free to make that choice, I can't help but wonder if their kids will just binge on it the second they're given the freedom to do so?

Much like your discussion with Mr 12 (he sounds awesome...exactly the kind of kid that made me love teaching 6th graders)...there's always a balance to be found/walked.

I try to never shop at Wal-Mart, but on occasion have had to as they were the only people who had something (the stupid pacifier medicine giver thingy I needed when E was a baby comes to mind--I searched EVERYWHERE before finally sucking it up and buying it there). I hadn't heard about Whole Foods, and will definitely reconsider shopping there when I'm home. Ironically though, some of the only organic baby food available in Singapore is the whole foods home brand...so that will be a further ethical quandry (as I'm SO NOT that mom who makes her own babyfood).

Eating healthily and well is absolutely about class.

Growing up we were on welfare, and most of groceries were courtesy of food stamps. We always bought cheap meat (and sometimes my mom would eat pbj sandwiches so I could have meat) and canned veggies instead of fresh (maybe one of the reasons I've NEVER been a veggie person). Lots of PBJ. Lots of other filling but less than healthy options.

As a financially stable adult, I have the luxury of choosing fresh food for my daughter, higher quality cuts of meat, and going to butcher as opposed to a grocery store for meat. That sort of thing. Not that she doesn't eat a pbj (she totally does), but it's because she wants to, not because it's all we have left until payday.

Dina said...

Yikes. I'll think twice about shopping at Whole Foods. Although we don't go there often because there's not one near us.

It seems every place is unethical in some way or another.

When Jack was a toddler, we went to McDonalds 1-2 times a week! Then Tim saw that documentary. Super Size Me. Now we go much less often. We probably get a full meal there once every year or two. But we have gotten their ice-cream twice already this summer.

MaidInAustralia said...

Yeah, when my kids saw the story about the cheeseburgers and how they look the same 15 years ago, they refused to eat cheeseburgers anymore. But we still go to Maccas, especially when travelling. Reasonably clean loos, okay coffee, and a safe spot for the kids to run around for a bit. And loving the free wifi!

offtoclimbamountain said...

When my kids were really small they thought that McDonalds only existed in Australia - as there are a distinct lack of 'drive thru' outlets in Hong Kong and that was the only way they experienced it in Aus on the way to or the way back from a really long drive.

As they grew older and we changed countries - they became more aware and now are able to spot a 'Big M' as we call them at at least half a km away. Sadly there is one on the way to and from school so any end of term or rainy Friday afternoon treat day is bound to end in a request for a visit.

I admire Mr 12 - I have recently read Mark Thomas' 'Belching out the devil' in an effort to use moral grounds to break me of my terrible habit that I can't seem to use willpower to address. I'm not winning.

Glad Mr 7 enjoyed his birthday lunch. ;)

offtoclimbamountain said...

When my kids were really small they thought that McDonalds only existed in Australia - as there are a distinct lack of 'drive thru' outlets in Hong Kong and that was the only way they experienced it in Aus on the way to or the way back from a really long drive.

As they grew older and we changed countries - they became more aware and now are able to spot a 'Big M' as we call them at at least half a km away. Sadly there is one on the way to and from school so any end of term or rainy Friday afternoon treat day is bound to end in a request for a visit.

I admire Mr 12 - I have recently read Mark Thomas' 'Belching out the devil' in an effort to use moral grounds to break me of my terrible habit that I can't seem to use willpower to address. I'm not winning.

Glad Mr 7 enjoyed his birthday lunch. ;)

ViviVan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ViviVan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy said...

This is so incredibly spot on for me. I cannot believe I've only just discovered this blog!

Like you, my kids are not total strangers to the Evil Clown - triannual would be about our speed too, although my being Coeliac certainly draws some borders around how often we go.

But, like you, I don't think this makes me a bad parent or them unhealthy kids. And I could not agree more vigorously with the proposition that ethics are not black and white, and eating "ethically" (as defined by certain Westerners) is a privilege that a relatively small portion of the world actually possesses.

ViviVan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...