For McDonald's, "less bad" isn't the same as "good"

One of the patently dishonest threads of the healthy food/processed food debate has been Big Food’s complaint that they can put healthy options on their menus, but they can’t make people buy them.

It’s a variant of its explanation of why kids’ menus only have hot dogs, fries, and other crap. “It’s all they’ll eat,” they complain. One defect of this strain is that it’s just not true — and besides, “I’m the daddy.”.

But the larger answer to both is that people are less likely to go for the healthy option when industry behemoths spend billions of dollars annually to convince people to eat the bad stuff. (A variant of that is government agriculture policy that pushes people to eat the processed stuff by using our taxes to subsidize its ingredients, instead of making the healthy stuff cheaper or merely not subsidizing either. Government out of my kitchen!)

So I should be happy, then, that for the first time at McDonald’s, “100 percent of our national marketing efforts to kids will include nutrition or active-lifestyle messages,” according to Neil Golden, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s USA.

Happy isn’t quite the word, though. Yes, this is better than what McDonald’s used to do. But the ads will also still promote sugary sodas, fries with every meal, and all the other junk that built McDonald’s. But “better” isn’t necessarily “good.” “Less bad” is not a mission statement.

What I can applaud is yet another example of a megacorporation bowing to the insistence of advocates that it change. The change is paltry. It came slow. It is not enough.

But it would not have come if sober-minded, principled people hadn’t shown McDonald’s that its better profit-protection path was to bend, at least a little, from full-on crap-peddling. It’s the only way McDonald’s, or Taco Bell, or Wendy’s, or the rest of them will ever change, because they see it is in their selfish interest to do so.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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