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Archive for October, 2010

As the dominant force in the fast food industry, McDonald’s frequently finds itself the target of any number of agenda-driven activist groups seeking to force it to conform to their latest whim. The company’s mascot, Ronald McDonald, in particular, has taken more than his share of abuse within the past year. One group invaded McDonald’s restaurants, trying to get customers to sign a petition demanding Ronald’s “retirement.” And a few months ago, a food activist group sued McDonald’s, trying to force them to stop including toys in kids’ Happy Meals. The attorney for the latter group characterized Ronald as the food version of “the dirty old man on the playground, seducing children into a lifetime of obesity, etc.” In light of this backdrop, I had an interesting experience recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I wound up babysitting my five-year-old grandson Randy for a few hours. Wanting to also make the best use of my time, I had him “help” me on some errands I needed to run. Realizing it was going to be awhile before we got home, I decided to eat in town and gave him his choice of where he’d like to go. He quickly said McDonald’s. “Not my choice,” I thought to myself, “but I did let him choose. I guess we’re going to McDonald’s.”

When it was our turn to order, he told the girl at the counter that he wanted a Happy Meal with a cheeseburger. Then, despite his considerable love for french fries, he (obviously having learned some things from his parents exercising some appropriate parental authority) opted for apple slices with caramel dip. For his drink, he chose chocolate milk. Not a perfect meal, nutritionally speaking, but not bad either.

Having done this drill with Randy before and having learned a thing or two myself, I told him that we couldn’t do the Playland thing until after he’d finished his meal. He really did pretty well, although I had to help him with his last couple of apple slices, which when dipped in caramel, were actually pretty good.

He then ran to start playing on the ladders, slides, and such in the play area. He soon discovered a buddy from pre-school and they had a blast, running, climbing, sliding, laughing, and playing. I’d told him I didn’t have that much time, so he could only play for ten  minutes. But he was having such a good time that I “got soft” and granted him an additional five.

Although Micky D’s hadn’t been my personal first choice, as I watched Randy playing I couldn’t help thinking that there was something downright good and healthy about this experience. He had just eaten a balanced, healthy, sensible, nutritious meal. We’d had a good time together. Now he was getting some pretty vigorous exercise with one of his friends. I found myself thinking, “And there’s supposed to be something wrong with this?”

As I pondered this a little further, I had some additional thoughts. Although I consider most of the activists who regularly bash McDonald’s  to be pretty wacked out and extreme, nevertheless it dawned on me that despite my disdain for them and their ludicrous accusations, the sheer volume of their stuff does gradually begin to take a toll on a person. It’s kind of like you start thinking subconsciously, “despite their nonsense, do they have a valid point or two in there somewhere?”

After the experience described above, it reinforced my belief that the activists are even more off the wall, out of touch  and out of line than I’d thought. McDonald’s is really doing some things pretty well, and despite all the flack they get, they’ve thankfully stuck to their guns on some things.

When confronted by the group demanding Ronald’s resignation, they responded that Ronald was not only a symbol of the company, but the namesake of McDonald’s charities, including the many Ronald McDonald Houses across the country that are an absolute godsend to families with very sick children in hospitals far from home. McDonald’s officials stated that they had absolutely no intentions whatsoever of “retiring” Ronald. And much to the delight of millions of children, they’re still putting toys in Happy meals. Randy was thrilled with his much-maligned Happy Meal toy, in this case a miniature skateboard, which further fertilized his already-fertile imagination.

Is McDonald’s perfect? Nope. They’re a fast food company in a fallible world, and they’ve made their share of mistakes along the way. But they’ve learned from them, and they’re doing some things pretty well.

Can kids OD on McDonald’s? Absolutely. People–kids included–can make either good or bad dietary decisions at McDonald’s. But I also happen to believe in parents, grandparents, and other guardians taking some personal responsibility for their kids’ dietary needs, and teaching those kids to do the same.

As I look back on Randy’s and my recent experience, I have a renewed appreciation for an American institution that I’ve frankly somewhat taken for granted. You’re doing some good things, Ronald. Thank you and hang in there!

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