Lisa Tillinger Johansen’s book Fast Food Vindication seeks to put fast food in better place than Fast Food Nation andSupersize Me. Johansen is a former McDonald’s corporate employee who left the company to earn a Masters in Science in nutritional science and works as a registered dietitian. To be fair, I am a strict vegetarian who avoids all fast food and rarely eats out. I am in the opposite corner than Johansen on this issue.
I will give Johansen credit for making a stand for personal responsibility. Fast food is not the primary problem. No one forces anyone to eat a Big Mac or sit on a couch all day. Children today play basketball and football today, but it is mostly on a video screen rather than outdoors. As a kid, I was outside playing with friends or riding my bike from sunup until the street lights came on. We were all very active. That no longer exists as the norm. McDonald’s is hardly to blame for that. Individuals and parents need to take responsibility.
There is little doubt that fast food the fast food industry contributes to charities. The Ronald McDonald House and the “Have it your way” Foundation come to mind. As a Boy Scout, I remember McDonald’s donating orange drink to major functions. Also as a Boy Scout, I was part of the celebration that opened the first McDonald’s in our suburb. We raised the American flag and were treated to breakfast. McDonald’s, and later Wendy’s, became involved in local community events. Granted that was back in the 1970s.
Johansen covers an incident with PeTA at a opening on a McDonald’s were she was present. PeTA, as part of their McCruelty campaign, showed videos of chickens being slaughtered. This upset many parents and children. PeTA goes a bit over the top (but the same can be said of anti-abortion groups, human rights groups, and feed the children groups: shock factor sells) but they were accurate. People forget or don’t know where their food comes from. I look at it and think I have no problem watching my food being harvested, why should others have a problem knowing where their food comes from? PeTA did have an effect aside from outraging the squeamish public. McDonald’s is pressuring pork suppliers to end the practice of gestation crates, dropped an egg supplier over cruelty charges, and it now has a animal welfare page on its website.
To show that fast food is a healthy choice the author compares favorite fast food with sit down restaurants. Not surprising, most restaurants serve huge portions of food; starting bread sticks, appetizers, main meal, and desert, the number of calories in a meal can be considered in “days worths”. Some appetizers have more calories than some main courses: Applebee’s Appetizer Sampler has 2200 calories; a full days worth of calories. A slab of baby back ribs (1,600 calories) is not healthier than a fast food hamburger. Chili’s offer 1000 and 650 calorie salads with up to 88 grams of fat. So comparatively speaking fast food might be better for you and of course you can make better choices of what you eat at either type of establishment.
Johansen admits she likes eating out and does a good job of selecting foods to show that you can eat “healthy”, even at McDonald’s. She is careful to limit her scope and make comparisons to support her thesis. Is she wrong? No. Has she convinced me it is OK to eat at McDonald’s? No. (In fact McDonald’s states that none of their offerings are certified vegetarian, not even the black coffee.) However, if you like eating out and fast food and want something to support your choice this book is for you. Just remember that Johansen holds you responsible for what you eat, not the restaurant.