It was early morning as my grandson, Phineas, and I headed to town for some breakfast. I could have prepared something at home, but since these were the last few hours together after spending a couple of nights with Grandma and Grandpa, I thought maybe he would enjoy a special trip to McDonald’s, one of his favorite restaurants. Just as we were approaching the intersection where the Golden Arches loomed, a large red truck with white script scrawled across the side pulled out of a parking lot. “Look! Coke!” He said from his backseat perch.
“Hmm. Three years old and already he is aware of two of the most recognizable corporate logos on the planet,” I thought. “How do I feel about that?” The answer, I realized as we were pulling into the parking lot, is complicated. I know his parents are not big fans of fast food and soft drinks are somewhat of a rare privilege around the house. So where does he learn this stuff?
It could be his knowledge of these logos comes merely from his being a member of modern American society, I speculated. Something in the air or water maybe. The conspiracy theorist in me imagined a virus jointly developed by a top-secret corporate-government entity that connects the knowledge of these logos to receptors in our brains and makes them instantly recognizable even to young children. By this time, however, we were at the counter and needed to order our eggs.
We sat on the plastic seats, and I listened to Phineas chatter on while a part of me continued to think about McDonald’s. It occurred to me how lately my mental radar had been picking up McDonald’s related blips from various sources. Several recent news articles have commented on the picket lines and other protests by fast food workers to raise the minimum wage. As McDonald’s is the biggest player in the fast food world, it has attracted the most visible of the protests. The pickets started in New York City but have spread to cities across the country. According to the New York Times, the goal of organizers is to raise the current U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $15.
National leaders of the protest movement say workers are underpaid and deserve to make a “living wage” especially in cities where the cost of living is so high. Industry officials say such a raise would drive many establishments out of business and result in high fast food prices. This in turn would have the most effect on poor people who often don’t have other options when food shopping. As is often the case with seemingly simple solutions, things are usually more complicated.
And speaking of complicated, fitting Phineas into the car seat was a real struggle for me. With four little kids it’s no wonder even a short trip for his family is such a major undertaking.
Phineas continued his running commentary on the world outside the car windows as we headed home. In between my responses I continued my Mickey D musings. I thought about the recent cover story in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly describing scientific efforts to combat obesity by engineering healthy junk food. It turns out some of the most intense research on the subject is being conducted by, you guessed it, the McDonald’s Corporation.
Author David H. Freedman notes Americans get 11 percent of their calories on average from fast food. His argument is that obesity in America will be best solved not by Herculean efforts to get people to change their food choices—substituting fruits and vegetables for burgers and fries — but by subtle changes in the foods they already chose. It’s odd to think the solution for a healthier American diet might be found under the Golden Arches.
When I got home, I pretzeled into the backseat while struggling to unhook the restraining belt. Finally, I freed Phineas from the seat. Man, that thing is complicated.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.