Momentum: FAST FOOD FASCISM
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- McDonald's is under attack these days, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, the fast food industry sells unhealthy food. Yes, it induces people to overeat for profit. Yes, ranchers cut down rain forests to supply it with cattle. Yes, that reduces the world's oxygen supply. But the real crime of McDonald's - supposedly the shinning symbol of American capitalism - is that it is truly and deeply anti-American.
The fast food industry stands against the personal values that made this country great: rugged individualism, originality, creativity, a sense of adventure, non-conformity, and above all, all-around fearlessness.
In an effort to standardize products and maximize profits, the fast food industry has infected America with an insidious creeping fascism that was never political in itself, but which has had deeply political consequences.
Sit in a McDonald's for a half hour with a critical eye. The lights are glaring; there's no relaxation or goodwill to go along with the food. The chairs and tables are bolted to the ground. You can't draw up a chair to another table, for example, or join a larger group. Even if you're uncomfortably close to the table, there is nothing you can do except accept the discomfort. It's like a prison cafeteria; shut up and eat.
The foliage, furniture, plates, utensils and cups are plastic. You are completely disconnected from the natural world. All the decoration is advertisement. It's no wonder so many people wear corporate logos on their clothes and think it's right to put advertisements in schools; they're completely desensitized; life doesn't exist outside of commercials.
Fast food restaurants create a false sense of abundance. They offer access to a ready supply of condiments, sugar packets, straws, napkins and coffee cream - things that cost the restaurant almost nothing and have no real value.
They also offer a false sense of control. You appear to have many choices - a Big Mac, a cheeseburger, a quarter pounder, a double quarter pounder or a "Big 'N' Tasty" - but they're all pre-packaged, frozen, pre-cooked hamburger. If you want to be radical, have fried chicken, fried fish pieces, even flatbread sandwiches. But you have no control over portion size, or the way your meal is cooked.
One of the ways we learn who we are is by the choices we make. Being given free reign to make meaningless choices translates directly into the political arena, where we are asked to make empty choices between multi-millionaires and the almost identical political parties which own them.
The overworked and over-managed young food zombies in fast food restaurants are being trained to accept a lifetime of deadening and unfulfilling jobs. They learn early that making suggestions and demands will get you fired. Fear plays a large part in this kind of work; I once took out a notebook in McDonald's and the young manager looked panic-stricken. He was probably afraid of his own managers.
In order to navigate the world intelligently, we need our language to be clear and well-grounded. McDonald's corrupts language. What on earth is a "McSalad"? A "Happy Meal?" A "Mighty Kids Meal?"
Many books have been written about the frighteningly poor quality of fast food. Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" is a revelation. A new book by Greg Critser, "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World," reveals how the fast food industry discovered that Americans are so ashamed of appearing gluttonous that they won't order two orders of fries. In response, the industry created "supersized" portions and along with it, a nation of supersized people.
Once you have accepted standardization in fast food restaurants, you may be unquestioning about it in other places. In my supermarket, all the pork is now pre-packaged by a company called Smithfield. The packaging offers a list of ingredients: pork broth, potassium lactate, salt, sodium phosphates, and natural flavorings; shouldn't the only ingredient in a pork roast be pork?
The fast food industry is now under attack from many sides. McDonald's stock has lost half its market value in the last two years; it has closed more than 100 restaurants and fired its CEO. Its arch enemy, Burger King, was on the market for two years without finding a taker; it recently sold at a discounted price that dropped from $2.3 billion to $1.5 billion in just six months.
Obese people are suing fast food restaurants here, while abroad, they are being attack for corporate imperialism. McDonald's, with 23,000 restaurants in about 121 countries, has been attacked in China, Denmark, France, Bangalore, Colombia, Russia, Argentina, Belgium, South Africa and Great Britain.
My own private rebellion against fast food restaurants dates back 30 years, as I watched juicy fresh hamburgers and fried chicken disappear all across the country, along with the small, quirky family-owned restaurants that served them.
Why, I wondered, as Americans grew wealthier, did they also grow so timid? Why did they reject the adventure of discovery, of making choices, of exploring the world? Why were they willing to sacrifice flavor, freshness, variety and a strong connection to the natural world for safe, predictable, boring and homogenized food? I can't blame the fast food industry for being so eager to oblige them.
I may be leaving myself open to a charge of elitism here, but no, I don't want to become a vegetarian, and no, I don't think that wanting restaurants to serve the kind of fresh, tasty, wholesome and inexpensive food that I remember from my childhood makes me a snob.
By unquestionably accepting the corruption of their food, Americans have come to accept the corruption of just about everything else - low pay, out-of-reach health care, corporate corruption, irrational wars, tax breaks for the rich, and McPresidents of the United States.
Today there are thousands of fast food restaurants and millions of people who actually believe this is the way food should be. Is it such a great step to thinking that Americans will also accept a degraded form of something as complex, difficult and demanding as real democracy?
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.