A week ago it would have seemed impossible for corporate America to show a more bloated opinion of itself than the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO turning away customers larger than a size 10. However, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson had a super-sized misjudgment when he scolded a girl, age 9, telling her the whopper that his fast-food chain doesn’t sell “junk food.”
Whatever happened to “The customer’s always right”?
Before we even get into the he-said, she-said of this story, I want to remind corporate America that while kids’ brand loyalty to fast-food chains can be rented for toys, their grasp of reality is not for sale.
This is particularly true since parents, teachers, and even first lady Michelle Obama, have armed kids with enough truth about junk food to know healthy from unhealthy choices.
Mr. Thompson erred when he tried to convince an educated child that a Happy Meal isn’t bad for her. Also, he should be told that it’s hard to get most kids to eat soggy apple slices that taste more like the plastic bag they come in than nature’s wholesome goodness, particularly when that apple is processed by being peeled and sliced into a “treat” wedged into the box full of warm, salty fries and a burger.
My fridge always has packets of those apples that I can’t bring myself to waste, but which the kids and even I can’t stomach. My son Quin was fascinated that even the squirrels wouldn’t touch what he calls “UnHappy Apples.”
Here’s what happened at the McDonald’s shareholders meeting last week that is causing all the fuss. According to Business Insider, last week the company's shareholders’ meeting was attended by a 9-year-old girl named Hannah Robertson, whose mom is an activist for parents and kids working together to make healthier food choices.
Hannah helps her mom make videos on how to cook healthy foods in their Rainbow Kitchen. According to the website, which encourages kids and parents to partner in the kitchen, “kids need to eat five colors every day to be healthy: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue-Purple. The different bright colors signify the different phytonutrients that each fruit or vegetable contains, therefore we use the rainbow colors as a guide to getting a wide range of phytonutrients and nutrients in your children’s diet.”
It appears that Thompson tried to convince Hannah that rainbows are shades of brown with a smattering of red and green and a triple helping of toys and cartoon characters to distract from the lackluster “healthy” fare.
Hannah wasn’t having any of it. She read from a written statement her mom helped her prepare, according to The Raw Story:
“Something I don’t think is fair is when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters. If parents haven’t taught their kids about healthy eating, then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good.”
The statement also reads: “It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” the younger Robertson told Thompson, reading from the statement. “I make cooking videos with my mom that show kids that eating healthy can be fun and yummy. We teach them that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies makes kids healthier, smarter, and happier because that is the truth.”
According to The Raw Story, an alternative news site, instead of being gracious when a child was a guest at his corporate table, Thompson shot back, saying, “First of all, we don’t sell junk food, Hannah.”
Raise your hand if you know that using a child’s name in that kind of context is an intimidation tactic. It’s a way to single out someone and make them feel the burn. Parents do this by including a child’s middle name in a summons for retribution, i.e. “Avery Danger Suhay, why didn’t you call and tell me you’d be late?”
Business Insider reports that Thompson added, “My kids also eat McDonald’s [from] when they were about your size to my son, who is with us today, who was a little bit bigger – he was a football player. And also they cook with me at home. I love to cook. We cook lots of fruits and veggies at home.” He added that the company wants to sell more fruits and veggies and pointed out their salad selection and the inclusion of apple slices in Happy Meals.
The fact that Thompson’s son played football and ate junk food is not a point in favor of the junk food. Ask NFL player Kendall Wright, who shed 14 pounds by dropping his high school junk food diet, according to the Tennessee Titans website. Junk food is a popular term for any food low in essential nutrients and high in everything else, like refined carbohydrates (empty calories), saturate fats, and sodium. That is the majority of almost every fast food chain’s menu, and McDonald's is that rule and not the exception.
I can launch into the “Ketchup is not a vegetable” speech if need be. I would follow that golden oldie with the sermon on what’s “real,” which I may do anyway, given Business Insider's other Thompson quote: "We provide high quality food. We always have; it's real beef, it's real chicken, it's real tomatoes, real lettuce, real fruit, real smoothies, real dairy, real eggs, and we do it in a way that is also affordable."
This is Bill Cosby logic on a corporate scale with all the funny removed and served up by a spin doctor instead of a nutritionist.
Cosby famously joked that his children asked him for chocolate cake for breakfast and in his mind he “looked up” the ingredients for chocolate cake.
“Eggs! Eggs are in chocolate cake. And milk! Oh, goody! And wheat! That's nutrition!” He asks the child, "What do you want?" and the child replies, "Can I have some chocolate cake?" Cosby crows, "Chocolate cake coming up! SHEW! Sliced it for her and served it.”
All those “real” ingredients, however, do not add up to really healthy food for anyone.
I think that instead of dismissing the request by Hannah, McDonald's ought to hire her to design a Healthy Happy Meal that’s a tasty, affordable choice for kids.
Instead of selling kids on the idea that bad is good, corporations should invest in kids’ well-being in a more tangible way – or just own up to the fact that their food is as invisible on the food rainbow as the emperor’s new suit.