May 24. In El Salvador, this is the day McDonald’s donates a certain percentage of their Big Mac sales to a local charity that helps give surgeries to children with heart problems. The organization is called Sana Mi Corazón, which translates to Cure My Heart (or My Healthy Heart, but I’m pretty sure it’s the first one). The organization of course is wonderful; according to their website, there are over a thousand children born in El Salvador each year with a serious congenital heart defect; children that would die or live a very debilitated life without a surgery. Sana Mi Corazón only chips away at the iceberg – they pay for an average of 100 of these surgeries each year. “Converting Big Macs into smiles,” is the slogan of their McDia Feliz campaign. This year, 2013, marks the third such event in El Salvador. In the previous two campaigns, McDonald’s sold over 23,000 Big Macs and donated about $72,000 to Sana Mi Corazón. Saving children with heart problems – who wouldn’t want to smile at that?
Meanwhile, a bit further north, a nine-year old named Hannah attends a McDonald’s shareholder meeting and questions the CEO as to why they arre trying to trick kids into eating food that everyone knows is unhealthy for them. The CEO responded by saying McDonald’s doesn’t sell junk food (how he said that with a straight face is beyond me), and that McDonald’s has fruits and vegetables on the menu, including apples as an option to go with Happy Meals, and cheaper salads. True. In 2004, McDonald’s added apples that customer’s could choose in place of fries with the Happy Meals; only 11% of the customers did so. Nevertheless, in 2011 they took that choice away; McDonald’s reduced the size of the french fries in half and added the apples. So now, unless you ask for otherwise, a Happy Meal will automatically come with a half-serving of fries and the apples. And your choice of milk or juice for a beverage. There are certainly salads on the menu; they range from 90-450 Calories (the average is 290 Cal.). And that does not include the dressing, which would be 50-190 Calories more.
In Britain, at the end of 2006, 25 of the McDonald’s franchises had to close their doors, something the then CEO of McDonald’s/Great Britain blamed on the false image they had been trying to project that they are healthy. Finally some honesty! Most people do not go to McDonald’s looking for health food, many go because it’s an occasional treat, many go because of the Dollar Menu, and many go just because they love the lab-created flavors. Salad sales are a small fraction of their burgers-and-fries sales (we can leave aside the argument that many salads rival those burgers in Caloric content). And to try to say that the foods with the highest sales, the foods that are marketed using cartoon characters and movie figures are NOT junk food…that is a lot to swallow. Junk food: food that is low in nutritional value, often highly processed or ready-prepared, and eaten instead of or in addition to well-balanced meals (freedictionary.com). Even a nine-year old can figure out that the majority of McDonald’s foods fit that definition to a T.
Later in the shareholder meeting, another child approached the microphone and listed all the ways McDonald’s helps children. If he were from El Salvador, he undoubtedly would have mentioned the McDia Feliz campaign. Although it may have appeared that this boy was defending McDonald’s, I think he actually helped support Hannah’s point: they are tricking kids into eating their unhealthy food. To put it in a more sophisticated way – they are building brand loyalty. Make addictive food, make people feel good about eating it, throw in some images of salads, and you have a customer for life. Unless you refuse to swallow one bit of their tripe. I am sure we can think of a better way to cure children’s heart defects in a way that doesn’t involved promoting adult heart disease.
Nutritional Facts for McDonald’s foods: http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/nutritionfacts.pdf