The Los Angeles Times today (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-1102-mcrib-
20101102,0,381391.story) had a short article in the business section about McDonald’s plans to do a six week return run at all its locations for the McRib sandwich – the 500 calorie (including 240 calories from fat), nearly 50% of the daily intake for saturated fat, and 980 milligrams of sodium; all wrapped up as a pork patty molded into the form of a rib slab (without the bone) and a hoagie-style McDonald’s bun, plus the McDonald’s sauce. The headline on the jump page of the Times story captured the gist of the article – “Forget Nutrition, Fans Say – the McRib is back.” “You might be surprised at how seriously we take your child’s nutritional needs,” McDonald’s declares on its web site, an ironic counterpoint to the McRib nutritional details.
A food justice issue? High calorie, high fat, high sodium fast food, led by items like the McRib, are a huge food justice concern, targeting youth, poor people, and ultimately everyone who has access to the fast food outlets, which are nearly everywhere. But is the McRib just a nutrition and health issue? For food justice advocates some other issues should come into play:
– Where does McDonald’s source the pork from? The McDonald’s web site has only brief information about its suppliers, and nothing about pork. Given McDonald’s impact on suppliers and producers of some of its other items like potatoes and chicken (the McDonald’s French fry upended small potato farmers and reduced potato variety while the Chicken McNuggett laid the groundwork for industrial chicken production), it’s re-entry into the pork production arena likely bodes ill for the small pork producers and the environmental and labor hazards and abuses that have come to mark industrial pork production. These are food justice issues that groups like the National Family Farm Coalition and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center have highlighted.
– What chemicals and other ingredients go into the molding of the pork patty into the rib look alike? And where do those ingredients come from? The fast food industry and junk food producers have become experts in creating products that are as much chemical mash as actual food. How about a more transparent discussion of how the patty becomes the self-styled rib?
– What are the labor and environmental conditions for its suppliers? The huge fast food chains seek to distance themselves from the labor abuses and environmental hazards associated with the production of their various products and product sources by arguing that it’s the suppliers and not themselves who should be held accountable. But, as the campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has demonstrated, those who are at the end point of the supply chain are an appropriate target for such accountability.
You might get a fat, salt, and calorie overload from the McRib, but there might also be a lot more that’s at stake.