other day, my wife and I took our son to a McDonald’s in Brooklyn. When I
asked the clerk to “super-size” our meal, she told me McDonald’s no longer
super-sized meals. How could I have forgotten?! The chain started phasing
out the practice in January. The biggest conventional size for fries and
soda offered at the restaurant we visited is now “medium.” For an additional
40 cents, one can get a “large.”
I paid the forty cents, and also bought three little chicken sandwiches from
the “dollar menu.” I didn’t need three sandwiches, but felt silly ordering
just one. Had I been able to super-size a large serving of fries, I might
not have ordered any of the sandwiches. In getting our options limited, the
advocates didn’t do anything for my family.
I’m not even a fan of McDonald’s, or of fast food in general, but my skinny,
otherwise finicky four-year-old loves their french fries.
According to a March 3 Associated Press report, the phase-out “comes
as the world's largest restaurant company, and fast-food chains in general,
are under growing public pressure to give consumers healthier food options
in a nation that has suddenly become aware of its bulging waistline and the
health dangers that come with it.”
Had customers protested that McDonald’s was offering them too much food,
too much value for their money, and making them fat? Not at all. The anti-McDonald’s
campaign was a partnership of self-appointed consumer advocates, politically
correct Big Media, and unscrupulous attorneys, replete with a frivolous lawsuit
charging the fast-food giant with having “caused” customers’ obesity. Consumers
had no say in the matter.
Fortunately, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet dismissed the lawsuit
against McDonald’s in January, 2003, and dismissed a revised civil action
in September. Plaintiffs may not refile.
Imagine if Judge Sweet had permitted the lawsuit to go forward. The plaintiffs’
attorneys would have placed ads in newspapers and on TV, trolling for clients
in a class action suit. Millions of people would have responded, and a jury
trial might have bankrupted the chain (whether directly, through paying a
billion-dollar judgment, or through having to raise prices so high, to pay
the judgment, that its customers deserted it). Then the firm of Lawyers,
Activists, Media & Co. would have repeated the process with another fast
food chain. And so on. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of people would
have been thrown out of work, and consumers would be forced to grab their
food on the run from purveyors working out of unsanitary street carts, or
go hungry. Could someone please tell me how consumers would be helped by
In socialist aka liberal circles, “consumerism” is a dirty word, evoking
images of ordinary people who want certain things, and businesses who provide
them at a price consumer and provider alike find agreeable, without either
asking for socialists’ permission. Not that socialists are against getting
what they want. In an essay published in the Utne Reader during the early
1990s, an environmentalist author was concerned that ordinary people were
exhausting the earth’s resources with purchases of items like laptop computers.
Without any hint of irony, the author admitted that he had used a laptop
to write his essay. In the socialist worldview, it’s the “little people”
who may not satisfy their needs.
There are legitimate consumer advocates, e.g., reporters who warn us about
scams. Legitimate consumer advocates expand people’s choices; phony advocates
limit them. But McDonald’s wasn’t scamming anyone or forcing food on anyone;
it was providing value to its customers. And the advocates, lawyers, and
alleged journalists who were attacking McDonald’s were the kind of people
who wouldn’t be caught dead inside one.
The funny thing is, when I came to New York in 1985, after five years abroad,
what struck me about its expensive restaurants was that they routinely shortchanged
customers. An overpriced plate would typically hold a tiny portion, a large
garnish whose only purpose was to take up space, and still show a lot of
bare porcelain. And then there’s the lousy service. After a few such experiences,
I stopped going to fancy eateries (unless I was a guest), and found cheaper,
Dominican and Chinese places with no waiting lists, and cheap, tasty, filling
chow that didn’t burn a hole in my wallet. (Immigrant restaurant owners don’t
have deep enough pockets to merit consumer advocates’ “concern,” and it is
politically incorrect for white activists to sue non-white immigrants.)
A medical writer noted recently in the New York Post that she was
initially supportive of the “consumer advocates” who were suing tobacco companies
for “causing” people’s lung cancer, until she realized that like the people
attacking gun manufacturers and the fast food industry, they weren’t concerned
with consumer safety, but with bankrupting corporations. They were socialists
who hated the idea of anyone making a profit – except, that is, for the lawyers
and clients shaking down the corporations. As the activists at the anti-McDonald’s
Web site McSpotlight say, “There is a much more fundamental problem than Big Macs and French Fries: capitalism.”
Now, I happen to be fat. It’s not that I eat too much, it’s just my metabolism.
(Remember that line?) No, not really. I eat too much, and spend my days hunkered
over a hot word processor or tending a hot stove.
And I am not alone. Reportedly, over 30 percent of American adults share
my “metabolic” problem. Reporters tell us all the time, that we Americans
exercise too little.
When I lived in West Germany (1980-85), I saw Germans routinely eating fatty
food like blood sausage who were not fitness-crazed, yet who were typically
trimmer than their American counterparts. And my reed-thin, Trinidadian father-in-law
hasn’t exercised since childhood. He never had the time or the need for it.
Like the Germans, he was always too busy, working at arduous physical labor,
first in oil fields, and for over thirty years thereafter, driving a truck
for 11 hours a day, all in the 85-92 degree, year-round Trinidadian heat.
Most Trinidadian men are similarly busy today. For Americans, calories may
be a curse, but for most of the world they still represent the basic unit
of energy contained in food.
Americans got fat due to a revolutionary breakthrough. For almost all of
human history, and in most of the world to this day, man has had to earn
his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. But over the past forty or so years,
America has arrived at a point where few Americans have to work at strenuous,
physical labor. Hence, the proper target of any consumer lawsuit for obesity
is progress itself.
But when political activists, unscrupulous attorneys, and alleged journalists
can break the connection between consumers and businesses, and impose their
own agenda, the clock is moving backwards.
New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix has written for Toogood Reports, Middle American News, the New York Post, Daily News, American Enterprise, Insight, Chronicles, Newsday and many other publications. His recent work is collected at The Critical Critic.
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