ColumnHow sustainable can fast food really be?
If you hadn’t heard the news, McDonald’s is having a go at sustainable beef. Quite frankly, those two things in the same sentence sounds… well… wrong. But that is exactly what McDonald’s is trying to do, vowing to begin purchasing “sustainable” beef in 2016.
But wait, is there such a thing as sustainable beef? In terms of a certification, no, there is not. So McDonald’s is looking to a wide group to help come up with that definition.
“Sustainable beef is not going to be defined by McDonald’s. The key here is to get sustainable beef defined by a wide stakeholder group and coalition. We needed a bigger critical mass,” Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president, global sustainability told GreenBiz in an in-depth interview (which if you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend checking out).
And this brings us to the question of sustainability and corporate responsibility.
We commend big business only because we live in a world of big business.
What I mean by this is that if a small, local restaurant had the same practices as McDonald’s – low employee wages, shitty food, wasteful packaging, plastic toys, meat from god-knows-where – we would never go there. In fact, we would immediately throw up our hands in an outrage and criticize them for being a negative impact on the community. And yet, because it’s a huge business, we say to ourselves “they are so big, it’s good they’re changing how they do business because it will really have an impact.”
You know what would really have an impact? If we didn’t give the McDonald’s and Burger Kings of the world our business in the first place. (Hello, this is the business that told their underpaid employees that they should “sing away their stress” after all, and if you don’t care about sustainability and health, the least you could care about is people making a decent wage.)
No matter what your definition of sustainability it is, we can all agree on the fact that it’s difficult, if not nearly impossible, to implement on a large scale. We live in a world with big business, and while it’s certainly better for us and the environment for those businesses to act in a more sustainable manner, we’re kidding ourselves if we give them kudos (and continue to frequent their locations) for doing it. Especially when it’s a big business with a pretty horrendous track record.
Which raises yet another question: when it comes to corporate responsibility, in my opinion, propping the public full of high fructose corn syrup, addictive additives and calories is probably on the more irresponsible side of things. Sure, responsible for business – you sell more burgers after all and that makes the CEO happy – but irresponsible in regards to public health.
I will tell you what’s sustainable:
Not eating at large fast food chains.
Supporting local, independent farmers.
Because if McDonald’s is looking to sell more “sustainable” beef, they know that doing so is a good business move. It’s not because they truly care about the planet and the environment – they just want to sell more burgers. The business move says that the market is demanding more sustainably produced products, and if the market demand is there, that implies that the consumer is educated, making choices about where their food comes from and we should have no problem switching to something else entirely. As consumers, that would be our responsible choice.
Why? Because the words sustainable and fast food don’t go together, no matter how many layers of greenwashing you paint the billboards with.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.