Currently browsing posts about: Fast food

Aug 1 2013

Front page news: fast food workers need better pay

Fast food workers striking for higher pay are on the front page of the New York Times today.   And about time too.

The salient quotes:

  • Our union’s members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve. We think it’s important to back low-wage workers…to make the case that the economy is creating jobs that people can’t support their families on.
  • In a lot of low-income neighborhoods, probably the largest employer is the fast-food industry, and we’re not going to reduce the level of poverty in those neighborhoods unless we try to get that industry to provide jobs that pay a living wage.
  • One Taco Bell worker…has about $900 a month to feed and clothe her three children. They receive food stamps.

Food stamps?  If fast food and restaurant workers need—and qualify for—food stamps to feed their families, this means that American taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of these industries.

And if you want a terrific introduction to what this issue is about, take a look at Saru Jayaraman’s  Behind the Kitchen Door (ILR Press/Cornell, 2013).

Jul 23 2013

Taco Bell giving up on kids meals and toys

USA Today announces that Taco Bell will no longer be offering kids meals with toys or, for that matter, kids meals at all.

How come?  ”The future of Taco Bell is not about kids meals,” says Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed. “This is about positioning the brand for Millennials.”

Kids meals bring parents into fast food places.  The article is full of interesting facts:

  • The industry sells more than 1.2 billion kids’s meal annually in the U.S.
  • Fast-food chains spend about $580 million annually marketing to children under age 12.
  • Of the $580 million, about $340 million is spent on producing and licensing toys.

Why is Taco Bell doing this?  Pressures about childhood obesity, of course, but also:

  • Kids meals account for only 0.05% of Taco Bell’s overall sales.
  • The non-kids’ meal will cost more.  The current meal costs about $2.84.  The a la carte meal will go to $3.17.

Will kids want to eat at Taco Bell with no toy as an incentive?  I can’t wait to find out.

Oct 18 2012

The New England Journal takes on the food industry

Last week’s New England Journal of Medicine weighs in with several commentaries and research articles.  Some of these were published earlier in online versions:

And this week, it has another on using tax strategies to promote public health.

It looks to me as though the health establishment is finally catching on to what obesity is really about and giving serious thought to what to do about it.  This is important work.

Sep 4 2012

Some reflections on Labor Day, 2012

Economists tell us that we are in a recovery period.  Jobs, yes.  But money?  No.

According to the report in the New York Times, the employment statistics reflect substantial increases in low-wage jobs but losses in better paying jobs.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Need a job?  Head for the kitchen.

But be careful.  According to another New York Times report, a new study finds that:

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage…Of workers who receive tips, 12 percent said their employer had stolen some of the tips.

Wouldn’t unions help?  They might, but take a look at the Ithaca Journal’s analysis of union membership.  New York, it seems leads the nation in the percentage of its workers who belong to labor unions: 24.1% in 2011.

But, this percentage:

glosses over the fact that while union representation has increased in the state’s public sector, it has fallen off dramatically in the private sector.

Last year, according to the unionstats.com website, 72.2 percent of the state’s public work force was unionized…But in the private sector, the unionization rate last year was 13.5 percent.

The easy answer for the decline in the private sector, analysts say, is the state’s loss of job slots in the manufacturing sector — 908,400 in 1991 to 458,000 in 2011 — which has long been organized labor’s bread and butter.

But there are other reasons for the resistance to private sector unionization:

Part is based on employers’ imagined need to increase their profitability and part has to do with a tremendous growth in law firms and consultants that specialize in breaking private unions.

No wonder more than 46 million Americans qualify for and receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

The food service industry exists on low-wage jobs.  Such jobs should be entry-level, not permanent.  They are not a solution to America’s economic problems and they are not good for social stability or American democracy.

What is the solution?  Wish I knew.

Any ideas?

Sep 14 2011

Clarification of yesterday’s post on using SNAP for fast food

As many of you have pointed out, the use of SNAP benefits in fast food restaurants is a state decision but one that is supposed to be limited to the elderly, disabled, and homeless (whether those limitations are adhered to in practice is another question).

This morning I received further clarification from Aaron Lavallee, Communications Coordinator in the USDA Office of Communications. Mr. Lavallee, whom I don’t think I’ve met, writes:

Marion,

I just read your post in the Atlantic and wanted to follow up with you with some information that can clarify some of the misinformation posted and to help bring accuracy to parts that may be misleading for your readers.

You probably know most of this but Restaurant Meal Program has been an option for states – state run, state contracted, state administered – since the 1977 Food Stamp Act. The decision to establish a restaurant meal program is made entirely at the state level.

Most importantly, the ONLY people who qualify are the elderly, disabled, and homeless, as this provision is intended to assist people who are unable to prepare meals at home or in a traditional kitchen setting. This key fact and requirement of the law is mentioned nowhere in your article and we can both agree that with that clarification this story changes drastically.

Since 1977 the decision to establish a restaurant meal program has been made by only a handful of states and because of this participation is very low.

As noted in your article, California, Arizona, and Michigan are operating State administered restaurant programs serving their elderly, homeless, and disabled populations. Rhode Island began a limited pilot restaurant program on August 1, 2011. However you also mention Florida without providing the facts to your readers. In 2009, Florida began operating a pilot program in one county and has a total of only 14 restaurants participating. Furthermore in Florida this option is ONLY available to the homeless. To date Florida has not expanded that pilot.

The original emails to you from readers Robyn and Will were inaccurate – this is not an option for any SNAP beneficiary which is what they are thinking.

Additionally you close by drawing a false conclusion – “In June 2011 alone, according to USDA, 45 million Americans received an average of $133 in benefits at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $6 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend on fast food.” This can’t be spent on fast food because it is not an option for the 45 million Americans on SNAP.

Your voice has been and will continue to be an important one when it comes to nutrition in America. Your opinion continues to add to the healthy dialogue on critical issues ranging from MyPlate to the school meal programs. Your insight and knowledge on these topics is beneficial to everyone working to improve the health and wellbeing of Americans.

This is a critical opportunity for those of us with the ability to communicate to do so actively and accurately.

Because of that I ask that you add a clarifying note to your blog post highlighting the facts and clarifying for your readers you’re the truth about this program.

Please know that I am glad to help provide any information I can. Tim Laskawy at Grist hit the nail on the head with his piece.

I apologize for not making the restrictions clear in my original post and I thank all of you and Mr. Lavallee for taking the trouble to file corrections.

I also should have said that the billions of dollars in SNAP benefits could be a lot to spend on fast food. 

SNAP must look like a honey pot to fast food and other companies that cannot wait to get their hands on some of those benefits.  That’s what Yum! (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc) is trying to do.

But make no mistake.  Yum! is not a social service agency concerned about feeding the elderly, disabled, or homeless.  Yum! wants to attract low-income people with SNAP money to spend to its fast food restaurants.

Aug 7 2011

McDonald’s Happy Meals healthier?

 My monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column is in answer to a question about the deeper meaning of the fuss over McDonald’s “healthier” Happy Meals.

Q: Wouldn’t it be the best form of activism to encourage people to buy McDonald’s slightly-less-bad-for-you Happy Meals? If the new formulation flops, do you really think McDonald’s will take more baby steps in the same direction? Aren’t you letting perfect be the enemy of the good?

A: The question, for those of you ignoring national media, refers to McDonald’s announcement that it plans to restructure its Happy Meals for kids by adding fruit, downsizing the fries and reducing calories by 20 percent and sodium by 15 percent.

Skeptic that I am, I took a look at McDonald’s lengthy press release. The company does not claim to be making healthier changes. It says it is offering customers improved nutrition choices. This is something quite different.

At issue is the default meal – the one that gets handed to you without your having to ask for anything. Plenty of research shows that although customers can request other options, most take the default. So the default is what counts.

McDonald’s says its new default will include a quarter cup of apple slices (how many slices can that be?), less sodium and 1 ounce less of french fries (thereby reducing calories and fat). These are steps in the right direction, but tiny baby steps.

The rest is up to you: hamburger, cheeseburger or McNuggets.

As for beverage, the press release says, “McDonald’s will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.”

This sounds great. “Automatically” makes me think the default Happy Meal will come with low-fat milk. No such luck. It’s up to you to choose from soda or low-fat chocolate or plain milk.

Want something healthy? You have to ask for it. And the meal still comes with a toy, although the meal isn’t healthy enough to qualify for a toy under the San Francisco’s nutrition standards, which are scheduled to go into effect in December.

The McNuggets meal meets the San Francisco standard for sodium, overall calories and for saturated fat – if you choose low-fat white milk. It fails the other criteria. Fat provides about 40 percent of the calories (the standard is 35 percent), and fruit misses the mark by 50 percent. The hamburger and cheeseburger meals fare worse. And even if french fries count as a vegetable, they don’t reach the three-quarter-cup standard. Sodas, of course, have too much sugar.

No toy for you, San Francisco kids.

So let’s get back to the underlying question: Isn’t perfect the enemy of the good? Aren’t baby steps like these in the right direction and, therefore, deserving of support?

I don’t think so. McDonald’s proposed changes are a reason to ask a different question: Is a better-for-you Happy Meal a good choice? Wouldn’t your child be better off eating something healthy, not just slightly healthier?

Couldn’t McDonald’s, the largest fast-food maker in the world, come up with something genuinely healthy that also tastes good?

“Better for you” is a marketing ploy, and McDonald’s must need help. Although its annual sales are $24 billion from its 14,000 outlets in the United States, Happy Meals have not been doing well.

Business analysts attribute declining sales since 2003 to the unsophisticated toys. Toys are the only reason kids want Happy Meals, but more parents are ordering adult meals and splitting them with the kids. But what if Happy Meals appear healthier?

Let’s be clear: McDonald’s is not a social service agency. It is a business. Its business interests come first. This means selling more food to more people more often, viewing food choice exclusively as a matter of personal responsibility and pretending that the company’s $1.3 billion annual marketing expenditure has no effect on consumer choice.

I suspect McDonald’s actions are attempts to appease Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign and perhaps to attract health-minded families to its outlets.

But surely the changes are also part of a calculated public relations effort to discourage other communities from enacting nutrition standards like those in San Francisco.

What McDonald’s actions make clear is the need for federal action to make it easier for people to make healthier choices for their kids. This means putting some curbs on marketing below-standard foods to kids and insisting that default kids menus be healthy.

If McDonald’s were serious about promoting kids’ health, it would offer default Happy Meals that meet San Francisco’s nutrition standards and advertise them to the hilt. Until the company does that, I’m reserving applause.

Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics,” among other books, and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at food@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page G – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Jul 26 2011

Thanks to emerging markets, U.S. food companies grow profits

The second quarter financial results are in and food companies are doing great, thanks to sales in developing countries. For example:

McDonald’s: Meatandpoultry.com reports (July 22) a 15% increase in income “boosted by strong sales throughout the world.”  Total revenue for the quarter was $6.9 billion, up 16% from $5.9 billion during the same quarter last year.

PepsiCo: Food Navigator reports an increase in net income to $1.88 billion up 18% from $1.6 billion last year. Despite “challenging conditions in the North American beverage market”… worldwide beverage and snacks businesses accounted for growth along with the acquisition of Russian dairy and juice company Wimm-Bill-Dann.  Sales in emerging markets increased 4% in beverages and 9% in snacks:  “We continue to enjoy robust top-line growth in key emerging markets,” said PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

Coca-Cola: Although its North American sales were sluggish, sales increased ”due to growth in emerging markets such as China, Russia and Mexico.”  Income rose 18% to $2.8 billion from $2.4 billion last year.  Sales rose 6% in Latin America, 5% in Europe, 7% in Eurasia and Africa, and 7 in the Pacific region.   Growth in China ws 24%, in Russia 17%, and in Mexico 7%.  In contrast, North American volume recorded a growth of a measly 1%.

Americans are turning away from these products.  We already have plenty of obesity.  Now it’s time to export it.

Jul 20 2011

Yes calories count, especially in big numbers

Center for Science in the Public Interest anounces its Xtreme Eating Awards and describes them in detail in the latest issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Xtreme Eating gives the numbers for calories, saturated, fat and sodium (nicely summarized by  FoodNavigator), but let’s just look at calories.

  • Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt  1,260
  • The Cheesecake Factory Farmhouse Cheeseburger 1,530 (1,900 with fries)
  • IHOP Bacon ’N Beef Cheeseburger 1,250 (plus 620 for onion rings)
  • Cold Stone Creamery PB&C Shake 2,010
  • Applebee’s Provolone-Stuffed Meatballs With Fettuccine  1,520
  • The Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake 1,540
  • The Steakhouse (Morton’s) Porterhouse Steak and mash 1,390 for the steak; 850 for the mash
  • Great Steak extra large King Fries 1,500

These, it should be evident, are substantial fractions of the 2,000 to 3,000 calories most people need in a day.  And these numbers don’t include the additional calories from drinks and anything else that’s added.

CSPI gets sarcastic: “Let’s get one thing clear: Restaurants have nothing to do with the nation’s obesity epidemic. It’s not their fault that two out of three adults and one out of three children are either overweight or obese.”

Are the numbers accurate?  My July 20 JAMA hasn’t arrived yet but I hear that it has an article saying that the calorie numbers posted on restaurant menu boards seem close enough.

If an item says it’s 1,500 calories, it probably is.  Best to share with friends.

 

 

 

 

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