Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cheap and Easy.....and Addictive

In 2008, McDonalds boasted a net profit for the full year totaling 4.3 billion dollars, compared with 2.3 billion in 2007. In this tanking economy, the fast food giant certainly came out on top. I’m not saying I am surprised or don’t understand. In fact, I like Shamrock Shakes and cheeseburgers just as much as (or more than) the next guy. The problem is that we have enough problems making fresh produce and healthy foods available and desirable to all Americans even without the economic crisis. With the crisis, we’re sliding backwards because it is cheaper and easier to eat out than to make dinner at home.

I can tell you how many calories are in a cheeseburger, a milkshake, fries, etc. But the problem with McDonalds is that it’s not just about the calorically dense, nutritionally void foods. It’s about the bad things in the food that cause higher risk for disease. Eaten once in a while, a cheeseburger won’t kill you. Consuming this type of food on a regular basis is a different story. Pair that burger with a Diet Coke and you’re all set!

In 2003, I went through a particularly stressful time, and I often opted to drive through McDonalds instead of making dinner. I cannot describe to you how comforting this was to me. McDonalds cheeseburgers still make me temporarily happy when I’m not. I didn’t stick with this habit for too long, but I do feel slightly guilty that I got my mom started as well. She had essentially never eaten at McDonalds---but I still have visions of the two of us picnicking on Matthew’s bedroom floor with cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes (her sans the milkshake if she couldn’t dig a Lactaid pill out of her purse---although I’m not sure there’s actually dairy in a McD’s shake!). Around that time, Mom (Susan) was working two nights a week at the Lake Street Plaza Theatres, and every time she worked, she and the other girls would run across the street and get food from McDonalds.

Fast forward a year and a half---Susan was working out daily and in great shape, and also eating either a cheeseburger or a breakfast sandwich from McD’s every single day. She began to notice that if she didn’t have it by 7pm, she would have a headache. This went on for more than 6 months, and even when she scaled back, she still never lost the craving for that delicious little crack-like burger. In fact, when I asked her if I could tell this story, she said she has been trying to stay away from there, but still thinks it could be a once-a-week indulgence (and if you know Susan, you know she is more of the "eat to live" rather than "live to eat" type).

What in McDonald’s food is so addictive? Is it the “edible” grade beef parts? The plastic-y cheese food? The mold-resistant bun? I’m not really sure, but the point is that it is actually addictive. Have you seen the movie SuperSize Me? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a documentary—but it’s not boring, I promise. Of course, it’s not natural for a person to eat only at McDonalds, but the results of Morgan Spurlock’s experiment can be viewed as a sort of fast-forward on the real-life consequences of eating this food regularly. Check it out. http://www.moviesfoundonline.com/super_size_me.php

True, I love the McDonalds cheeseburger in all its chemically artificial goodness. But lately, I eat one about once a year. The bottom line is that making economic decisions that sacrifice your health and well-being is widely accepted in our culture. I don’t have an answer about how to change this at a cultural level---but I know if you choose to make a difference in your own habits, you can improve your health and still not break the bank. How to do this is another story, but I’ll provide ideas for that soon.

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