Self delusion occurs among the most powerful men and in the most rarified places. Surely that would explain the reaction of McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson to a 9-year-old’s request.
At the annual shareholder meeting a few days ago, Hannah Robertson confronted the head of the fast food franchise, asking him why the company was using toys and cartoon characters to lure kids into eating food that isn’t good for them.
“If parents haven’t taught their kids about healthy eating, then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good,” the girl from British Columbia told the audience at Hamburger University in Illinois. “It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time.”
Thompson fired back, albeit politely: “First off, we don’t sell junk food, Hannah.”
As you might imagine, that whopper — and I don’t mean to confuse BK with Mickey-D, but there it is — garnered a good deal of attention, and for a legitimate reason. The lie was so blatant, the condescension so heavy, the choice of words so poor, that I laughed aloud when I first read about the exchange.
Thompson added that his kids ate at McDonalds and that the chain has added plenty of healthy food options to its menu. “And we are trying to sell even more,” he concluded.
Another not-so-little white lie. In an interview later, Thompson admitted that healthy options don’t sell well and that the chain is doing away with some of them in an effort to shift attention to its popular Dollar Menu items.
Oh, Ronald McDonald, you trickster, you.
This isn’t the first — and I suspect it won’t be the last — condemnation of the fast food chain. About eight years ago, independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock directed and starred in S uper Size Me, a documentary that tracked Spurlock for a 30-day period as he ate only McDonald’s food three times a day. The 32-year-old gained more than 24 pounds and his cholesterol level shot up to 230. It took him 14 months on a vegan diet to drop the weight.
Then in 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sued McDonald’s, claiming its food was helping to fuel the childhood obesity epidemic. The suit was thrown out, but the criticism has lingered. In fact, Hannah Robertson wasn’t just any 9-year-old. Her mother, Kia, has a small Canadian online business that promotes healthy cooking with your kids. The group Corporate Accountability, an international grassroots watchdog organization, contacted and flew the Robertsons to the shareholders meeting.
Some of the reaction to Hannah’s remarks has been unbelievably vicious. For telling the truth, she’s been called a “snotty little brat” and “a rug rat” by people commenting online.
Sadly, Hannah’s 15 minutes of fame will last only a few more seconds than usual, as social media fuels the story. Eventually, the roar will quiet, the children will beg for french fries and health advocates will continue to lobby and cajole the chain and others like it to develop a conscience. But change moves glacially.
In the meantime, let’s be honest with ourselves. Parents don’t choose McDonald’s because of its healthy options. They eat there because it’s quick, because it’s easy, because the kiddies won’t whine when a parent announces she’s driving to the golden arches.
Ultimately, however, Mom and Dad wield the true power. All they need is one singularly spectacular word: No.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.