Many of my students walk in almost every day toting their McDonald’s bags with remnants of their breakfasts still in them. It’s not unusual for the hallway outside my classroom to smell like a fast food restaurant when students sit outside the classrooms before the bell rings, eating their breakfasts.
I primarily teach sophomores in high school, and this is also the year that they have to take health class. Once they watch the film “Super Size Me,” as they do every year, the wafting scents of McDonald’s change to crunches of apples or carrot sticks. This happens every year, without fail. When I walk out in the hallway and ask them if they just watched the film in health class, they always ask, surprised, “How did you know?!” My methods always remain mysterious.
It has become such a part of our culture in the United States that McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are synonymous with unhealthy food. This is so much so that it might surprise many to find out that, in China at least, McDonald’s is a healthy food option. According to NPR:
That’s because Chinese consumers trust American brands more than their own, says Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research, who studies Chinese consumer behavior. Rein says that in China, McDonald’s is seen as providing safe and wholesome food… Rein reassures us that Chinese consumers know that much of the McDonald’s menu is high in fat. And there’s no denying that obesity is a growing problem in the China, as it is worldwide.
But, “in a country that deals with food scandals seemingly on a daily basis, like melamine in milk, people are gravitating towards McDonald’s and other Western fast food brands because they trust them as being healthy,” said Rein.
While it might seem strange to us in the Western world that McDonald’s is being considered a healthier option, for many in China, scares and scandals in the food industry often leave them with no choice. McDonald’s is helping this image along with some careful marketing in China with ads showing vegetables with clear, clean rain falling over them. These images reinforce the idea that McDonald’s carries healthy food, despite the fact that obesity rates are climbing all over the world because of just such fast food.
It doesn’t stop with McDonald’s, either. Other Western food chains such as Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Burger King have all announced plans to invest in storefronts in China.
While marketing plays a huge role in what people choose to eat, and McDonald’s and other fast food chains throw more money than we can count into marketing campaigns to keep their drive-thru lines long, the root of the issue is that, for many, fresh food isn’t an option, either because it is unsafe or too expensive. Even in the United States, many people live in food deserts, or areas where fresh produce isn’t readily available. Until we solve these problems, the truth is that, for many, fast food might be the only option for putting food on the table.
Photo Credit: dave_mcmt
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