Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Fast Food Vindication: The Story You Haven't Been Told

Author: Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD
Type: e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: J. Murray Press
Publication Date: October 4, 2012
First Line: "Do you eat at fast food restaurants?"

Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and J. Murray Press for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher's DescriptionFor years, dozens of books, documentaries, and magazine articles have targeted the fast food industry as the cause for many of society’s ills, ranging from the obesity epidemic to the proliferation of dead-end jobs. Now, hospital dietitian Lisa Johansen makes the bold case that the fast food industry is actually a positive force in society.

Johansen takes the reader from the industry’s scrappy, entrepreneurial beginnings to its emergence as a global business generating hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Far from a blight on society, the fast food industry has distinguished itself by providing a product that meets high standards of quality and safety, often healthier than meals served at home and in sit-down restaurants. The myth of the “McJob” is debunked by true-life cases of corporate titans who succeeded by virtue of the fast-food chains’ practice of promoting from within. And, relying on her years of counseling patients at one of the nation’s largest health networks, Johansen shows the reader just how easily fast food can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle.

Lively and informative, FAST FOOD VINDICATION destroys the media myths and paints the true picture of an industry that touches the lives of millions.

My Thoughts:  My devoted blog followers know that normally I'm not an avid reader of non-fiction.  It's not that I don't care for the genre but if I'm going to read a non-fiction book I have to really be interested in the topic. 

When I saw this book on NetGalley with its giant burger on the front it definitely got my attention.  Sure, I do love me a good burger but this book's unique take on fast food piqued my interest for other reasons. 

Before I review this book I want to inform you that I have a lot of experience and connections with McDonald's Canada.  Without divulging too much information about me (I like to keep my life private and mysterious here on the blog -- you know, like Batman), I want to let you know that my family is very invested in McDonald's.  Like, 'Big Mac sauce pretty much runs through my veins' invested.  My father is a successful Canadian McDonald's franchisee whom I've worked for in the past as crew and management and I have recently gone back to work for him.  Yup, I'm a McKid.  And I'm lovin' it.  I also met my husband while working at McDonald's and I'm very proud to be associated with this corporation.

Note: To the followers who personally know my family and I please refrain from mentioning personal facts about myself and/or my family, our location in Ontario and our specific connection to McDonald's in order to keep my private life just that, private.  Thanks.

I'm not the only one with an admittedly close connection to McDonald's.  Ms Tillenger Johansen, the author of this book, also has a long history with McDonald's in the US and it's her connection to the fast food giant as well as her new career as a registered dietician that really drew me to this book.  I found it interesting that she can see both sides of the issue and can back up her statements with experience and knowledge.

There were two topics in this book that I was really drawn to.  First, how McDonald's (and fast food in general) has been denigrated in the press regarding their perceived negative influence on society, specifically the increase in obesity.  Second, for obvious personal reasons, how fast food jobs are viewed as the epitome of a 'dead end' job.

There is no question that there is an obesity epidemic in North America.  The author clearly proves this fact by providing statistics which are jaw-dropping.
  • approximately two-thirds of adults 20 years and older in the USA are overweight or obese
  • it's projected that 42% of Americans could be obese by the year 2030.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by the year 2015 (in a mere two years) there will be more than 2 billion overweight people around the world.
Those statistics are shocking and saddening. 

Some people are adamant that the fast food industry is the main culprit.  But is that a fair and accurate statement?  The author advises the reader to take a wider look at the issue.  By focusing on fast food as the only culprit are we then minimizing or totally ignoring the other issues (as well as possible solutions) that affect the health and weight of North Americans?

No one is going to argue that fast food doesn't provide some high calorie snacks and meals.  But they also have healthier choices.  Ms Tillinger Johansen points out that the onus of what people eat should be put squarely on the individual.  No one forces us to eat deep-fried chicken at KFC or a Whopper at Burger King instead of choosing a grilled chicken snack wrap with a side salad with low calorie dressing.  It's time people took control and responsibility for what they eat and how they care for their bodies.
It's not only specific meals that are the issue but the size of those meals. 
One of the things that I'm always shocked about when I visit some sit-down restaurants (especially in the US) are their huge servings. I'm talking 'I couldn't eat that meal in two sittings' kind of huge.  This fact was never more apparent than when we were visiting Fort Myers, FL this past February and my 11 year old son ordered a hot dog.  When it came to the table it was literally a two foot hot dog on a platter surrounded by a pile of wedge fries! Unfortunately excessively large serving sizes have become the norm and it has to take its fair share of the blame for obesity in adults and children alike. 

Many people believe that eating at a sit-down restaurant is a better and healthier choice.  But is it?  The author reminds the reader that their assumption may not be accurate.  In a sit-down restaurant they do not have as strict portion sizes and often suggest 'add-ons'.  For example, your server will often ask if you'd like to start with an appetizer.  Some restaurants provide baskets of bread and unlimited salad as well as refilling your drinks (often without prompting).  The meal is often followed by the server providing dessert suggestions to finish off their already large meal.  These additions to your meal can really add up when it comes to calories and fat content.

Do you think a meal salad at a sit down restaurant has lower fat and calories than a Big Mac? You may want to read the nutritional statements for that salad first. When you look at the fat content of that salad sometimes you're getting much more fat that you bargained for.  Not so healthy, so buyer beware!! My point? All you have to do is read the nutritional information about what you're putting on your fork to perhaps make you rethink what you choose to eat.

Now let's get to one of my biggest pet peeves -- the assumption that fast food industry perpetrates dead end jobs.  The author blows this claim out of the water as she illustrates how many of the top McDonald's executives began their successful careers at the bottom of the 'food chain' by serving customers and making burgers. 

I contacted McDonald's Canada head office for some Canadian stats to back up this author's claim.  McDonald's Canada staunchly believes in promoting from within -- 90 percent of restaurant managers and 50 percent of franchisees began in entry-level positions.  It's this firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of all positions within a restaurant that, I believe, help give those executives a better understanding and respect for the people who carry out the day-to-day operations.  More than 65 percent of McDonald's Canada's corporate staff began in crew level positions, including McDonald's Canada President and CEO John Betts who began his career 40 years ago as a crew person.

“I know first-hand what it’s like to start your first job working in the kitchen at McDonald’s. That’s how I got my start. It’s where I learned about teamwork and the importance of listening to customers’needs,” says Betts. “I regularly speak to students at colleges and universities, and I often share my story of how I went from crew to boardroom because I want young people to know they can find real opportunities to learn, grow and develop at McDonald’s. I take great pride in the fact that this company offers young people their first job opportunity. We set them up on the path to success whether they stay with us for a year or, like me, an entire career.”  [Source: 'McDonald's® Set To Serve Up More Than 6,000 Jobs in Canada on National Hiring Day' (McDonald's Media Relations)]

This has got to say something about the quality and dedication of the corporation towards encouraging and nurturing their staff to succeed within the company.  This is also evident if you visit their famous Hamburger University in Chicago where they host over 5,000 students every year in their 130,000 square foot facility where graduates obtain a 'Degree in Hamburgology'.  The quality of their training is so high that it's been deemed eligible for certain college credits in the USA and Britain.

"If you're going to take money out of a community, give something back. "
-- Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's

Another topic that I loved in this book showcased how some of these fast food corporations give back to their communities.  Whether it's Dave Thomas of Wendy's who set up his 'Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption' or Taco Bell's association with the 'Boys and Girls Clubs of America' the author shows how various fast food chains give back.    

The author shows how McDonald's gives back in their own way.  Not only are they one of the biggest employers of youth but they have provided more than $2 million in employee scholarships for post-secondary education since 1985. 

But, by far, the biggest way McDonald's gives back to its communities is through their Ronald McDonald Houses.  I couldn't help but feel proud of the commitment McDonald's has to helping care for the families of sick children by providing these Houses near children's hospitals.  My family has provided meals to our local RMH in the past and the feeling you get when you enter a Ronald McDonald House is that of a home. It's full of people who care and who want these families to focus all their energy on their sick child. The food, shelter and support is provided for whatever amount of money they can afford ... and is often provided free of charge.  My point? Fast food isn't all about making burgers and the bottom line.

Overall I enjoyed this book and found it very informative even though many of the examples given were American (I had never heard of some of the American fast food chains mentioned). I'm hoping that this book will change people's view of the fast food industry as a negative force and that it will help people think about what they're eating and make healthier choices whether they're eating at home or at a restaurant. 

The book is filled with a lot of information but readers are provided with extra resources at the end of the book to help them navigate through all of the information.  Ms Tillenger Johansen helps her readers understand that with knowledge and self-discipline it's not difficult to incorporate nutritious fast food items occasionally into our daily, healthy lifestyles.

I came away from reading this book with a renewed desire to keep in mind what foods I make and order for my family whether we're at home or in a restaurant. It has also reminded me why I'm proud to be associated with the Golden Arches. I am proud of the corporation for what it stands for, how it encourages it's employees to succeed and how it helps within individual communities.

This was an enlightening read.  Recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: 'McDonald's® Set To Serve Up More Than 6,000 Jobs in Canada on National Hiring Day' (McDonald's Media Relations)

Note: Special thanks to McDonald's Canada Media Relations for providing me with some of the McDonald's Canada facts and stats.

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