Tag Archive | Fast Food

SPECIAL MAY DAY EDITION | Volume One: Fast Food

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Daniel X. O’Neil

The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back
Sarah Kendzior | Medium.com

At 24, Patrick is a fast food veteran. Over the past eight years, he has worked at seven different franchises. He started out at America’s Incredible Pizza Company at the NASCAR Speedpark in St. Louis, Missouri, the city where he grew up and still lives. He thought a fast food job would keep him on his feet while he figured out his life. He did not know it would become his life. Now he is captive to the hustle, always moving and going nowhere.

“You pick up something easy to get stable,” he says. “And on your quest to get stable, you end up getting stuck. You either fall or you stay where you are. Or you fall staying where you are.”

How One Protest Turned Into a Fast-Food-Worker Movement
Kristina Bravo | TakePart | 4 April 2014

“So we started talking to workers at fast-food places and asking them if they wanted to organize for higher pay,” New York Communities for Change’s Jonathan Westin said in an emailed statement. “There was not a worker we talked to who wouldn’t sign onto the campaign.”

The movement became known as Fast Food Forward. It held its first citywide protest in 2012, and the movement has since spread across the country. The federal minimum wage still stagnates at $7.25 per hour, a rate that hasn’t budged since 2009. But a lot of progress has been made on the state level. As of Jan. 1, 2014, twenty-one states exceed the federal minimum wage; others are expected to follow suit. Here’s a look back at the American fast-food workers’ fight for livable pay.

Fast-Food CEOs Make 1,200 Times As Much As One of Their Workers—and They Want to Keep It That Way
Zoë Carpenter | The Nation | 24 April 2014

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents Yum! and other restaurant companies, is expected to launch a lobbying blitz in Washington next week against a minimum wage increase. For years the restaurant industry has fought to keep the wage floor low, all while rewarding its CEOs with increasingly large pay packages. As a result, the food industry is now the most unequal sector in the American economy. Thanks to a tax loophole that encourages companies to raise “performance pay” for executives, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the imbalance.

While inequality between low-level workers and CEOs manifests in all areas of the economy, a new report from Demos concludes that the gap within the food industry is exceptional. Between 2009 and 2012 the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in food services and accommodation was about twice as large as most other sectors. In 2012, fast-food CEOs earned 1,200 times as much as the average employee.

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Daniel X. O’Neil
Fast Food Pulls a Fast One
Michael Winship | BillMoyers.com | 29 April 2014

Maybe you’ve even read about the wage theft lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s and Taco Bell, or the recent settlements in New York State against McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza that have led to payments to employees of more than $2 million.

But, much in the way that Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays out the hard data backing up everything we’ve believed about the reality of vast income inequality in America, a trio of new reports confirms with solid statistics what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — that those in charge are gobbling up the profits voraciously while their workers are forced into public assistance. What’s more, our tax dollars are subsidizing both the fast-food poor who need the help and the fast-food rich who don’t.

First, a recent data brief from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) notes, “Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.” In other words, as The New York Times more succinctly put it, “The poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones.”

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers
Annalyn Kurtz | CNN Money | 1 May 2014

McDonald’s gets a lot of bad press for its low pay. But there’s an even bigger offender when it comes to fast food companies underpaying their employees: Subway.

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Hamburgled: Nine Out Of Ten Fast Food Workers Have Experienced Wage Theft
Alan Pyke | Think Progress | 2 April 2014

A new poll finds that 89 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they experience wage theft. That means that nine out of every ten fast food workers doesn’t get the pay they earned, according Hart Research Associates’ findings. The most common violation, workers report, is off-the-clock work. About a quarter of those surveyed had worked over 40 hours in a week on some occasions, and half of that group said they didn’t get overtime pay for those hours.

The poll coincides with testimonials from two former McDonald’s managers who say these sorts of illegal labor practices were routine in their stores for years.

Americans In Cars, Eating Badly

Marion Nestle flags a chart from the USDA’s Economic Research Service:
What Americans Are Eating (and not eating) photo americansareeating_zps11ff6966.png

Measured against the Dietary Guidelines recommendations, two recent ERS studies find that consumers are underspending on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and overspending on refined grains, fats, sweets, and convenience foods in the grocery store. Food choices when eating away from home are even more of a nutritional concern. Policies that promote healthy foods and make them easier to identify on store shelves and in restaurants may expand both demand for and supply of healthy food options.

This put me in mind of a number of recent articles and a debate from last year.

Most recently NPR did a piece on how NAFTA impacted American’s eating habits.

Walk through the produce section of your supermarket and you’ll see things you’d never have seen years ago — like fresh raspberries or green beans in the dead of winter. Much of that produce comes from Mexico, and it’s the result of the North American Free Trade Agreement — NAFTA — which took effect 20 years ago this month.

. . . Of course, for consumers fully committed to buying local, that also means buying only what’s in season.

“I don’t have much fruit in the winter — bluntly,” says Joan Gussow, a nutritionist and author who has been the “matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement.”

Gussow eats mostly dried fruit in winter and whatever vegetables grow near her home in New York’s Hudson Valley. By selling fruits and vegetables bred to travel long distances, she says, NAFTA has helped train people to value convenience over flavor.

“It’s meant that people don’t know anything about where their food comes from, and they don’t know anything about seasons,” Gussow says. “And so they really have settled — as they have with tomatoes — for something that is really like a giant orange golf ball.”

Jaime Chamberlain disagrees. He says the produce industry has made great strides in packaging and shipping more flavorful fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Don’t knock availability — celebrate it, he says.

“We should be teaching our children that nowadays, you’re able to enjoy strawberries even though you’re in the dead of winter in January,” he says.

I have loads of respect for Joan Dye Gussow (and her books on my bookshelves), but given the gap between what we should be eating and what we are eating it’s hard for me to be too critical of anything that makes fresh produce more available and more affordable.

One weaknesses I see in food movement (everywhere, really) is the tendency of people to universalize their own strengths, values, temperament, experience, etc. It’s nice that Joan Gussow can put gardening and cooking at the center of her priorities. That isn’t so easy for others.

In theory, farmers should be poster children for the locavore movement. They have fridges and fields (or home gardens, in the case of some larger farms) stuffed with gorgeous produce. But such proximity to local food does not automatically translate to the plate. The evidence is perhaps most extreme in California’s Central Valley, where a startling 80 percent of farm laborers – many of whom are recent immigrants living in low-income communities – are obese. But the disconnect impacts farmers of all kinds.

. . . Rachel Kaplan, 35, of Powisset Farm, a CSA farm in Massachusetts, shares a similar sentiment. “At the height of the season, it is a feat in and of itself to sustain the energy to work let alone come home and start preparing food.” Even more to the point, she adds: “A lot of the times cooking comes at the expense of sleep.”

Nick Hagen, 28, a fifth-generation farmer at Hagen Farm in North Dakota, says eating in the fields also poses logistical challenges. “Throughout our wheat or sugar beet harvests, there is no time to stop for lunch. I typically have one hand on the tractor’s steering wheel all day, and fish around in my lunch box with the other.” Hagen ends up eating a lot of one-palm foods like peeled hardboiled eggs and plain beans packaged in a container he can “hold and almost drink.” Apples are in; oranges, which need to be peeled, are out. “I can occasionally manage a banana,” he said.

Hagen, who has a gluten intolerance that forces him to be creative about his in-field meals, manages to eat fairly healthily, if not excitingly. But for many farmers, this lack of time translates into less-than-ideal food choices. “You see a lot of running to the gas station for chips, soda and coffee, which helps farmers stay awake during the crazy hours,” Hagen says.

Bryan Austin, 53 of Dover Farm in Massachusetts, agrees. “Our bodies need energy and modern foods like potato chips (fat), coffee (caffeine) and cakes (glucose) give instant energy,” he says. “Last year, I ate store muffins for breakfast, drank three cups of coffee a day and always had some candy as a snack – awful!” Bryn Bird, 29, a second-generation farmer at Bird’s Haven Farms in Ohio, says, “The summer is the most unhealthy time for most of the farmers I am social with,” she said. “My family lives on pizza all summer.”

So much for the virtues of growing your own food. Farmers working long, frantic hours can’t find the time to cook, never mind such foodie pastimes as pickling and canning. How can we expect our high achieving professional friends or two job juggling low income friends to find the time to do well planned grocery shopping, to cook, to do dishes, clean the kitchen and manage the composting produce in their crisper drawers?

I love cooking. I get great pleasure from it. I love teaching people to cook. I happen to have an amateur interest in nutrition. But I can’t and don’t expect my priorities and pleasures to be universal. I certainly don’t expect anyone to extrapolate public health policy from the idiosyncrasies of my priorities and pleasures.

That’s why last summer’s essay by David Freedman “How Junk Food Can End Obesity” was such a missed opportunity. The piece inspired a ton of conversation, almost none of it was particularly productive.

The problems with Freedman’s piece were legion.

The linkbait headline inspired a counter headline, “Bunk About Junk Food“, from David Katz MD that implied that he had a major bone to pick. He didn’t. Swapping the phrase “Convenience Food” for “Junk Food” would have likely settled the matter for Katz. Freedman has an anachronistic fear of fat that completely sidetracked Tom Philpott’s critique. Meanwhile, Philpott’s agreement with the central premise was buried at the end and only briefly mentioned. Freedman took his contrarianism to absurd levels. He claimed that Pollanites are hurting Big Food’s efforts to market better options by not pitching in and BUYING those products. He set up a ridiculous straw man by conflating Pollanism with the most brain dead, consumerist products sold by Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. That inspired a well deserved, but counter productive backlash.

Stripped down to it’s essentials, Freedman’s case is hard to argue against. Katz characterizes Freedman’s hypothesis this way: “We can improve diet and health using the very foods we already know and love.” I would put it another. Do you believe that lowering the sugar, refined carbs, while increasing the fiber and nutrients by significant levels in convenience and fast foods could move the needle on health outcomes for Americans? This is the essence of what makes a successful public health intervention. Small, impactful, widely adopted changes. Emphasis on widely adopted.

Here is Katz:

We can, indeed, have better chips. We can have better cookies, crackers, cereals, and pasta sauces. If they are only a tiny bit better, it won’t matter much. But if they are meaningfully better, the net effect across the expanse of food choices we make can add up to something very meaningful indeed — including, as noted, a much reduced risk for obesity, chronic disease, or premature death. This, I think, is what Mr. Freedman meant to say.

This is where I see a beautiful opportunity in the place of potentially ugly and unproductive discord. We will always eat. Unlike tobacco companies, which can disappear entirely, food companies of one kind or another are here to stay. And so they will either be part of the solution, or part of the problem.

Mr. Freedman is saying — and I agree — that they can be part of the solution by providing us better choices. But for that to matter, they will need to be truly better choices — not another bait-and-fake. We’ve had more than enough of products that boast of some nutritional virtue on the front, while revealing the far homelier whole truth only in fine print.

Here is Philpott:

I don’t object to a kinder, gentler form of corporate fast food—I would applaud the the industry if it made a serious push to ditch its old “supersize” profit model and promote less caloric foods.

But Philpott can’t help but continue:

But the fact remains that highly processed diets have a history of ruining people’s health, and “real food” diets have the opposite track record. They may yet prove to be the best strategy we have for addressing our mounting diet-related health troubles. And hey, real food can be pretty convenient, too—check out Bittman’s old Minimalist column. And fast food itself has a history that long predates its takeover by corporations.

I don’t disagree with this so much as groan at the predictability of the sentiment and its irrelevance for people who don’t need more recipes. They need better frozen dinners, grab and go meals and better burgers.

Sadly, Freedman’s contrarianism meant that much was written about what he got wrong. People barely touched on what he got right. Instead of extending the conversation he was trying to start, it became all about the fights he had picked. Unsurprisingly, when Mark Bittman came back with approving reports of new and improved fast food, he didn’t catch nearly as much grief. Part of that was being a member of the tribe in good standing, but good manners help.

Where to go with the problem Freedman poses? Let’s come back to the chart that we started with. Aside from our out of control sugar consumption, the biggest problems the chart shows are how few vegetables we are eating, followed by the sugar we are over eating.

Convenience and fast foods are a less than ideal vehicle for increasing vegetable consumption. Frozen dinners aren’t so hard, but the central issue is grab and go foods. What I would love to see are whole grain, veggie packed ploughman’s pies; chickpea flour, veggie samosas; multigrain grilled vegetable burritos; and footlong grilled veggie sandwiches on hearty rolls. It’s not that hard to pile vegetables on a whole grain pizza and garnish it with a healthy dusting of chopped herbs and arugula. Meanwhile Bittman has pointed the way towards a pretty damn good black bean burger that sneaks some mushrooms into the mix.

On Bad Health Reporting, Irresponsible Scientists and Chicken Nuggets

This story on the non-chickenness of Chicken Nuggets had been persisting as a featured story in my RSS reader, so despite my better judgement, I finally gave in add clicked.

Chicken nuggets: Call ’em tasty, call ’em crunchy, call ’em quick and convenient. But maybe you shouldn’t call them “chicken.”

So says , a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In a published in The American Journal of Medicine, deShazo and his colleagues report on a small test they conducted to find out just what’s inside that finger food particularly beloved by children. Their conclusion?

“Our sampling shows that some commercially available chicken nuggets are actually fat nuggets,” he tells The Salt. “Their name is a misnomer,” he and his colleagues write. The nuggets they looked at were only 50 percent meat — at best. The rest? Fat, blood vessels, nerve, connective tissue and ground bone — the latter, by the way, is stuff that usually .

Now, this was an informal test. To conduct their chicken “autopsy,” the researchers went to two different national fast-food chains near their health center in Jackson, Miss., and ordered chicken nuggets over the counter.

This isn’t unsurprising and I wouldn’t be at all surprised that it is representative, but what the hell are “scientists” doing reporting an informal test to the public. That is the antithesis of science. If you throw a few nuggets under a microscope and find something interesting, then do some science before reporting it to the public.

It doesn’t rise to the level of rigor that Mythbusters or Alton Brown would give this issue.

The informal test they did suggested the need for a real test that could get an actual meaningful result. This nonsense is a big reason the public feels jerked around that what ‘science’ tells us keeps changing every other week. It reminds me of the nutrition professor that wrote up his N=1 Twinkie Diet experience. I really don’t understand the abysmal level of health reporting in this country, especially in organizations with resources and reputations to look after like NPR and CNN.