Why Fast Food Companies Must Be Help Accountable for Their Ingredients
By Lynn VanDyke
Drive down any suburban or city street and you will witness an overload of fast food marketing. Brightly colored signs, cheap value meals, happy cartoon logos, and a familiar smell will fill your senses. Fast food restaurants have established themselves as a leader in our nation's daily menu. What is the net affect fast food and its ingredients have on our health? What, if any, moral and social obligations do fast food companies have to their consumers?
Obesity is believed to lead to diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other illnesses. Over 60% of Americans are considered over weight, and the rise in diabetic individuals has increased dramatically. In 1999 there were 42 billion people on direct diabetes medicine. That figure has more than doubled in less than three years.
"Fast food is literally shortening the life span of our citizens," states Lynn VanDyke, certified sports nutritionist, personal trainer and owner of www.strength-training-woman.com. McDonalds serves 46 million fast food meals every single day. As the documentary Super Size Me points out, each McDonalds employee is trained to up sell the size of each order. This increase in meal and drink proportions is becoming so widely acceptable that cars now come with larger cup holders.
The fast food process truly begins with the ingredients. As Eric Schlosser mentions in his article "Why McDonalds French Fries Taste So Good", the federal Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to disclose the ingredients of their color or flavor additives so long as all the chemicals in them are considered by the agency to be generally recognized as safe, or GRAS. Unfortunately, consumers are not able to tell a products full ingredient list by reading the nutrition label. Terms such as 'artificial' and 'natural flavoring' are often seen at the very end of most ingredient lists. We are completely unaware of exactly what constitutes a natural or artificial flavor.
Fast food companies owe it to their consumers to disclose all ingredient information. Many people have special dietary restrictions due to allergies or religious affiliations. Some people simply prefer not to eat a product that contains any animal or any part of an animal. According to Schlosser, "The Vegetarian Legal Action Network recently petitioned the FDA to issue to labeling requirements for foods that contain natural flavors." At this point in time, it is difficult for anyone to refrain from using animal products or added coloring or any a specific chemical to do so.
Consumers cannot make educated decisions about a food product if they do not know the full ingredients list. Some may be shocked to know that Dannon strawberry yogurt gets its coloring from Dactylopius coccus Costa, a female insect that feeds on berries and produces berry colored larvae. "The insects are collected, dried, and ground into a pigment. It takes about 70,000 of them to produce a pound of carmine, which is used to make processed foods look pink, red, or purple" states Schlosser.
Another example of a misleading ingredient label comes from Burger King. Its strawberry milk shake lists artificial strawberry flavor as one of its ingredients. By taking a closer look, we learn that the following ingredients make up the artificial strawberry flavoring: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenol-2-butanone (10% solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methyllacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, y-undecalactone, vanillin and solvent. Simply stating artificial strawberry flavoring is not educating consumers on what they are eating and what possible effects these food products could have on their bodies.
Fast food companies have a responsibility to list all of their ingredients. It is a basic consumer and human right to know what we are ingesting. McDonalds and other companies complain that giving away all their ingredients will result in them losing their secret recipes. As a culture we must face the reality that these ingredients and fast food products are making us extremely overweight and very ill.
McDonalds is the fast food leader of the world. They market to young children by providing playgrounds, happy meals, and cartoon characters. Unfortunately, these children do not know about the horrible side effects that eating fast food has on their bodies. "On average, Americans now eat about four servings of french fries every week" says Schlosser. The increase in portion size and the increase in the volume of eating at fast food restaurants directly relates to America's bulging waist lines.
Recently two over weight teens sued McDonalds because the teens felt the restaurant neglected to properly inform them of the side effects its food would have on their weight and health. Lawsuits such as this one are becoming more and more popular. There are two sides of this debate, but regardless of which side you are on one thing can be agreed upon, fast food is not the most nutritious meal available.
Fast food companies have a moral and social obligation to their customers. We as a nation have a right to know what we are eating. Once the truth is finally told and nutrition labels have all ingredients and chemicals, consumers can begin to make educated decisions. At that point the blame would rely solely on the consumer and not on the fast food company. However, until that point is reached we cannot expect Americans to understand the impact fast food will have on their health and well being.
Morgan Spurlock, creator of the documentary Super Size Me, explains how we live in a toxic, fast and cheap environment. America is home to over 3 million vending machines and countless convenient stores. Gas stations sell more candy and prepared foods than gas. Soda machines are in our schools and our school lunches are being filled by chain restaurants such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut.
The availability of fast food products is overwhelming. The abundance and mass marketing of fast foods along with the low cost fare makes it a habit of continually eating these foods. We grow used to the aroma, textures and tastes. Often a McDonalds happy meal reminds us of happy childhood memories when we did not have a care in the world. For many consumers to stop eating fat food, it would be like breaking a smoking habit after 20+ years.
The increase in diseases and illnesses is alarming. Americans are becoming more and more overweight. Obesity is in line to become the number one cause of preventable death. Fast food companies have the moral and social obligation to inform their consumers of all ingredients. It should then be the consumer's decision to stop eating this toxic food.
Learning about proper nutrition does not take a degree form Harvard. It takes the commitment and dedication to truly change your life once and for all. Nutrition and fitness are our best defenses against the mounting health care crisis. According to the National Institute on Aging, "If exercise could be packed in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation." I whole heartedly agree with their statement.
Copyright 2005 strength-training-woman.com
About The Author
Lynn VanDyke is the Internet's leading fitness and nutrition advisor. Her ebook has been ranked "The best fitness ebook on the net" by the No Limits ezine.