Fast Food Optimism

The best advice I can give anyone trying to lose weight is to look up how many calories different foods actually have since the results are often not intuitive. The oatmeal you make at home is a low-calorie offering, but as Mark Bittman explains the McDonald’s version is very much not:

The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

The bottom-line question is, “Why?” Why would McDonald’s, which appears every now and then to try to persuade us that it is adding “healthier” foods to its menu, take a venerable ingredient like oatmeal and turn it into expensive junk food? Why create a hideous concoction of 21 ingredients, many of them chemical and/or unnecessary? Why not try, for once, to keep it honest?

I think that sometimes people need to be just a bit more patient with the operation of things. I see the McDonald’s oatmeal saga as in some ways optimistic. The first piece of good news about McDonald’s oatmeal is that, as a marketing strategy, they clearly think there’s money to be made in selling people food that they perceive as healthier than the existing McDonald’s options. The second piece of good news about McDonald’s oatmeal is that, as a matter of corporate policy, McDonald’s discloses extensive nutritional information about the food they sell. Thanks to the second piece of good news, we know that the promise of healthy McDonald’s oatmeal is a lie. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more extensive and aggressive calorie information will be coming.


The answer, as it pertains to McDonald’s, is that McDonald’s is a very big and very successful firm that’s very good at marketing unhealthy food. So faced with rising demand for healthier options, they give us unhealthy food + marketing. That’s their business and it’s rare for large successful businesses to change their spots. What happens, sometimes, is that they become less successful and new entrants displace them. So the real question for McDonald’s, I think, is whether there are new and growing dining establishments that are responding to the same pressures by offering food that’s actually healthy. I eat more and more at Chopt Salad and Mixt Greens both of which are much smaller today than McDonald’s, but both of which seem to me to be adding new locations aggressively.