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Ethics and Today's Fast Food Industry

  • Synopsis: Published: 2014-10-23 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-18) - Thomas C. Weiss takes a look at the current ethics of the fast food industry in the United States - Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).

Main Document

Quote: "Some people still believe fast food restaurants should remain the place of teenagers who are pursuing their first jobs. Others question the business ethics of the fast food industry."

The news recently reported that McDonald's has found itself facing a 30% drop in profits, leaving the question of why this has happened to one of America's favorite fast food restaurants.

Processed foods make up 70% of the diet of Americans and they eat more packaged products per person than people in almost every other nation. Whether this is because fast foods are modern and convenient and technology, busy schedules, public policy, or due to the rise of industrial agriculture - the base fact is plain. What and how Americans eat has changed drastically over the last 50 years. Today, Americans are rarely connected to the people and land that produce their food; not that this is the only issue.

Fair Work, Fair Pay

In America there has been a certain amount of, 'to-do,' over fast food workers requesting an increase in their salaries and even in some areas walk-outs or worker strikes as a means of getting their point across. Many fast food workers earn minimum wage and while many of these employees do make more than this amount, they are still living below the poverty line while the fast food corporations make money hand over fist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2012 almost 7 million Americans worked in the fast food industry to include:

  • More than 500,000 cooks
  • 3.4 million counter workers
  • 2.9 million in preparation and serving

The average pre-tax annual income for these workers came to around $18,770, which is just over $9 per hour. For a family of 3 that is easily below the federal poverty line of $19,530. For the 3.6 million Americans who earn the minimum wage or less, their maximum before tax income of $15,080 places them below the poverty line for a 2 person household.

The employees of fast food restaurants requested raises to include added benefits and an hourly rate of $13-$15 per hour. The issue with that is not only does it impact the profits of big fast food companies; it would also cause the cost of the food to increase. The majority of people who patronize fast food restaurants do so because the food is fast and cheap.

If fast food employees were paid at the rates they request, the costs would increase as well as the competition for fast food job positions. Some people still believe fast food restaurants should remain the place of teenagers who are pursuing their first jobs. Others question the business ethics of the fast food industry.

As things are now, workers in fast food restaurants do not make a living wage and many of them depend on federal and state funded assistance programs. Some fast food restaurants have been accused of encouraging their employees to take advantage of these federal and state benefits because they provide supplemental assistance and help to keep wages down. Large fast food corporations have been accused of encouraging their workers to sign up for SNAP (food stamps), allowing the corporation to keep wages low and profits up. One major fast food restaurant had net earnings of $1.52 billion dollars in the second quarter of 2013. Yet many fast food giants have been found to have large numbers of employees who rely on federal and state programs for basic necessities.

Talk about a moral and ethical issue!

These major fast food corporations are more than able to increase the wages of their workers but have instead chosen to pass the issue of low wage earners and meeting basic needs to federal and state agencies that are funded with U.S. tax dollars. It has been proven that people who make low wages also experience poorer health and a lower life expectancy.

A study in 2009 by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, 'The Economics Burdens of Health Inequalities in the United States,' found that health inequalities and premature deaths due to poor care impose substantial costs. Between the years 2003 and 2006 alone, $1.24 Trillion dollars was the financial cost. Minorities suffered disproportionate direct medical care expenditures:

  • Asians $11.4 billion
  • Hispanics $82 billion
  • African Americans $135.9 billion

When we have the opportunity to help each other and do not, or simply point people in the general area of where to find assistance, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice as a nation. The time for reform and action is far past overdue and if we as people and a unified nation are unable to see that we all matter and that it is our duty as human beings to help others when we can, then there is certainly good reason to be fearful for America as a nation.

'Decent,' Food Products

Remember the, 'pink slime,' controversy over beef served at fast food restaurants? It is officially known as, 'Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB),' and the, 'slime,' is the creation of a process originally designed by company, 'Beef Products Inc. (BPI).' By spinning the leftover trimmings of other cuts of beef in a centrifuge and then filtering the meat through tubes that puff ammonia gas into it, BPI claimed they were able to produce cheap beef that was largely devoid of harmful bacteria and fat, a pressing concern as these trimmings came into more contact with - fecal matter.

The USDA agreed with process and as of the year 2001, LFTB and other similar meat products found themselves integrated in the U.S. Food supply, allowed to supplement a certain percentage of ground beef cuts, both lowering fat content and price. By the time an investigative report by ABC News appeared in the year 2012, LFTB was found in 70% of the ground beef in America, to include a number of products sold at fast food restaurants and at school cafeterias. After ABC's report and other efforts by food bloggers, reality TV chefs and online petitions, the backlash was quick with food chains and supermarkets pulling LFTB from their product lines. A number of states in America either banned its use in lunch foods or offered schools an opt-out choice. BPI lost millions of dollars and laid off hundreds of workers.

A team of researchers published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in which they compared the fast food menus of 8 popular food chains from the 1990's to now. Using a 1-100 scale developed by the USDA, the Healthy Eating Index, the team looked at menu items from 1997-1998 and those from 2009-2010. Relying on measurements of fat, salt and sugar, the team found that scores had only slightly budged upwards in the prior 14 years, with an average increase of 3 points among all of the food chains, up from 45. According to the study, the average American's diet is around 55. Additional research has revealed similar conclusions.

Right about now you might be thinking, 'Well, no surprise there...,' but you would be missing the point. As the authors noted, fast food chains have been attempting to promote their newly-found commitment to, 'healthier, more nutritious,' menu items for several years with newer products presented in leafy greens. It may not be surprising that over all this time these fast food chains have only barely modified the high levels of fat, salt and sugar in their food products, yet it should not be brushed aside.

Fast Food and Obesity

While there is clearly a solid case to be made that obesity is not entirely responsible for increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and a shorter lifespan among people, those who are obese do overwhelmingly have a decreased physical quality of life and increased health care costs. More importantly, the rate of obesity is increasing, to include among children. You may disagree about the degree to which obesity represents a growing health crisis, but not about its existence.

Among low-income and racially disparate neighborhoods where obesity occurs disproportionately, there are more fast food restaurants than elsewhere and they are more conveniently located near schools where children first start to form their eating habits. These neighborhoods also tend to have less access to high quality foods, resulting in so-called, 'food deserts.'

Throw in some stagnant wealth accumulation among these same populations, longer working hours, but less pay to cook meals that are fresher and more healthy and a marketing blitz of several Billion dollars a year by fast food chains and you are left with a disaster of malnutrition just waiting. The circumstances are so influential that researchers have taken to calling them, 'obesogenic environments.' The term is just as frightening as the terms, 'carcinogenic,' or, 'mutagenic.'

Behind cheap fast foods are poisoned and depleted waters, degraded soils, mistreated animals, unhealthy and overweight eaters and abused farmers and farm workers. Suddenly, that large burger with fries is not as appealing as it might have seemed at first. Any restaurant can make anything smell and taste good, but how good for you is that fast food in reality? The answer is entirely unappealing and reaching for salad fixings or other healthy items could very well be a much better option.

Related Information:

  1. Childhood Obesity Information and Related Health Issues
    /fitness/child-obesity/
  2. Body Fat Percentage Calculator for Men and Women - Disabled World - (2009-07-28)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/calculators-charts/body-fat-calculator.php
  3. How to Lose Body Fat Fast - Targeted Weight Loss Solutions - Daniel Murray - (2013-05-31)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/diets/bodyfat/body-weight.php


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