From inside the McFood Factory

I say that I teach in the philosophy factory because I have large classes etc.. but, my first job was at McDonald’s.

As we watched Food Inc, I saw a lot of truth in what they said — I also saw some inaccuracies — at least from my perspective.

The Food Inc. argument about food…

  1. Fast food requires uniform products across the country.
  2. In order to produce uniform products, the process must be uniform.
  3. The best way to insure a uniform process is to buy from several large food manufacturers, who in turn buy from corporate farms.
  4. Fast food relies on food being purchased at below the cost of production.
  5. Lobbyists for the food industry have persuaded the government to subsidize food production, thus further concentrating power with multinational food corporations.
  6. Therefore, the development of fast food, starting in the 1950s, resulted in the current food system which has people disconnected from the source of their food and permits a small number of multi-national companies to control the food source (conclusion 1).
  7. Further, because fast food is produced below the cost of production, lower income people rely on it instead of more healthy food.
  8. Therefore, fast food contributes to the obesity epidemic and has significant hidden costs to society (conclusion 2)

Really, I have no disagreement with this argument — I think it’s true.  I also think that if the multinational corporations behaved themselves, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it as I do.  I would prefer a world in which food that is wholesome and nutritious is less expensive than non-nutritious processed food, but that isn’t the case.

Food Inc. on fast food workers

  1. The fast food industry has streamlined production in the kitchen in order to make more consistent food faster.
  2. Uniform products are necessary to streamline production (see above).
  3. Streamlined production is more similar to factory work than cooking in a home kitchen.
  4. Fast food workers themselves, because the process is uniform and easy to teach, are easily replaceable.
  5. Thus fast food companies can treat their workers poorly in terms of working conditions, training and wages (Conclusion).

Based on my experience at the Golden Breasts of America, this isn’t quite the case.  I agree that the process is streamlined and seems rather like working the line at a factory.

I also agree that it is the case that the training process at McDonalds is designed to accommodate a pretty low-skilled worker and it is relatively simple to teach someone how to complete the process, so replacing kitchen workers isn’t de facto difficult.

In fact, I learned how to work the grill from a store manager on crutches from a recent auto accident.  She verbally instructed me on how to work all the stations for breakfast AND lunch — of course, this was because she wanted me to be a manager for her and I was so good in the drive thru that I’d never been trained on grill…

My experience as a crew person, trainer and manager at McDonalds leads me to disagree with some of the observations made by Food Inc.

  1. It is in McDonald’s interest to have crew people flexible enough to work all stations within the restaurant.  It was a rare crew person who didn’t also know how to work the counter and drive thru, in addition to the grill.
  2. Working in the grill area wasn’t exactly an assembly line situation either.  It required a good deal of flexibility, creative thinking and general ninja skills to be effective at grill.
  3. Good workers are hard to find and it’s in McDonald’s interests to keep them.  Training takes time and energy, plus it’s inefficient as two people are doing the work one should be able to accomplish.  It’s also the case that McManagement are people too, who become attached to their crew people, thus they don’t want to treat them poorly.
  4. Therefore, it seems to be in line with corporate interest to treat workers fairly (not that they do — but, they should and could) as well as to train them in all areas of restaurant operations — thus, Food Inc. has some small part of their argument wrong.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with the gist of the movie, only that sometimes the movie reaches a bit far when it makes claims about the working conditions of fast food employees —

Then again, my experience is about 20 years old — they could simply wave a magic wand back there and make my burger for all I know.

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4 Responses

  1. I think there are practical and moral distinctions to be made between efficiencies at the store level, and so-called efficiencies at the level of national industry.

  2. That’s true, it’s a question of scope.

    The store level efficiencies can easily make life less good for individuals.

    The moral implications of national level efficiencies are more difficult to determine.

  3. […] in Scandinavia it’s not a socially acceptable choice to build a McMansion (notice the term… hmmm…).  Instead, modest homes and living within your means are valued and conspicuous consumption is […]

  4. […] I also think that if I had to kill the animals I intended to eat, I’d probably be a vegetarian… so, call me a hypocrite if you’d like… that’s how I see it.  The main conclusion of Food Inc. is that we are dreadfully disconnected from the source of our food.  This is a result of industrial means of production and the fact that a few companies are in control of the vast majority of our food production.  Andy and I have been writing about it… […]

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