“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness….” Ephesians 6:12
This story on NPR caught my attention yesterday because it came just as I was doing something I rarely do anymore: stuffing my face with chicken McNuggets from McDonalds while I was driving home from a study day in the mountains. It wasn’t the best of days. Forgetting the computer cord meant was I done studying (or at least writing my sermon) earlier than I’d hoped. During the hour I’d intended to devote to skiing, a ski popped off at the top of the run and slide at least two hundred vertical feet down the slope, meaning I spent my precious hour slogging thigh deep through wet snow to retrieve the ski , tweaking my ankle a bit in the process- nothing glorious there. To top it off I’d been battling something intestinal and hadn’t been hungry for a few days.
As I’m driving home though, I begin to feel a bit of hunger return just as I see the golden arches over there by the freeway exit. “I need protein. I’m tired. I’ve had a bad day.” With that trinity of rationalization I’m soon standing in line, in spite of the fact that I know what I’m about to do is bad for animals, bad for the planet, bad for my body. Still, while I’m eating them, I know they’ll taste good, providing a hit of pleasure for less than five dollars.
Back in the car, stuffing my face, I hear this story about how the food industry, which begins back in 1999 when:
a vice president at Kraft addressed a meeting of top executives of America’s biggest food companies. His topic: the growing public health concerns over the obesity epidemic and the role packaged and processed foods were playing in it. Michael Mudd stated his case, pleading with his colleagues to pay attention to the health crisis and consider what companies could do to hold themselves accountable.
That sounds reasonable right? It would be in a world where health, prudence, and a commitment to the common good reign as meaningful values. Iceland, for example, is in the midst of banning porn on the internet in its country because of their belief that children shouldn’t be exposed to the violent and destructive images that present themselves as porn on the web. It’s not in the best of interest of either the children or the family to have such things so easily accessible – to anyone apparently. Iceland! They’re a Scandinavian country that values freedoms of speech and choice, but they also recognize that there are limits.In our culture though, libertarian economics would say that there are no limits to freedom, would say that personal health is solely the responsibility of consumers, that they need to just say no to the products we’re offering them which are bad for them. Which brings us back to food. The poor VP of Kraft was met with this from General Mills:
“Bottom line being, though, that we need to ensure that our products taste good, because our accountability is also to our shareholders. And there’s no way we could start down-formulating the usage of salt, sugar, fat if the end result is going to be something that people do not want to eat.”
Shareholders. Of course. If I can produce a product that’s bad for people like, say, cigarettes, or the perfect cocktail of fat, sugar, and salt, the fact these products are directly implicated in say, lung cancer, or obesity and type II diabetes, is merely what, collateral damage? Apparently. The bottom line, you see, isn’t the common good, it’s the good of the shareholder, which coincidentally happens to be good for the CEO too, and all the employees who work there, at least until their jobs are no longer needed due to mechanization or outsourcing, both of which are also in the vital interests of the shareholder.
The bottom line is the dollar.
Then, the corporate bottom line meets the personal bottom line, which is that when I’m hungry, tired, disappointed because my computer battery died, and weary from slogging through wet snow for an hour, I don’t care about whether these nuggets are healthy, only that they’re cheap and taste good. I’m seduced. For others perhaps, it’s less about seduction and more solely about their own financial bottom line. If the cheapest calories are sugar, fat, salt; if I can buy 40 nuggets for $7.50 and that’s about the same as my hourly take home pay, why wouldn’t I?
I’m not really writing to advocate regulation of nuggets because libertarian or not, our world will always have a long list of bad choices easily available. Hence, every time my willpower gets lazy, there’ll be a cheap moment of pleasure available. Those cheap options are part of what Paul says we’ll battle against on a regular basis. And battle we should because the best way to battle the destructive forces of this or any culture is to live differently, to march the drum of a different king and kingdom where generosity, celebration, wholeness, and yes, even real food, are the norm rather than the exception.
I welcome your thoughts….