Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kids Begging for the Golden Arches?

I don't know about the rest of you out there, but my husband and I try and limit exposure to fast food in our family. Until recently, my kids did not even know the names for these well known outlets of fat greasy foods. But on our last road trip, just this past month, we ended up eating a lot of fast food. When my husband and I make this annual trip, I usually pack sushi for us, and PB&J for the kids (their favorite). We have carrot sticks, graham crackers, apples, cheese, and lollipops for snacks. But this time, the kids and I drove out to the Midwest with my mom. And I didn't do any of the usual preparations. Why? I can't really explain. A secret part of me was thinking it would be fun to eat some fast food (my husband is very vocal about not eating it, so it's not an option on roadtrips with him). I know, shame on me. But it does taste so good.

By the end of the trip, I felt like a big ball of grease. I'm not exaggerating. And it was interesting to see just what the kids actually ate at these fast food joints. The happy meal toys were a huge success with the kids (as the marketing experts well know), but the food was mostly just picked over. I brought in carrot sticks, raisins, and other misc. healthy snacks, to supplement these fast food meals, and it turns out, that's really what was consumed the most. At the end of my trip, I decided to reread Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. I need to be reminded about the many reasons why this type of food is just not a good idea.

And, it turns out, Eric Schlosser, together with Charles Wilson, has come out with a new book, Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. "With kids aged 9-12 directly in the sights of these companies, the idea was to give them food for thought," said Eric Schlosser. "We were trying to write a non-fiction book that kids would want to read that isn't interactive, doesn't have anything electronic, to it. It's just a book." My oldest sister gave me her copy of Advertising Age (April 3, 2006), where this review was published.

Here are some tidbits from this Advertising Age article by Kate Macarthur (I'd provide a link, but you have to register for archive access):

[Chew on This] is being touted as a 21st century version of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," but with chicken nuggets instead of burgers and dogs. Written for preteens who are a prime target for the $300 billion fast-food industry, the 304 page tome focuses on mistreatment of animals in slaughterhouses and employees in restaurants; lays out how eating too much fast food can affect growing bodies; and chronicles the ways the quick-service-restaurant industry shapes schools, communities and the earth.

"stomachs will turn and tempers will flare as the authors shine a light on the grisly conditions in a chicken slaughterhouse, explain how market-research firms study kids and learn how those delicious fast-food smells are manufactured off a highway in New Jersey," reads press-release copy for the book.

Not only does the book look at the often-seamy underbelly of the food industry, it encourages kids to take on activist roles in booting soft-drinks from schools and changing working conditions in food processing plants and restaurants.

Experts think "Chew on This" may resonate with kids. The target age for the book is one "where you can really have an important influence on them and they're old enough to be thinking more critically about all this and understanding the intentions of marketers and how things work in the world so they can make their own choices," said Kathryn C. Montgomery, professor of communication at American university. "It's also an age with a huge amount of marketing flooding every aspect of their lives."

Sounds like good stuff to me! I'm ordering a book today.


Jayne Martin Dressing said...

I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said that you only partake in fast food very occasionally and limit your children's access to it. That's the key; moderation. It's like television which has also been demonized; occasionally and in moderation, t.v. is enjoyable. But as a culture we do most things in excess; eat, drink, watch t.v., etc. Remember when we only had about 4 or 5 t.v. channels and some of those didn't even come in very well? Now some families have hundreds.
As a kid, I could spot the golden arches from a mile away. I would beg my parents to take us there. Ninety percent of the time, they said no, citing the ease of making hamburgers and french fries at our own home. But once in a great while, especially on a family trip, we would pull the family truckster into Mickey D's. No one got a happy meal or a cherry pie or any of that nonsense, but we enjoyed it because it was a special treat, it was the exception to the rule. The overabundance of fast food restaurants now, and the "bigginess" of every meal, make them a terribly dangerous option on a regular basis. There is no question that fast food and the incredible abundance of television channels contribute to the growing waistlines of many Americans. But I have to admit, I really love some hot, salty Wendy's fries every once in a while on a long road trip with the kids.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me for staying of the first words my oldest boy said (he's now 25) was "Fries". It was as we were driving by an old McDonalds with the really big arches. After that day I turned off network television. Who knew kids that young understood comercials?

StuntBec said...

It's funny that you mention that. I read an article when I was pregnant with my first child, warning me of these market research firms that target toddlers. So I was determined that my children not know the names of any fast food places. Burger King was refered to as "the chicken bit store," Wendy's was known as "Windys." Alas, now that they've had full exposure to fast food, they know that the golden arches equals McDonald's. Oh well, can't shelter them forever!

Check out this website on marketing to children: