McDonald’s Greenwashing Campaign in Michigan

“We see it as green-washing and a destructive affront on the local food system … good food is going to waste. We can’t be deceived simply because they are buying from local farmers.” Lisa Oliver-King, OKT

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Yesterday, news media outlets all covered Michigan Governor Snyder’s visit to Conklin, Michigan as part of a press conference promoting McDonald’s contribution to the state’s economy.

The news coverage for the most part just presented the claims of Snyder and McDonald’s, with little investigation into the claim that the fast food giant’s decision to buy more Michigan produce for McDonald’s as a benefit to the local economy. While, much of the commentary focused on the local aspect of this effort, it tended to ignore the contradictions.

Snyder used the opportunity to promote the idea that Michigan sells products all around the world and he sees what McDonalds as doing is giving the state a profile for more exports. If Michigan does export more of the produce grown here, then it undermines other states and communities own ability to create locally based economies, despite this being one of the main themes of the press conference.

Even Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow bought into the McDonald’s campaign. Stabenow posted a message on her website that read in part, “It is great that McDonald’s is buying Michigan-grown fruits, eggs, and milk-supporting Michigan farmers who are producing quality products. With its ‘From Michigan For Michigan’ campaign, McDonald’s is continuing its commitment to Michigan and our agricultural industry. When we grow things and make things in Michigan, we create jobs in Michigan.”

The general consensus from so many sectors is interesting in that it demonstrates both a lack of historical knowledge about what the fast food giant has done and how effect greenwashing is in this era of green capitalism.

If people are not familiar with the history of McDonald’s they might want to read Eric Schlosser’s booksFast Food Nation and Chew on This. Another great resource is the film McLibel, which deals with the longest legal case in British history, where the McDonald’s corporation goes after 2 activists for handing out leaflets to people about what is wrong with the fast food company. The major arguments are: 1) McDonald’s engages in deceptive advertising that targets children, 2) treats their workers poorly, 3) contributes to environmental destruction on a mass scale, 4) promotes cruelty to animals and 5) promotes poor nutrition.

McDonald’s Farm to Front Counter campaign is a classic example of greenwashing in that it is both tapping into a growing interest in people to eat “local” food and a public relations response to the scrutiny put on the fast food/junk food industries for their role in the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Local Responses

As we mentioned earlier in the article, most of the reporting on the McDonald’s Michigan campaign did not provide news consumers with many critical voices. The MLive story from yesterday did include a critical response to the McDonald’s greenwash campaign, with a comment from the Boston-based group Corporate Accountability International, which just produced a report entitled, Slowing Down Fast Food.

We talked with two local food justice organizations about their take on the announcement of the new McDonald’s campaign.

Lisa Oliver King with the Grand Rapids group Our Kitchen Table responded by saying, “We see it as green-washing and a destructive affront on the local food system. Regardless of the fact that these foods will be supplied by local agriculture, they will still be fried and have tons of salt added. The cooking approach has not changed. So, good food is going to waste. We can’t be deceived simply because they are buying from local farmers.”

We also spoke with Cynthia Price, with the group the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, which produced a Local Food Guide for West Michigan. Price said, “We’ll never move to a sustainable food, or economic, system as long as we rely on corporations like McDonalds to rehash locally grown ingredients and spit them out again as national, or even international, commodities. Only by relearning local food self-reliance will we be able to develop a just and balanced human-scale food system, and, for that matter, establish a stable base for a truly viable economy that values people and place and not just profits.”

One thought on “McDonald’s Greenwashing Campaign in Michigan

  1. The slope gets slippery when “local” has lost its original meaning to become a buzzword. Local – yet another darling of big business and big advertising, which seem, always, to be on the lookout for the next word that will draw a gut-level response from consumers. Green? Organic? Local? Ask no more questions – they wouldn’t use those words unless they really meant them… Surely this must be good for us, right?

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