Friday, May 20 2022
I don't trust these jolly men, and neither should you.

I don’t trust these jolly men, and neither should you.
Photo: Moses Robinson (Getty Images)

I’m really not a cynical person. I have a pretty rosy view of most people, places, and institutions until I have reason to believe otherwise. At least I used to; this approach has taken a bit of a back seat over the past couple of years, as I’ve lost pretty much all illusions that the powers that be have my well-being in mind. But, hey, Panda Express is coming announced his commitment only use cage-free eggs! Things are looking up, aren’t they?

Meh. Not so fast. The chain’s new cage-free initiative is a nice step, but the announcement rekindled my general skepticism about the “progressive” promises of fast food chains. These days, I take lofty statements from big food companies with a big, big, the size of a corn grain of salt. I think you should too. But first, some information on the cage-free promise.

Cage-free eggs are an improvement, right?

Earlier this week, Panda Express announcement a new “global cage-free animal welfare policy”. Specifically, the brand is committed to sourcing 100% of eggs and egg products from cage-free facilities. (Chain announced a similar policy in 2020, but it just received a global implementation.)

With this move, Panda Express joins other Fast Food and Quick Service (QSR) restaurants ending their support for battery cages, the tiny 67-square-inch cages that confine chickens raised for commercial egg production. In 2015, the two McDonald’s and Dunkin’ announced plans to source 100% cage-free eggs by 2025. Yum! Brands– the giant catering company behind brands like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC – also pledged to go 100% cage-free globally last year.

To be clear: I am in favor of cage-free eggs. I am really. But cage-free doesn’t necessarily mean cruelty-free. Make no mistake: these commercially raised chickens will not be pastured in a pastoral setting. There is still a lot of associated cruelty with commercial egg production, and, as we have already discussed, the term “cageless” simply means that the hens are not kept in cramped cages. This does not mean that they will have access to the outside.

Why I don’t trust fast food companies

Here has The takeaway, we get a lot of press release emails. Like, dozens of them in a single day. Many of these emails have subject lines touting “green”, “healthy”, or “better for you” initiatives – and these are usually the emails I throw straight in the trash. In the vast majority of cases, promotions like these have one goal: to artificially raise a company’s “ethical” public profile and, therefore, its profit margins.

Take, for example, the trendy compostable food wraps you’ll see at quick-service concepts like Sweetgreen. Although the company rolled out improved compostable packaging in 2020, this type of biodegradable packaging is not recyclable. This leaves consumers with two options: compost the packaging or dispose of the packaging. Which do you think is best for the majority of consumers?

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is looking at a host of sustainability initiatives— climate experts are constantly pleading with consumers not to fall into the trap of making claims. Last year, The Guardian cited Gidon Eshel, Research Professor of Environmental and Urban Studies at Bard College. “The plain truth is that McDonald’s is in a business that is fundamentally at odds with the integrity of the Earth,” Eshel said. “No fig leaf, no matter how persuasive or covering, can change that fact.”

Here are all these initiatives: fig leaves. Ultimately, fast food companies don’t care about the consumers they feed, or the welfare of the animals they feed to consumers. They only think of one thing: profit.

One more thing: I’m certainly not calling for a global boycott of fast food companies. A large portion of the population depends on fast food for its affordability and accessibility, especially in food deserts and other areas where access to fresh food proves difficult. I’m just asking you, the consumer, to adopt a healthy dose of skepticism about these transactions. If a fast food company is launching a promising new initiative, ask yourself: is it really mean nothing? In most cases, the answer is no.

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