Well, Plato never got to see the cinematic classics Super Size Me or Reefer Madness.
For the un-ordained, Super Size Me is an award-winning documentary chronicling one man’s 30-day consumption of food and beverage, sourced strictly from McDonald’s. Not surprisingly, he gains weight, becomes irritable, and loses his libido. He throws up a lot. The conclusion: McDonald’s is the anti-Christ of food.
Reefer Madness is the 1936 fictional, cautionary tale about the evils of marijuana use. Truth be told, there are more smiles per capita in Reefer Madness than there are in a Spongebob Square Pants episode. But then, under the influence of the seductive reefer, the characters partake in a multitude of nefarious activities, including dancing, sexual activity, and murder. The conclusion: marijuana is the devil’s instrument.
Despite these and many other condemnations of McDonald’s and marijuana, both have strong recognition in American consciousness. McDonald’s was recently ranked the seventh best brand in the world. And a staggering 20.6% of high school seniors are current users of pot. Given these facts, can McDonald’s and marijuana be considered “good?”
Yes, they can. The definition of good is something “satisfactory in quality, quantity or degree.” And the definition of satisfaction is “an act of satisfying; fulfillment; gratification.” Do Mickey D’s and weed provide individuals with fulfillment and gratification? Absolutely.
The recently published book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss is an exposé on the manipulative behavior of the processed food industry. Mr. Moss discusses how food scientists target a “bliss point,” or an optimal level of sugar in products. Ingesting these products sets off a neurological reaction akin to brain activity under the influence of narcotics and opiates. Marijuana does the same thing. Which explains why stoners get the munchies; they need to feed the desire for fulfillment and gratification with Doritos and French fries.
There’s no doubt that McDonald’s has a lock on identifying a “bliss point” with their food. And the numbers reflect it. The restaurant chain serves over 68 million, or about 1% of the global population every day. There are over 33,500 McDonald’s locations in 119 countries. The majority of the company’s $8.5 billion in operating income is derived from sales in the US and Europe. In short, a lot of Westerners rely on McDonald’s for at least one of their meals on a daily basis.
With over 17% of children and 35% of adults classified as obese in America, some of the blame for our public health problems has been directed towards fast-food providers. Over the years, McDonald’s has responded to both legislative and consumer pressure to improve their menu. Fat-free chocolate milk instead of soda is now served with a Happy Meal, as are 15 calories worth of apples. French fries, by far the company’s biggest seller, are now cooked in trans-free fat cooking oil. And now, as part of the Affordable Care Act, McDonald’s must post the calorie content for its entire menu.
The jury is out as to whether consumer behavior will radically change with access to this edifying information. Yes, it is helpful to know that there’s a 120 calorie difference between ordering a medium and large fries at McDonald’s. But calorie postings may only help a person eat a smaller portion of something that has very little nutritional value in the first place. From the McDonald’s website, this is the ingredient list for their World Famous French Fries:
Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
*(Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients).
It would be a brave, new world if all the items on the McDonald’s menu were free of chemical manipulation and preservatives. Wouldn’t society be better off if McDonald’s could get closer to its food source and provide its customers with something pure and natural, harvested directly from Mother Earth? Like, say, marijuana?
The “it’s a plant” angle has long been the basis used by the 420s to legalize pot. Unlike crystal meth, heroin, or a whole host of other “hard drugs,” marijuana was not created in a lab. It can be a wholly natural, organic substance. And of course, cannabis supporters tout its medicinal qualities. They may even cite the potential financial benefits from not incarcerating the millions of pot users busted for possession and/or the potential tax revenue that could be derived from regulating the drug.
To be sure, no one has been arrested for driving under the influence of McNuggets. Marijuana is clinically proven to alter a user’s sense of perception and reaction time as the THC in the drug over-activates certain receptors in the brain. Long term use of marijuana, from adolescence onwards, has been shown to impair brain development. Chronic use by adults can result in negative impacts to the lungs and heart.
Some may argue that Americans have a right to live their lives as they see fit, and that includes eating McDonald’s and smoking pot to their hearts’ content. Even Secretary of State John Kerry was recently quoted as telling an audience of German students that in America, “…you have a right to be stupid.”
The reality is that abuse of anything unhealthy becomes a public health burden for all members of society. While users may not think they are hurting others with their obesity or cognitive impairments, they do impact everyone else by driving up healthcare costs to treat the conditions they realize by their irresponsible activity.
The issue is not whether marijuana or McDonald’s are good or bad. It’s whether we, as citizens, can consume them with moderation. Perhaps, someday, we will be able to have more self-control and discipline with the things we put in our bodies. McDonald’s will then be able to partner with an FDA-approved marijuana producer to define a new niche in the adult sweet snacks category: the McBrownie.