Now that the dust has settled a bit on the latest debate about home-cooked family dinners, I realized an important issue was left out. In a piece called “The Joy of Cooking?” three sociologists from North Carolina State University took food advocates to task saying:
time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.
That struck a nerve and Bettina Siegel of The Lunch Tray responded with:
Given that the authors (1) don’t share their questioning methodology; (2) offer us only a few choice anecdotes instead of hard data; and (3) have a clear anti-“foodie” agenda, I have no choice but to be skeptical of their sweeping conclusions about women’s dislike of cooking.
What I didn’t see in the original piece, or even the many responses to it, was any mention of how marketing has contributed to the difficulty of families being able to enjoy home-cooked meals together. Today’s generation of parents grew up hearing the “You Deserve a Break Today” message in McDonald’s ads and seeing images which implied families are much happier when they eat fast food instead of a home-cooked meal. We have also seen a phenomenal increase in the amount of money spent on marketing to children:
In 2012 the fast food industry spent $4.6 billion to advertise mostly unhealthy products, and children and teens remained key audiences for that advertising.
So in addition to all the obstacles the NC State sociologists mentioned, parents who cook are also up against marketers who take advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities to create a desire for fast food over home-cooked family dinners. This issue was driven home for me a few years ago when I was cooking dinner and my youngest asked to go to Chick-Fil-A because their mascot had visited her Kindergarten classroom. He put a sticker on her backpack to remind her about the fast food fundraiser taking place that evening. Training young taste buds is difficult enough without adding this kind of pressure to the mix.
That’s also why CEO Don Thompson has taken heat for McDonald’s using schools as ads. He claims “We don’t put Ronald out in schools” but just this week Ronald McDonald was photographed at yet another school.
We don’t put up with Joe Camel working to undermine parents anymore and we shouldn’t put up with it from Ronald McDonald. Fortunately more parents, doctors, and even politicians are speaking up and questioning fast food companies using schools as ads. Watch London Assembly Member Jenny Jones question “the appropriateness of the Mayor of London’s sponsorship deal with McDonald’s which targets schools and young people.”
As someone who values the role of home-cooked meals in teaching my kids to learn to love food that loves them back, I don’t appreciate fast food marketers working to undermine me by targeting my kids behind my back. Want to help lift the burden on parents trying to feed kids home-cooked meals? Let’s turn down the volume on the fast food marketing which adds yet another obstacle to an already difficult task. Please sign and share this letter to McDonald’s letting them know their clown doesn’t belong in schools.