farm·wash·ing (noun): A marketing technique used by some industrial food producers in which idyllic images of farming are deployed to create misleading messages about how their products are made.
Some call it farmwashing, others just call it BS, either way, McDonald’s recent approach to improve their image is cheapening the entire concept of farm to fork.
First came the television commercials.
In 2012, McDonalds released three commercials highlighting American farmers who are producing the raw ingredients (beef, lettuce and potatoes) for their menu. Clearly trying to cash-in on increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of eating locally and naturally, the commercials undermine and offend educated consumers, activists, and most of all, the farmers. The same farmers who are trying desperately to stay in business because of the dysfunctional corporate farm infrastructure that McDonald’s has helped create.
I don’t think McDonald’s is outright lying with these commercials. They are merely highlighting the kinder, prettier parts of the story and ignoring the rest of the steps it takes to get McDonald’s food into their paper bags. For instance, there is a good chance that after this rancher’s cattle reach a certain size, they are sent off to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) that looks more like this:
Or how about the story of the McDonald’s potato farmer?
McDonald’s conveniently leaves out the part where they add beef flavor and deep fry those potatoes in a combination of GMO laden and trans-fatty oils. Where is that part of the “farm-to-table” story?
Trying to position McDonald’s as an advocate of local farming seems laughable, and I would think that most consumers aren’t buying it.
But, just in case, McDonald’s has also created commercials for one of our most vulnerable, and easily manipulated populations: children.
With an iconic clown like Ronald McDonald, it is no secret that McDonald’s has a long standing tradition of peddling their products to children. Focusing on apples and milk, arguably two of the most unpopular products sold at McDonald’s, and convincing kids that McDonald’s is the place to go for a nutritious meal is downright shameful.
And, did you catch this scene?
Where can you find carrots, a chicken leg, and bread sliced from a loaf on McDonald’s menu? That’s right. You can’t. For adults, I would call this deceptive. For children, it’s just dishonest.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, now McDonald’s is reaching out to Registered Dietitians to try and continue to solicit the idea that they sell “quality, fresh” products right from the farm.
In this flyer, the company invites dietitians to a ‘field-to-restaurant’ tour which according to the accompanying email only includes one farm stop: a lettuce farm. Other than that, dietitians and other guests will only have access to a panel of dairy, beef, and produce suppliers to answer their questions. Could you imagine if McDonald’s actually gave folks access to a CAFO? Or why not give consumers a lesson in the process of making a Chicken McNugget? Farm-to-restaurant? More like, farm-to-factory-to-restaurant.
McDonald’s is undermining a legitimate and necessary revolution, where we focus less on speed and convenience, and more on local sourcing, health, seasonality, and sustainability. If the company was really interested in the movement, they would take the millions spent on this farmwashing campaign and use it to start making real changes in the way their food is produced. I’m not lovin’ it, McDonald’s.