home > archive > 2004 > this article
When "consumer advocates" attack
By Nicholas Stix
The other day, my family and I went to a McDonald's in Brooklyn. When I asked the clerk to "super-size" our meal, she told me McDonald's no longer super-sized meals. How could I have forgotten? The chain started phasing out the practice in January. The biggest conventional size for fries and soda offered at the restaurant we visited is now "medium." For an additional 40 cents, one can get a "large."
I paid the forty cents, and also bought three little chicken sandwiches from the "dollar menu." I didn't need three sandwiches, but felt silly ordering just one. Had I been able to super-size a large serving of fries, I might not have ordered any of the sandwiches. In cutting down on our options, the advocates didn't do anything for my family.
I'm not even a fan of McDonald's, or of fast food in general, but my skinny, otherwise finicky four-year-old loves their french fries.
According to a March 3 Associated Press report, the phase-out "comes as the world's largest restaurant company, and fast-food chains in general, are under growing public pressure to give consumers healthier food options in a nation that has suddenly become aware of its bulging waistline and the health dangers that come with it."
Fortunately, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet dismissed the lawsuit against McDonald's in January of last year, and dismissed a revised civil action in September. Plaintiffs may not refile.
Imagine if Judge Sweet had permitted the lawsuit to go forward. The plaintiffs' attorneys would have placed ads in newspapers and on TV, trolling for clients in a class action suit. Millions of people would have responded, and a jury trial might have bankrupted the chain (whether directly, through paying a billion-dollar judgment, or through its having to raise its prices so much to pay the judgment, that its customers deserted it). Then the firm of Lawyers, Activists, Media & Co. would have repeated the process with another fast food chain. And so on. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of people would have been thrown out of work, and consumers would be forced to grab their food on the run from purveyors working out of unsanitary street carts, or go hungry. Could someone please tell me how consumers would be helped by this?
In liberal circles, "consumerism" is a dirty word, evoking obscene images of ordinary people who want certain things, and businesses who actually provide them at a price consumer and provider alike find agreeable, without either asking for liberal's permission. Not that leftists are against getting what they want. In an essay published in the Utne Reader during the early 1990s, an environmentalist author was concerned that ordinary people were exhausting the earth's resources with purchases of items like laptop computers. Without any hint of irony, the author admitted that he had used a laptop to write his essay. In the leftist worldview, it's the "little people" who may not satisfy their needs.
There are legitimate consumer advocates, e.g., reporters who warn us about scams. Legitimate consumer advocates expand people's choices; phony advocates limit them. But McDonald's wasn't scamming anyone, and certainly wasn't forcing extra food on its customers; it was providing value to its customers. And the advocates, lawyers, and alleged journalists who were attacking McDonald's were the kind of people who wouldn't be caught dead inside one.
The funny thing is, when I came to New York in 1985, after five years abroad, what struck me about its expensive restaurants, was that they routinely shortchanged customers. An overpriced plate would typically hold a tiny portion, a large garnish whose only purpose was to take up space, and still show a lot of bare porcelain. (And I'm not getting into the lousy service.) After a few such experiences, I stopped going to fancy eateries (unless I was a guest), and found cheaper, Dominican and Chinese places with no waiting lists, and cheap, tasty, filling chow that didn't burn a hole in my wallet. Immigrant restaurant owners don't have deep enough pockets to merit consumer advocates' "concern," and it is politically incorrect for white activists to sue non-white immigrants.
A medical writer noted recently in the New York Post that she was initially supportive of the "consumer advocates" who were suing tobacco companies for "causing" people's lung cancer, until she realized that they, like the people attacking gun manufacturers and the fast food industry, weren't concerned with consumer safety, but rather with bankrupting corporations. They were leftists who hated the idea of anyone making a profit – except, that is, for the lawyers and clients shaking down the corporations. As the activists at the anti-McDonald's Web site McSpotlight say, "There is a much more fundamental problem than Big Macs and French Fries: capitalism."
Now, I happen to be fat. It's not that I eat too much, it's just my metabolism. (Remember that line?) No, not really. I eat too much, and lead a sedentary lifestyle, usually hunkered over a hot word processor or tending a hot stove.
And I am not alone. Reportedly, over 30 percent of American adults share my "metabolic" problem. Reporters tell us all the time that we Americans exercise too little.
When I lived in West Germany (1980-85), I saw Germans routinely eating fatty food like blood sausage who were not fitness-crazed, yet who were typically trimmer than their American counterparts. And my reed-thin, Trinidadian father-in-law hasn't exercised since childhood. He never had the time or the need for it. Like the Germans, he was always too busy, working at arduous physical labor, first in oil fields, and for over thirty years thereafter, driving a truck for 11 hours a day, all in the 85-90 degree Trinidadian heat. Most Trinidadian men are similarly busy today. For Americans, calories may be a curse, but for most of the world they still represent the basic unit of energy contained in food.
Americans got fat due to a revolutionary breakthrough. For almost all of human history, and in most of the world to this day, man has had to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. But over the past forty or so years, America has arrived at a point where few Americans have to work at strenuous, physical labor. Hence, the proper target of any consumer lawsuit for obesity is progress itself.
But when political activists, unscrupulous attorneys, and alleged journalists can break the connection between consumers and businesses and impose their own agenda, the clock is moving backwards.
Nicholas Stix can be reached at Add1dda@aol.com.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2013, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.