Monday, March 09, 2009

And So It Begins

Nevermind the markets. Nevermind the jobs reports. If you want to understand how deep this country is mired in Depression, take a look at this:
March 9 (Bloomberg) -- McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant company, said global sales rose 1.4 percent in February as diners sought cheaper food.

Sales at U.S. restaurants open at least 13 months climbed 2.8 percent, while European orders fell 0.2 percent, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s said today in a statement. Sales in Asia, the Middle East and Africa gained 0.7 percent.

Value meals, chicken sandwiches and Egg McMuffins are lifting McDonald’s sales in the U.S., where unemployment reached 8.1 percent in February, the highest in more than 25 years. Slowing economies in the U.K., Russia, Australia and Japan are also spurring sales of snack-sized sandwiches and chicken wraps.

People are eating crappier food more often. That right there, in a nutshell, is all you really need to hear to understand how badly the economy has collapsed in the wake of horrendous Republican oversight.

While this has not always been the case, people tend to turn to McDonald's and other fast food restaurants when money gets tight. This is also why you see so many of these kinds of establishments in neighborhoods that have significant numbers of poor and lower-middle class families.

It's not that fast food is cheaper. It's not, at least no cheaper than buying the raw ingredients and cooking it up yourself.

It is, however, easier. Quicker. More convenient. And there's the rub. For any variety of reasons that have little to do with taste or cost, people are eating Mickey D's: because they can pick it up on the way home, they can munch a quick burger in between job interviews, they won't spend an hour in a sit-down restaurant while prices there still hover in the unreasonable range.
Call it the new comfort food for cash-strapped consumers.

"It's cheap and full of calories, and you know what you are getting," said Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and chair of New York University's nutrition and food studies department.

And of course, this raises a host of other issues that will impact Americans for a long time to come, and put that much more pressure on the Obama administration.

I speak, of course, about the health issues. Things like obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, which tend to run parallel to communities where fast food consumption is its highest.

I'm not suggesting a causality, others have already done that, and McDonald's has done yeoman work to silence those critics.

But more than a coincidence, I think it's safe to say. And as more and more Americans slip deeper and deeper into poverty, we're looking at a potential epidemic.

As part of Obama's energy policy, I would really like to see a stress on local production of food, and the use of local vegetables and meat sources in restaurants and supermarkets.

For one thing, it would diversify our diets, for another, it would mark an end to the homogenization of eating that sees Americans in China stop in the McDonald's near Tiananmen Square, as opposed to grabbing an authentic Chinese meal in any of a number of restaurants right there on the block, nevermind Chicagoans eating at McDonald's in Times Square.

This would, as Martha Stewart might say, be a good thing.