Ask anyone why fast food is bad for the environment, and chances are the answer will be: because McDonald’s kills rainforests.
This is something most people have heard at some point, and you’ll probably know the reason why McDonald’s is said to ‘kill’ rainforests, too- because the rainforest gets chopped down to make room for soy to feed to animals for fast food.
Is this actually true? And what other reasons are there for eco warriors to hate- or love- fast food?
In 2006, Greenpeace started a campaign about the relationship between food retailers and rainforest destruction. Their report Eating Up the Amazon ‘detailed how McDonald’s and other companies were implicated in deforestation, land-grabbing, slavery and violence’.
The result? A completely changed attitude towards sustainability. Many fast food companies, including McDonald’s, began to source their soy from elsewhere, forcing big soy traders to buy soy from other areas. But this agreement was only to last for two years, and information on whether the food companies have kept their hands off the rainforest since is scant. McDonald’s themselves said in 2011: ‘Working with Greenpeace we formed an alliance with other retailers, which resulted in suppliers agreeing not to buy soya from newly deforested land in the Amazon.’ This would suggest that they’ve kept the good work in that area up.
Some companies were less interested in helping Greenpeace protect the Amazon rainforest. In 2006, we were told that ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), have point-blank refused to discuss their role in Amazon destruction’ and I found nothing to suggest that they have since changed tracks. On the contrary, they’ve recently come under scrutiny, again from Greenpeace, for using Indonesian rainforest wood for their packaging. KFC has denied the claims.
But this brings us onto another aspect of fast food that many forget. Packaging.
Think about what you get when you order food at a fast food place. The food, obviously, and then the individual wrappers for burgers, chips (or fries, if you’re not in the UK) and everything else, the little sachets of sauce, the plastic knife and fork, the paper napkin, maybe some salt and pepper in more little sachets, a drink in a plastic cup, with a plastic lid and a straw, plus the big paper bag that it all goes in…
To be fair, there’s almost more packaging than food. And that can’t be good for the environment. Even if you recycle it and it doesn’t all go in landfill, it had to be made somewhere. And that means energy, paper and plastics, probably a whole lot of water during the process, not to mention transport and, as Greenpeace pointed out, the fact that the paper is likely to be cheaply sourced and therefore potentially dubious.
McDonald’s has said that ‘with packaging specifically, we are aiming to reduce its impact through improving design and increasing the use of renewable resources.’ For example, they’ve been making the chip packets thinner to use less paper.
This may be true, but the fact still remains that however thin the packaging is, there’s a good deal more of it than when you eat at a china-plates-and-cutlery restaurant. Or at home. And it’s a sad truth that a lot of that packaging ends up in the street outside the fast food restaurant. As for the toys you get with kid’s meals- only rarely do the things get played with and they end up in the bin eventually. So if you really, really have to go to a fast food restaurant, say no to the toy (if you’re a kid, of course) and go easy on the paper napkins.
As for the level of artificial crap going in there- it’s called junk food for a reason. But that’s a story for another time.
Of course, the main reason why people eat junk food in the first place is convenience- you turn up, you get the food fairly quickly and at moderate expense, you get to chuck away all the packaging and have to take nothing away with you. You can eat a similarly priced, home-cooked meal without all the waste, but the effort, obviously, is going to be higher. Junk food is time-saving food, and in our overly fast lifestyles, time is almost literally worth money.
Is fast food bad for the environment? Yes. Should we avoid it? I think so. Can we avoid it? I manage and so does my family, but I can understand why quick ‘n’ easy food is so tempting for busy people.
Good old-fashioned home-grown, home-made food is the absolute best in term of food miles, health, low waste and all the rest of it, and luckily, that way of eating seems to be making a bit of a comeback. Give it a go, especially if you have kids or are a kid, because I don’t think there’s a better way to learn about the value of food and where it comes from.
And, of course, you’ll kill less rainforests.
~ this whole wide world