Why We Eat Big Macs

25JUNK-articleInline In yesterday's Week in Review, Mark Bittman responds to fast food defenders, who claim that people go to McDonald's because it is much cheaper than a home cooked meal. Bittman lines up a roasted chicken dinner with McDonald's for four and finds that the chicken dinner is cheaper, as well as more nutritious. McDonald's costs $27.89 and the chicken dinner costs $13.78.

I think Bittman misses the point here. People go to McDonald's, because it isn't that much more expensive than making a chicken dinner, and it is much, much easier. 

The past six months were insanely busy, and where we did we end up at least once a week? At the Wendy's drive through. Other nights it was Boston Market or the local pizza joint or the Greek takeout. In the height of the insanity, I cooked only once a week.

Bittman dismisses the ease of fast food too quickly. He says that people have time to watch an hour of TV every night, so they have time to go to the supermarket and cook dinner. Well, not really. To make a meal that everyone will eat, it requires planning, organizing, food shopping, food sorting, cooking, cleaning up. Doing all that after putting in a 12 hour day is gruesome. A fast food meal can be ordered and eaten in 20 minutes or less. 

To really jump start the food revolution, we either need to revamp our lifestyles (No more evenings with triple activities for the kids. Less homework. Less time at the office.) or we need better choices at the fast food restaurants. Better choices at fast food restaurants seems like a more realistic option.

Honestly, the salads at Wendy's and the unsweetened iced tea aren't bad. In my upper class suburb, I can split a Greek salad with Steve for $8 or get a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the Italian pizza joint for $5. The problem is that these options are only available to those in the Upper West Side or the wealthy suburbs. Let's subsidize healthy fast food, so it can be more available everywhere. 

Resisting the New

The issue that most concerned my friends this week hasn't been Sudan or the Republican debates or even Troy Davis. It was the change in format of Facebook. 

Tech companies are facing a new challenge. They need to innovate to meet new demands. Netflix has to get away from being a lending library of DVDs to a service that provides streaming video. It's much cheaper. They don't have to pay dudes to stock warehouses and to stuff red envelopes. Facebook needs to offer more services in order to gain new subscribers and to expand their business.

But people don't want their tech services to change. Facebook has to look like Facebook. Netflix means a red envelope in the mail. 

 Ultimately, people don't like change. They don't like the learning curve of figuring out a new interface or new terminology. I'm having trouble figuring out how to cook in my new kitchen. I'm pouting that my pots don't fit nicely in the new drawers and I don't know where to put the coffee pot. I have to remember which cabinet has the knives and which cabinet has the wine glasses. Thinking hurts. 

No tech company wants to lose its edge or, even worse, become irrelevant. WordPerfect, WordStar, the modem, floppy disks. If you miss a step, you're become the dodo bird. At the same time, people get cranky about change. It's amusing to watch these companies figure out how to meet new demands, while retaining loyalty of its users. 

As the world is speeding up, we're losing our footing. 

Legislating “Nice”

Back to School Night is a September tradition. We squeeze our adult bodies into little desks, wave awkwardly at neighbors in the hallways, and march around the school to learn about homework rules and cafeteria food. This Back to School Night was different. At Jonah's school, the principal showed up on the classroom TVs to describe the new anti-bullying laws in New Jersey. (Here's an NPR chat about it.) 

The principal was grim. He gave a twenty minute presentation on the new law, which takes an extremely hard-line on bullying. If a student is caught picking on another student, because of some perceived physical, sexual, ethnic, or neurological difference, the bully will have a permanent mark on his record. Schools are legally required to monitor this behavior, which can happen outside of school grounds or even on the Internet. 

Jonah attended school presentations on the topic. His school is particularly sensitive about bullying, because the Rutgers boy who killed himself after being mocked for being gay, had attended Jonah's middle school. 

At Ian's school, the principal of his special needs school was also alarmed. She viewed this law, which was clearly designed to help kids with neurological differences, as a potential landmine for our kids. Kids with neurological differences have no social filter and think nothing of going up to people to inform that they are overweight. Could their innocent social blunders be construed as acts of bullying?

The principals of both schools saw this law as a bureaucratic nightmare. 

Will this law be effective? Could it be challenged by Free Speech advocates? Won't smart, mean kids inflict pain in very subtle ways that wouldn't be picked up by this law? The silent treatment is a very effective method of bullying. 

Can good character be taught in schools without a draconian law? Clearly good character is important, not only for protecting weak kids, but also for the future success of all kids.