The Golden Arches…Not So Golden Anymore

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The fast food chain McDonald’s, once lauded as an icon of globalisation and modern taste, may be in for some serious trouble.  Founded in 1940, McDonald’s is the largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, with locations in 119 countries across 35,000 outlets.  One cannot walk more than a few blocks in New York City, for example, without stumbling across yet another McDonald’s.  They have become a sort of symbol of American eating habits — the abundance of greasy hamburgers, french fries, milkshakes, and sodas, served quickly at a low price, at any time of the day.  McDonald’s is a fast-food powerhouse.


It was, at least.  Last month, the CEO of McDonald’s, Don Thompson, stepped down after over 25 years with the company and three years as CEO.  This is in light of a horrendous fiscal year for the franchise, with investors losing confidence amid slow growth, and even decline in some respects.  This comes at little surprise, however.  Our generation (the “Millennials”) is losing its taste for greasy fast-food.  It may be a cheap place to go on a summer night with a group of friends and indulge, but it is not the staple it once was.  Society is beginning to see the true cost of this cheap, convenient “food.”  Workers are payed abysmal wages and McDonald’s is one of the prime targets of the Fight for 15 campaign, which is a movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.  The National Labor Relations Board has charged McDonald’s with labor conditions violations at least 78 times, and the corporation is seen as the epitome of a low-wage job for individuals living in poverty.  In light of our economic struggles, we have become increasingly aware of the plight of fast-food workers, and McDonald’s is no exception.

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In terms of health, McDonald’s is another poster child, this time for all things greasy and bad for you.  Not only are burgers and french fries an essential component of an unbalanced diet, but the quality of the ingredients McDonald’s uses in preparing its concoctions have come under fire.  Our generation is caring more about where our food comes from, and documentaries such as Food, Inc. have only aided in this awareness.  Between allegations that the chickens used in McDonald’s menu items are kept in deplorable conditions and pumped full of hormones, and questions about additives contained in McDonald’s beef, we no longer lie behind a veil of ignorance.  Chains such as Chipotle, Five Guys, and Shake Shack are gaining popularity over McDonald’s because of their continued commitment to quality sourced ingredients.  A meal from Shake Shack is by no means healthier than one from McDonald’s, but at least Shake Shack has guaranteed that there are no mysterious ingredients in its products.

The resignation of former CEO Don Thompson wasn’t just company politics, or indicative of a “bad year” for McDonald’s.  It is evidence that change is coming for how our society and our generation eats and eats out.  If we’re going to indulge in a burger and fries, we want it to be of good quality and served by workers who are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions.  If McDonald’s cannot keep up with the tides of change, then the Golden Arches will begin to fall.

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Kate Labonte

Katie joined SGG in 2013 and is the Executive Editor for Smart Mail, Women's News writer for the Smart Girls Guide, a blogger in Smart Girls Media Sisters, and mentor in the Smart Girls Mentorship program. She is a junior at Fordham University, where she is studying Political Science, Middle Eastern Studies, and Theology. She is currently spending a year at the London School of Economics, studying government and international history. Her smarts are in current affairs, international relations, history, women’s issues, and organizing. When she’s not working on Smart Mail over a cappuccino in London, she loves to read, travel, visit museums, cook, and practice yoga.