Using Your Voice Wisely

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

Before I get into my post for today, I am going to get this out of the way: I eat at McDonald’s. Not very often – probably about once every three months or so – but I go there. My kids eat there, too, and far more often than I do. A fast food meal out is their go-to treat when they spend time with their grandparents, which means they visit a couple of times a month, and I choose not to stress about it. The world is a complicated and nuanced place, and a person can hold an opinion and not always act in accordance with that opinion. Call it hypocrisy, call it cognitive dissonance, call it being human. I am willing to own it, and I am not about to pass judgment on anyone else who consumes the occasional fast food meal.

Now, on to my point. I am a proud member of the Green Moms Carnival. Yesterday, one of the other members sent an email to the group asking if there were any Canadian residents who would be interested in applying for one of three spots as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom. Her idea was that if one of those moms is environmentally conscious, they may be able to shine a light on behind-the-scenes practices at McDonald’s. I am pretty much the only Canadian resident in the group, so I checked it out.

Right after my email exchange with the Green Moms, I saw my friend Annie’s post about the All-Access Moms, complete with a video that shines a light on some of McDonald’s questionable business practices. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend checking out Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Food, Inc. But for right now, let me summarize my personal concerns with McDonald’s:

  1. A McDonald’s meal comes with a lot of disposable packaging which ends up in the landfill – or worse, on my front lawn.
  2. McDonald’s is constantly working to drive down the cost of their food, which means that their eggs and meat produced under inhumane conditions.
  3. Their food is not healthy – and it doesn’t even decompose.

If I applied to be one of the McDonald’s All-Access Moms, I could do so as a skeptic. In the unlikely event they actually chose me, I would tour their production facilities with a critical eye, and I would do my best to remain objective. Would I succeed? It’s hard to say. There’s a reason journalistic ethics require that reporters don’t receive gifts from the people they’re reporting on. When someone’s flying you around and treating you well, you’re naturally going to be inclined to like them. And when you like them, it’s hard to rip them to shreds when you write your article.

On top of that, I have to assume that some amount of care will go into what the moms get to see. They’re likely not going to be entering slaughterhouses, or talking to disaffected employees. They’re going to be presented with a polished and crafted image. It’s understandable, really. When I know that company’s going to be coming over, I clean my house, so that I’m giving the best possible impression. I’m sure that McDonald’s would do the same. When they’re showing what “really goes on” at McDonald’s, they’re going to show their best side.

There’s another factor at work here, too. The point of this exercise – like all PR exercises – is to generate positive publicity for McDonald’s. And one of they ways they do that is by partnering with moms, so that they can use their names and images. To continue the thought experiment, if I were accepted, and even if I did manage to maintain my objectivity and find some real answers to hard-hitting questions, in the process I would be lending my name to a company whose practices I don’t condone. Occasionally taking actions in my personal life that don’t conform with my highest ideals is one thing, but publicly promoting a brand I don’t believe in is quite another.

As a blogger, I have created a personal brand. I think of this, really, as just another way of saying that I have a reputation built around my personal platform. I view this platform as an almost sacred space, and I am very picky about who or what I talk about here. In part, this is to maintain my personal credibility and keep my blog from becoming a PR pitch machine. But an even bigger part comes from the journey I’m on to live a life that I’m comfortable with. If I don’t want to work in a job that doesn’t fit me, why would I use my platform in a way that doesn’t fit me? I want to live authentically, which means using my voice in a way that affirms my values rather than undermining them.

So, while part of me thinks it would be interesting to get a first-hand view of the fast food industry, even if only to see what they are and are not showing me, I’m not going to apply. If I don’t want to give McDonald’s the right to use my name and image, I’m not going to offer it to them. That’s my decision, and I will own it. Your decision may be different – and I respect that. But however you decide to use your voice, I hope that it affirms your life and conforms with your values.

Tell me, would you submit an application to be an All-Access Mom? Do you think you could maintain your objectivity when they wined you and dined you? And would you be comfortable with your name and image being used to promote a company whose practices you disagree with? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Yes, I had a similar lesson, not about McDonalds (and yes we also have eaten there before…) and not about journalism but about me as a photographer and the kind of work I do and more importantly the work I don’t do.
    It is funny, that sometimes things sounds so interesting at first, especially when one feels slightly flattered or intrigued, but sometimes there is just no way it can fit.
    Mel’s last post … Product ShowCaseMy Profile

  2. i saw the McD All Access Moms strategy and thought, “another mommy blog shit storm coming up” to myself. apart from the questionable nature of the McD industry and it’s nutritional value, i think this all access promotion will hammer yet another nail into the mommy blogging credibility coffin – some mums blog well, some mummy bloggers blog well and, sorry to say it, there are some really uncritical, gullible bloggers out there who will lap up any kind of product promotional opportunity without a second thought.

    there are some really important questions which need to be asked re: McD, but i don’t think this ‘tour’ will be the place.

    PS: i really do have doubts about the non-decomposing burger – in a word, dessication and not high levels of preservatives. i kept my cat’s pair of testicles for a number of years post castration – properly dried out, they were resistant to decomposition and I, venture to guess, not pumped up with preservatives
    pomomama’s last post … midlife monday: those who inspireMy Profile

    • I was actually thinking of attempting a similar experiment with a homemade burger patty, to see what happens. I know Karen (the owner of the burger) and I believe she did what she says she did, but I would be curious to see how another burger behaves under similar circumstances.

      • There were some commenters on my blog who explained the burger thing. Apparently it is so thin and so full of fat that it ends up drying and being preserved much in the same way that beef jerky would. The guy who did Super Size Me also did an experiment with a bunch of burgers and fries from McDonald’s and from a regular diner. The one thing that didn’t decompose for him was the fries. Another commenter on my blog mentioned that she had fries in her classroom that were years old already and haven’t decomposed.

    • Yeah, I’d think it was too risky. It will threaten your credibility in the “general crunchy” so to speak niche you’ve carved out for yourself. Fascinating, yes. Good for your personal brand? No. This being said, I’m not as hardcore anti-McDs as you might expect. I have a nostalgic love of the chain, remember the amazingly heartwarming commercials they put out in the 80s? I miss those. I LOVED that place as a kid, with all the characters, it was like my own small ton Disneyland. Course my parents rarely took me there which was probably part of the appeal. I do eat there a few times a year while traveling, for breakfast food. Those McGriddle breakfast sandwiches? Yeah, they rock. I’ll admit it. But partnering with them even as a skeptic? No. I think it would honestly be a waste of time.
      Amber’s last post … I got dressed again!My Profile

  3. I would not submit an application for many of the same reasons that you list. I don’t go to McDonalds at all. My kids have been there once with their grandparents. I don’t like much about their food or business practices, but I don’t hold any illusions that any person signing up to be an All-Access mom will be able to do, see, or ask anything of any real importance. I also don’t really subscribe to the belief that you should do things that go against your principles to try to change things “from the inside.”
    Brenna @ Almost All The Truth’s last post … Wordless Wednesday: photos, editing, and the gorgeous high desertMy Profile

  4. Amber – our discussion yesterday really prompted many similar thoughts. I love that you sorted them out here and that you found the clarity you needed to say emphatically – ya know, this is so not a fit for me. Further – your brand is truly “all you”. Makes sense to protect it. Thanks for referencing “the burger” as always it’s cool of you to share.

    • I’m glad I had the chance to think about it, honestly. And a part of me is really tempted. But I just can’t see letting them use my name, you know? It’s too uncomfortable for me.

  5. I haven’t been to MD’s for over 20 years but I have no doubt that my son will land in one sooner rather than later and not on my watch – *(that’s called “letting go!” 🙂

    More to the point vis-a-vis getting involved as a blogger, I hate to say it but you’d be preaching to the choir. Enough has been written on MDs in the form of documentaries (Super Size me and many more, bestselling books (Fast Food Nation etc) that an eco-consious mom blogger whose following comprises many mothers who don’t subscribe to the Fast Food philiosphy anyway IMO is like spitting in the wind. Better to spend time promoting the values you believe in and not devoting any print at all to the mega-corp.

    I think posts saying why Mom bloggers should Not participate are more useful that attempting to be some kind of rebel blogger (!).

    Great post about how to make this a decision based on solid reasoning.
    harriet Fancott’s last post … Hot times summer in the cityMy Profile

  6. I love this line Amber “I hope that it affirms your life and conforms with your values.” I strive for that. Sometimes it is harder than you would expect. Have a beautiful day!
    Wendy Irene’s last post … Soulful Banana BreadMy Profile

  7. Wow, this is really interesting Amber and I appreciate you walking through your thoughts here. It reminds me of stonyfield farm working with walmart. Many of their friends were appalled but they felt they were bringing healthy food to a new market.

    I would be as intrigued as you and if I were to do it I would develop a strategy and goals of what I was trying to do with the experience.

    Not sure I would follow through or pick this specific experience, but I do believe that change can happen from the inside and it takes flexibility and an open mind from both parties.

    Would they be able to use you as an advertisement? Like super cute you chomping a burger and endorsing McD’s? I don’t know if I could do that.

    • They would own whatever I submit to them, and I assume they would be taking their own photos and video, so that’s my biggest concern. I would, effectively, be an advertisement. That’s the part that’s most uncomfortable for me to consider.

  8. I think you’re right on all counts. I let my kids eat McDonald’s now and then, I eat McDonald’s now and then (not as often as the kids), and as much as I keep saying I’m dying for someone to ask me to sell out, I don’t think I would do this. It’s just not you. Wait, I don’t really know you – it just doesn’t seem like the blog you I sort of know. And love.
    allison’s last post … In Defense of Baseball. And Irony, I guess. OR, the practical exact opposite of Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • You’re right – it’s not me.

      And for what it’s worth, many bloggers were personally invited to participate. I was not one of them. Apparently McDonald’s knows that it’s not me, too.

  9. I submitted an application, which was more of a challenge and a stirring of the pot than anything else. I openly stated I hate McDonalds food. I won’t accept anything from them. I’d refuse to display their logo, promote their restaurants, or anything else. But for me, and I suppose my ‘brand’ (which revolves around healthy eating, food revolution, activism), I think it’s important to gather the information and know what we’re up against.

    When I went to Kraft it was so surreal-and I agree, interesting when you have flights, hotel, and food paid for, am driven around by cars, etc. You WANT to say nothing but glowing things about the company. However, I found that while I liked the people who worked for the company, the facts are the facts. I won’t eat Kraft dinner, it has tartrazine in it, and I won’t promote it. Period. There are things about Kraft that are okay, and things that I hate. I even told them, straight to their face. BBQ sauce doesn’t need huge amounts of sodium. It’s not the nature of the beast, I can make it far better. So can they. And they SHOULD.

    My application was more to make the point that they NEED skeptics and people who are going to question them rather than just swallow PR spin if they want to make it real conversation-but sadly, they will most likely take the cheerleaders. I am hoping, more or less, that my video will inspire other people not to just be sheep but ask questions.

    The activist in me wants to dare them to invite me, just so I can go and stir the pot. Because I’ve hated their food my entire life, and nothing is going to get me to say otherwise, not even a trip. If I was there, I’d refuse to eat anything. The truth is, even if they did choose me I likely wouldn’t be able to go.

    I do wish I had read the agreement more slowly-I missed that they would then own my submission, because there is one line in there that I wish I’d deleted that they may take and twist/manipulate and use, which will bother me. At any rate, I am hugely against McDonalds too but I’m not adverse to some boat rocking and getting information out there, because I think it’s important to ask the blunt questions and let them know people are not all dumb enough to just accept the PR spin.

    But I sincerely doubt they’d want to do that. They are looking for positive cheerleaders. I wouldn’t be one.

    • You don’t know this, because it hasn’t been posted yet, but my post for tomorrow actually links to your submission. I also say that I hope they choose you, because really, that (more than anything) would make me reconsider my position on McDonald’s. I know other people who are doing the same thing, like Lisa Borden, and I respect what you’re doing, and understand why. The truth is I’m not much of a pot-stirrer, so I’m not sure I would be capable of being in that room and asking hard questions, and if that’s true, then it’s best for me to just opt out altogether.

      I agree that they’re looking for cheerleaders, though. I think that’s why people like you and me, who talk about real food and sustainability, didn’t get a personal invitation.

  10. Having recently sworn off McDonald’s (I let my kids watch the non-decomposing video), I couldn’t do it. I feel like it’s one thing to eat their french fries on the sly (do they put crack in the fries maybe?) but quite another to actually promote them. I was a gullible I’ll-post-about-anything-for-$5 newbie once, but I like to think I’ve learned something in the last 4 years – something like my integrity doesn’t come cheap. 🙂 I can just imagine getting drunk with McDonald’s executives and feeling like we’re buddies, then not wanting to post the truth about my new friends. I’ll stay out of it, thanks.
    Triplezmom’s last post … I May Red Shirt My 2 Year OldMy Profile

  11. If I was still blogging I would probably apply but it is doubtful I would get accepted. 1) I’m vegetarian. They’d be selling me on their fries and salads and muffins, which wouldn’t quite cut it for them obviously. 2) They’d likely be feeding us and since I don’t eat their food (we go to McD’s to play in their play land and I won’t let my kinds eat the food. In fact they hardly even realize it’s a restaurant.) there wouldn’t be much of a reason to have me. 3) I would go to listen to what they had to say. I would not sign on to gush about them because I don’t think they could convince me of anything. I am with you on all of your points about them. But I would apply just on the slim chance they might pick me without knowing my stance on them. And then I’d rake them over the coals. I wonder if they are going to try to prevent that? Oh well. I’m not blogging anymore anyway. 🙂
    Melodie’s last post … My Health Scare (or Why I Had To Write A Post Today)My Profile

  12. On roadtrips, we’ll occasionally stop for fast food, but the boys actually don’t like the chicken nuggets much – too greasy for them! The french fries, though . . .

    I’m not too worried about the occasional meal, but it makes me glad we’ve got kids that love veggies.
    Lady M’s last post … Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Middle EarthMy Profile

  13. I would consider submitting a serious application if I thought there was any chance that (a) they would pick me and (b) that it would actually be an “all access” pass.

    They would never pick me. I’ve criticized McDonald’s and other similar companies in the past. I’ve shown that I can see through the doublespeak that companies like McDonald’s, Nestle, and others put out there.

    Plus, even if they did pick me, there is no way that I would actually get to see the things that I wanted to see. As others have said, it will be a very carefully selected and scripted tour.

  14. I considered for a second or two to applying to be one of the bloggers, but even without concern – or not – about McDonald’s itself, by bigger concern was who is going to take care of my kids? I read the rules, and they are looking for bloggers with young kids (as opposed to adult kids), and yet you are required to take four week long trips at relatively short notice. That’s not even possible for me, and even if it was, it would cost be a huge bundle in child care. So whether I like McDonald’s or not, became entirely moot.
    Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves’s last post … Sprouted Bean Salad RecipeMy Profile

    • Excellent point. If I need to leave for a week on short notice, I’m clearly not working outside the home in a traditional job. And what kind of at-home mother has that kind of childcare? Very few of us – myself included.

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  1. […] I got up on my high horse and explained why I wouldn’t use my platform to promote McDonald’s. I stand by what I said. The idea of aligning my personal brand with the McDonald’s corporate […]

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