McDonald's Going Sustainable Is A Big Deal

Filet-O-Fish | Photo: roslynyoungrosalia/Flickr/Creative Commons License

McDonald's has long been firmly in the crosshairs of food activists, especially since Morgan Spurlock decided to eat Big Macs for a month in his documentary "Super Size Me." But while the Golden Arches have been trying to rehab their image ever since -- a small sample of their attempts: healthier options at the checkout counter, vegetarian restaurants in India, opening stores in Detroit made only out of recycled materials, posting calorie counts on all of their menus -- they perhaps just made their biggest splash. (Pun intended!) Last week, they announced that all of the fish they'll be using in the U.S. will be certified sustainable.

What this means is that their popular Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, an item that sells in the hundreds of millions on a yearly basis, and their new Fish McBites menu option (which, frankly, is not the most appetizing name they'll ever come up with) will be created exclusively using wild-caught Alaskan pollock. That's 14,000 restaurants in the U.S., all with sustainable fish.

To prove their bonafides, McDonald's has signed on with the Marine Stewardship Council to oversee the operation -- you know, to make sure nothing, ahem, smells fishy -- and allow their trademarked blue Eco-label boxes to be used. On the surface, this kind of news is almost enough to warrant a bit of forgiveness for creating the monstrosity that is the McRib. But, as with all things corporate, it's best to be a little skeptical about the moves and manipulations from a company as large at McDonald's.

And predictably, not everyone's super-impressed by the news. The certification process by the Marine Stewardship Council has already been called into question. Over at Fast Company, they're not entirely sure if fish is really the thing that McDonald's should be trying to change:

McDonald's can't say that it's buying sustainable beef because of its scale, but it can't exactly remove beef from the menu without destroying the core of its identity. The fish business, big as it may be, will never overtake McDonald's burgers.

In more simplified terms, it's kind of like if a tobacco company announced they'll begin using solar energy at all of their plants. (Thanks for that and all. Really. But you'd make a much bigger positive impact, Mr. Tobacco Company, by, oh I don't know, no longer producing tobacco!) That said, even if the impact of the McDonald's move itself won't specifically pay the dividends that it wants consumers and activists to believe, this whole thing is still a big deal.

From the start of the wars against Big Food, McDonald's has been the main subject of protests, picket lines, heaps of literature, micro-budget documentaries and viral campaigns, all trying to get them to change their ways. And for good reason. If Mickey D's could find a way to make it financially feasible to produce their food in a more eco-friendly, non-invasive way, then surely other fast food companies would try to make it work as well. Force the big dog to change its course, and the rest of the pack will follow.

So, the impact of this news isn't necessarily one to be analyzed by the amount of sustainable fish that McDonald's sells over the next year. It might not even be about the fact that fish is the food item that's being discussed. The impact of this news is one that has to be measured in the years to follow, after McDonald's proves they can do it, after other companies surely follow, after the dominoes begin to topple.

And that's something worth getting excited about.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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When McDonalds uses non-CAFO cows, and chickens ...then that will be truly something to get elated about, especially since they helped create CAFO's in the first place

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When McDonalds uses non-CAFO cows, and chickens ...then that will be truly something to get elated about, especially since they helped create CAFO's in the first place