March 27, 2004

Burgers, Fries, and Lawyers

by Jeremy Blachman

The Policy Review has an article titled "Burgers, Fries, and Lawyers" that serves as a nice primer for the "why we shouldn't be suing fast food companies camp, giving away its point of view early in the piece with the line, "Nor is it clear that the average fast food meal is significantly less nutritious than the average restaurant meal, or even the average home meal." Uh oh, I know what's coming next.

And in the paragraphs that follow, the author pretty much throws out every possible defense of the fast food companies, sensible and ridiculous, apparently just to see what sticks. If you throw out enough reasons... well, surely eventually you'll hit on one that everyone can agree on. No matter what you think about suing fast food companies, I think this article is one of the best examples of how to write a one-sided unbalanced advocacy piece that puts your credibility in doubt, even if everything you're saying is absolutely right. (Just to get my own prejudices out of the way, I don't actually know what I think about suing fast food companies -- my Torts professor thought it was a great idea, and our entire final exam was to write a paper saying why we agreed with him, and so I know the arguments... and I don't think it's ridiculous to say we should think about whether society is better or worse off with fast-food chains... but I'm not convinced there's a case to be made... in any event, on with my gentle mockery of this article...)

The author's first argument: lawyers say that poor and poorly-educated people are being seduced by fast food marketing, but in fact rich people are getting fatter faster. And the culprit, he says "data shows," is that people aren't eating more fast food than they used to; they're eating more snacks. Leading to this head-scratcher:

And in a fairly recent development, supermarket shoppers are pulling goodies off of store shelves and ripping into them at the stores before they even drive home. Consumers eat two to three times more goodies inside stores than at fast food restaurants.

Um... this sounds a little like conjecture to me. It may be true -- but is there really data showing that Americans are so desperate for food that they're ransacking supermarkets like never before -- and this is the cause (not the effect) of the nation's weight gain? It just sounds fishy to me (...perhaps Pepperidge Farm Goldfish-y...).

He then goes on to blame sedentary jobs, telecommuting (because then workers "may be sitting even closer to the refrigerator or cupboard"), and the decline in smoking ("has driven up cigarette prices and led smokers to switch from nicotine to calories").

Next defense: fast food is actually healthier than it used to be, and more customizable to people's tastes ("no mayo," etc). And fancy restaurants are serving unhealthy food too (expensive burgers made with rendered duck fat). And you want to blame portion sizes?

have these critics been to a movie theater lately, where popcorn containers look like bushel baskets? Or to fancy restaurants featuring all-you-can-eat Sunday buffets?

As we continue our journey through the catalog of defenses, fast food is good for America, because it's cheap. The price/protein gram is cheaper in a fast-food hamburger than if you made a burger yourself with supermarket meat, he says. And, no evidence that it's addictive like tobacco: no withdrawal symptoms if you stop eating at Burger King. And how can these companies be evil when "within 20 seconds of inquiring, each of the fast food chains mentioned in this paper produced nutritional content charts." They're unfairly maligned, I tell you! Unfair!

Finally, these lawsuits are bad for society because if fast food companies lose, we'll get:

1) lower wages for fast food employees; 2) lower stock prices for shareholders; 3) higher prices for consumers.

Are we done yet? Phew! How about a snappy conclusion:

Fast food restaurants hire and train hundreds of thousands of workers, attract investments from millions of middle-class citizens, and quench the hunger and thirst of tens of millions of satisfied patrons.

So stop these lawsuits! Because!!

March 27, 2004 11:44 PM | TrackBack

The bill is unconstitutional. How's that for a defense?

Posted by: UCL at March 28, 2004 01:56 AM

Lower pay for employees?

How can you hollow out minimum wage?

Posted by: eimi at March 28, 2004 03:03 AM

Wow, Jeremy. I don't think I've ever seen you fisk before. Welcome to fiskhood.

Posted by: Nick Morgan at March 28, 2004 04:09 AM

Peope eat themselves up and then try to blame other people because they are fat. Wanna stop being fat, then stop eating.

(is "eat themselves up" english???, anyways)

visti my weblog :)

Posted by: Iysam @1 at March 28, 2004 05:17 AM

Did I just say, 'blame other people because they are fat'?
Sorry, I think I should reread what I write before posting.

Posted by: Iysam @1 at March 28, 2004 05:20 AM

I dunno... I think many of those arguments are valid.

However, the simplest one always seems to be the best: people need to exercise self-control.

These suits are nonsense to the extent that I don't even think we need articles defending the fast food corportions. Let reality be prima facie evidence (in the academic world) that these suits are a bad idea.

I recall a recent case where some moron sued the cable company for leaving his cable on after he cancelled the service. He claimed it was 'stealing' his life or some jibberish like that. Prior to filing suit he asked for, get this, two laptops with cable modems as compensation. Yeah, that'll get you in the great outdoors.

Posted by: Brian at March 28, 2004 10:43 AM

I don't see what the problem is with the guy throwing out every possible argument that passes the laugh test. That's what lawyers do. Unless he's positioning his article as a balanced, evaluative look at the problem, I say get off the guy's back.

Posted by: Russell at March 28, 2004 03:24 PM
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