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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So is Ronald McDonald the New Joe Camel?

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Just weeks ago I was telling my housemate, "You know what the best thing about winter is? The street canvassers are gone." It may be freezing outside, but at least my day includes far fewer clipboard-assaults. And that, of course, jinxed it. Immediately, a new crop of canvassers appeared outside my New Seasons (mine), asking me something about signing something against Ronald McDonald?

I didn't stop to talk then and I will continue to pretend to get a really important phone call every time I approach a canvasser. But the Ronald McDonald campaign raises some interesting issues that I would rather discuss online than while I'm trying to just buy some damn hummus.

So here's the deal with the Ronald McDonald petition: The group Corporate Accountability International is trying to pressure McDonald's to can Ronald McDonald as is mascot, arguing that it's predatory marketing to aim fast food at children, since consuming a lifetime's worth of cheeseburgers and McFlurries leads to obesity, heart disease, and an unquenchable craving for Filet-O-Fishes.

The campaign is saying, essentially, that Ronald McDonald is the new Joe Camel—a trick that lures kids into an unhealthy lifestyle and hooks them on bad habits. In Portland, the campaign is targeting Don Armstrong, the owner of 14 Portland-area McDonalds franchises, pressuring him to ask McDonalds' corporate HQ to kick Ronald to the curb. Today the campaign delivered 500 signatures to one of his stores.

This change-from-within is a different approach than anti-junk food activists took in San Francisco, which recently banned Happy Meals from city limits. [EDIT: I should clarify that it's the same group, Corporate Accountability International, working on this campaign, it's just the tactic that's different since they're targeting franchise owners rather than city hall.] I'm a bit split on the issue. On the one hand, nixing Ronald doesn't fix any of root problems—the cheapness and availability of junk food and Americans' generally failing diets and sedentary natures. On the other hand, junk food is unarguably bad for kids and dumping the long-time mascot could send a powerful message.

No, hes not relaxing after a delicious meal. Hes retired.
  • No, he's not relaxing after a delicious meal. He's "retired."

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