McWhoppers Not Bombs?


McDonald’s at Guantanamo Bay naval base.

by Dan Fischer

Peace has never been less appetizing. In a full-page advertisement last month, Burger King proposed that for the International Day of Peace on September 21, they and McDonald’s put aside their rivalry and open a temporary restaurant selling the “McWhopper”, a blend of their signature burgers the Big Mac and the Whopper. Proceeds would go toward promoting the annual Day of Peace.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook declined Burger King’s offer, saying that the collaboration would not advance peace and that it was silly to liken “friendly business competition” to the “real pain and suffering of war.” Easterbrook is correct, of course, about the stunt being of no benefit to world peace. But what of his second point, that the fast food industry is just business, not war?

Trench Fries and a Vanilla Drone

Actually, business as usual and war aren’t so easy to separate. Fast food companies thrive on war, opening franchises on military bases and in colonized territories around the world. Just ask Thomas Friedman, the restless cheerleader for neoliberal capitalism: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15.” In addition to fast food companies’ connections to outright war, their everyday business inflicts astronomical “real pain and suffering” on humans and animals alike.

The fast food industry has a long history of profiting off the military. McDonald’s established their first drive-through in 1975, in order to serve soldiers at a nearby military base in Arizona. Today, as Naomi Klein writes, “the U.S. Army goes to war with Burger King and Pizza Hut in tow, contracting them to run franchises for the soldiers on military bases from Iraq to the ‘mini city’ at Guantanamo Bay.” Let’s say you’re visiting Guantanamo and get hungry. You can order a Bacon Clubhouse Burger from McDonald’s, or if you’re more in the mood for Kentucky Fried Chicken, you can always get some popcorn nuggets. There is also a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Taco Bell, and a Baskin-Robbins.

As capitalism’s ruling class continues to colonize the Global South with militarism and lopsided trade arrangements, the fast food multinationals spread into these new territories. The health effects (asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, etc.) on the world’s poorer communities are devastating, as summarized in a World Health Organization report:

Massive marketing and advocacy of Western values and products including high-fat, high sugar and low-fibre fast foods and soft drinks are carried out by multinational corporations through modern mass media and other sales promotions… The dietary transition is associated with the escalating trends of NCDs [noncommunicable diseases].

The industry causes considerable harm to the climate as well, which in turn provokes war. A recent Chatham House study found that worldwide animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation sector does. The drought, famine and disease from climate change increase social instability. In fact, the Pentagon-linked CNA Corporation predicts global warming will increase “internal conflict, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies” and that the “U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations.”

Slaughter Pounder and Wheeze

To call the fast food industry’s expansion peaceful is to ignore the state violence inflicted against those who try to resist. In 1999, a community of small farmers gathered with tractors and dismantled part of a McDonald’s building under construction in Millau, France. Although organizers coordinated the details of the building’s dismantling with police ahead of time, ten people were unexpectedly arrested and one was sentenced to three months in prison. In 2005, a 23 year-old Earth Liberation Front activist was sentenced to 8 years in prison for setting fire to an empty McDonald’s in Seattle.

Underpaid fast food workers got a taste of this state violence during the “Fight for 15” demonstrations for a $15-per-hour living wage. On a single day in 2014, police arrested 436 protesters in 32 cities across the United States. Nine of ten US fast food workers report they experience wage theft, such as being asked to do unpaid, off-the-clock work, meaning they don’t even get the sub-living wages they’re promised.

The fast food industry’s harshest violence, though, falls on nonhuman animals. Each year, five and a half million cows are killed for McDonald’s beef in this country, said the company’s senior director of US food and packaging in 2003. This spring, Mercy for Animals released a video of workers at a McDonald’s supplier stabbing and stomping on chickens (afterwards, McDonald’s cut their ties with the farm). Before the chickens become McNuggets, the company loads the meat with suspected carcinogens and sprays it with a petroleum-derived chemical linked to nausea, delirium, and suffocation.

From Olive Branch to Bacon Ranch

It was only a matter of time before the fast food giants seized the decades-old strategy of Food Not Bombs. Around the world, the Food Not Bombs network has served free meals (made from food that stores and restaurants were going to throw away) and distributed anti-war literature to point out how capitalist governments spend money on wars while people go hungry. In the Burger King-approved version, assembly line-produced burgers replace community-prepared vegetarian meals, and advertisements for fast food and elite charities replace photocopied radical zines.

A Burger King-backed International Day of Peace is an excuse for politicians and businessmen to hold hands, wave flowers, and draw attention away from the blood they spill on the year’s other 364 days. It is as meaningless as contemporary Earth Day, when this year, the rainforest-destroying Burger King celebrated by tweeting a photo of a cheeseburger dressed up as the Earth, with ketchup forming the shapes of the continents. McDonald’s, incidentally, tried scoring green points this Earth Day by announcing they would end their role in deforestation. This announcement earned them major praise, except from those who read the fine print: the changes will not be fully implemented for an entire decade and a half.

If and when the McWhoppers (or the “Peace Burgers” as Burger King now calls them) are sold, they’ll be filled with more blood than any number of pickles and peace signs can conceal.