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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

DEBATE: Ethical Fast Food?

I have started posting some small tidbits over at Hippyshopper but fear not, for they will all make it onto the City Hippy pages too. I recently posted this review of Pret the sandwich shop.
Working in any city means that food choices are limited. Other than bringing in a mung bean salad every day, what’s a City Hippy to do? Turns out that Pret a Manger offer a healthier and hippier choice. Why: you can get wholemeal bread, light or even no mayo, less plastic/more card packaging, wooden spoons, organic milk, fairtrade coffee and sandwiches made in the stores with fresh, GM-free ingredients delivered daily. They even give all leftovers to charity. I don't know why I haven't been to Pret for ages but if the mung bean salad doesn't survive the journey then Pret is where I will be from now on. The perfect answer to healthy food on the move.
A few interesting comments followed along a general theme of: How can you advocate supporting a company a third owned by MacDonalds?

Of course, not for one moment, do I advocate supporting MacDonalds via MacDonalds but the question is:
Is an ethical company still an ethical company when it is owned, in part or whole, by an "unethical" company?
On the one hand Pret makes profit in quite a sustainable way. To be applauded. On the other hand those profits feedback to MacDonalds who then in turn might use that profit to fund behaviour I would not support. Not good!

Is it better that MacDonalds fail to make profit from an ethical (ish) investment? Perhaps you advocate a boycott of Pret for selling a stake to MacDonalds?

Would it make for a more ethical world if I used a non-organic, non-sustainable, non-chain owned, unethical local sandwich shop rather than an ethical (ish) sandwich shop owned by MacDonalds?

I don't think so. I think business can be a force for good. I can think of many examples where that is true. But this it tricky grey area stuff.

At the end of the debate though I stand on the side of using Pret if there is not a more ethical option on the basis that at least it makes MacDonalds see that the triple bottom line can work.

Thoughts?

Namaste

Al

UPDATE: Just wanted to let you know that fellow green blogger Organic Researcher has posted on this debate and that you should check his contribution (and my commented reply) out and add your own thoughts.

Whilst I do not really agree with his take on the situation I understand that some/many will and I totally value his contribution...namaste! Al

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14 Comments:

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Jibs said...

The situation I guess is akin to Green & Blacks being owned by Cadburys. Ut ultimately all 'ethical' companies are supported by 'unethical' companies and procedures, whether it's direct ownership in these instances, or indirectly by ethical companies using non-renewable energy sources at some stage of the production process, or using costly airlines to ship goods from country to country. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer, a "this is ethical" vs "this is not ethical", rather, it's the choice of individual: if I'm not happy Pret is owned partially by McDs then I won't go there, if it's as ethical as I can find then I will go there. A lot of people do not feel it is unethical to eat at McDonalds. There's no absolute "ethical" standard, other than for you as an individual and how you feel.

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Maya said...

Didn't know you write for hippyshopper. Great...I'll start checking it out...is it yours to? the site? Cheers

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Jibs

I agree of course...very subjective as is morality and ethics.

Namaste

Al

ps Maya...I have only recently started writing for hippyshopper.com - not my site, sadly, and a different type of content - a few writers posting very often (3 times a day on average) whereas CH tends to be more in-depth as well as the quick stuff of course ;)

 
At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Silver D said...

It's a tough one really, do you be completely ethical and use your own lunch which could be sourced from ethical produces or do you support and unethical company trying to be ethical.

Sure Mikky D's could do alot more, but everyone has to start somewhere, and if they don't see people supporting them, when will they ever change!

A tough decision indeed, but perhaps a compromise, 50% of the time you support Mikky D's trying to become ethical, the other 50% you bring in your own sourced ethical lunch!

Sorted!

 
At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Tracy said...

On one hand, MacD's is making some concessions and running part of its business in an ethical way. Should we support them? If we don't, perhaps other unethical companies won't bother trying to clean up their acts either.

If we do support them, by buying from Pret, are we encouraging other big, unethical businesses to give the ethical path a go too?

 
At 1:04 AM, Anonymous Jibs said...

The management teams of the likes of McDs, Starbucks, Cadburys etc have one goal and one goal only: to maximise shareholder value (and obviously usually this equates to making shedloads of money). It's because of this that I think the situation re: the question Tracy poses above is a win-win situation.

Whether you buy from a niche traditionally-recognised-as-"ethical" producer/business, or whether you buy from a multinational corporate behemoth offering a token single line/product or owns a smaller subsidiary that is "ethical", the result will be the same. Management will pour over the quarterly sales figures of their own products and those of competitors, and whether your purchase was from their own piffling ethical range, or from a dedicated ethically-minded competitor, it won't matter. You've essentially voted for ethical. If more and more people are voting in an ethical way each quarter, regardless of to which ethical companies the pounds/dollars are going to, management will recognise that vote and respond accordingly. Keep voting people :)

 
At 1:17 AM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Silver D...love it. Very practical answer and pretty much what I try to do...although taking lunch is always harder than planned for me.

Tracy...I like your thinking...for me it is about encouraging positive actions...I can't wait to live in a world where all the major high street stores are ethical...who cares if they are making pots of money from it...as long as they are not screwing over people and planet what more do we want?

Jibs...spot on mate...spending money is more democratic than voting imho and we do it all the time. VOTE WITH YOUR NOTE!!!

Namaste to you all!

Al

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous beev said...

I love Pret a Manger and agree that it doesn't matter who owns them. IMHO they do the best and healthiest fast food ever!

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger fuud said...

Thanks for the info about Green & Blacks ownership by Cadburys. I guess it is akin to Scarffenberger of San Francisco, USA being purchased by Hersheys, 'the brown colored wax posing as chocolate' company.

Brian

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger SustainableGirl said...

It's a really difficult dilemma, but for me, there's no question that I would absolutely NOT support any company owned by McDonald's. I quote YOU in a previous post: "No matter how much Fairtrade coffee Nestle offer me I will not buy it...Nestle's general business practices and history disturbs me. Know what I mean? It is not about the product actually...it is about the company behind the product. I want to support those companies that have a strong ethical core. " Amen! I'm also in agreement with Organic Researcher that our relationship with food has to change, and that it's a difficult process. None of this is easy, for sure, and I'm glad we're talking about these issues.

 
At 11:25 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Sustainable Girl...

This debate is superb...really making me question my life choices...which is why we are all here ;) Namaste!

Not sure what you meant by the double negative:

there's no question that I would absolutely NOT support any company owned by McDonald's.

Do you mean you would not rule it out?

Personally I think Nestle and Pret are very different examples. Nestle are such an extreme. Pret and Green & Blacks would be a fairer comparison. Don't tell me we should boycott G&B's for selling to Cadbury's? Craig Sams himself told us in the ongoing interview series on this site that G&B's needed someone like Cadbury's to help them do even more good. The world is not some theoretical place people...it is just not black and white in this area.

We want business to be greener yet when they make a move in that direction whilst we are rightly cynical we give them no chance to BE better.

No wonder the average consumer gets confused and does little to nothing about ethical shopping.

NO POINT PREACHING TO THE CONVERTED
If we want to encourage consumers to think ethically and dramatically change the way we ALL shop then we must make it easy for them.

MacDonalds Bad! Pret Good! is something they can digest. If we start mixing the message then they will disconnect.

And lets remind us of what the message is to a non-ethical consumer.

I think the message is: think about what you eat, where it comes from, how it was grown and so on.

The message cannot be: who are the shareholders and who makes money from that company?

What average consumer is gonna get that kind of info all the time.

Organic good.
Fairtrade good.

Now that is digestable for newbie ethical consumers.

That is where we have gone wrong. We have made things too complex in the past and look where it has got us.

As for going to Pret my point all along was that in my opinion given the choice between Pret or some crappy unethical joint...I would choose Pret.

IMHO the more McD's make from ethical consumerism the more they will focus on it. Simple.

Not that we should all shop at Pret all the time even when there are better choices. Only when there is nothing better. That rewarding McD's for their ethical investment is better than supporting a non-organic non-fairtrade cafe who will never change.

Finally I totally agree about changing our relationship with food and it is changing. We need to eat less, eat locally, eat organic and even grow our own those of us that can. That represents massive societal upheaval and I hope we have the time to finish the job...

Namaste

Al

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Although having said all of that the ethical market is growing in the UK so perhaps we should keep pushing and accept no compromises...perhaps we should remain hardened and give no ground?

On the other hand perhaps the growth will peak (perhaps it has already) and in order to hit massive mainstream change my points stand about keeping things simple...

Might be wrong...am sure someone will slap me and correct me he he he.

Namaste

Al

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Paige said...

The shades of ethical and unethical in relation to fast food pretty grey. Fast food definitely requires more transport and interference than if we all made our own bread, grew our veg etc, but with modern lifestyles it is a bit of a toss-up. Economies of scale can mean that large numbers of people eat almost more efficiently than if all those people get in their cars to buy the various ingredients, so actually with our modern lifestyles it is a bit of a dice game as to which is a more 'ethical' way of nourishing ourselves since not many of us are growing our own food (pity, but I for one would starve).
Mac, Pret et all are businesses at the end of the day and are forced to make decisions (and increasingly creating marketing/pr around ethical issues) based on these large scale economies - in some ways you could argue that big business efficiencies may help reduce the overall impact of our increasing demands for convenience.

 
At 10:27 PM, Blogger Paige said...

The shades of ethical and unethical in relation to fast food are pretty grey. Economies of scale can mean that large numbers of people eat almost more efficiently than if all those people get in their cars to buy the various ingredients, so actually with our modern lifestyles it is a bit of a dice game as to which is a more 'ethical' way of nourishing ourselves since not many of us are growing our own food (pity, but I for one would starve). Mac, Pret et all are businesses at the end of the day and are forced to make decisions (and increasingly creating marketing/pr around ethical issues) based on these large scale economies - in some ways you could argue that big business efficiencies may help reduce the overall impact of our increasing demands for convenience. We just need to let our demands for an ethical food chain be heard to ensure that it becomes more than just PR and marketing....

 

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