[Marxism] Child abuse
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 24 08:00:20 MDT 2006
Monday April 24, 2006
Stuff the kids
It bombards them with adverts, seduces them with merchandise - and then
fills them with additives. In an exclusive extract from his explosive new
book, Eric Schlosser reveals how the fast-food industry exploits its key
audience - the very young
In late August 2004, on the island of Singapore, John Pain asked a large
gathering of business people from Malaysia, China, Indonesia and the
Philippines to stand up. Then he asked them to raise their arms and form
the shape of three letters, one after another. "Give me a Y!" Pain yelled
out. "Y!" they yelled back. The auditorium was suddenly full of people
looking like Ys. "Give me a U!" "U!" "Give me an M!" "M!" "What's that
spell?" "YUM!" "What's that spell?" "YUM! YUM! YUM!"
It was strange to see adults behaving this way, especially at a business
meeting in south-east Asia. Pain works for KFC and he was trying to get the
crowd excited about Yum! Brands, Inc, the company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut
and Taco Bell. He was giving a speech about the "Top 10 ways to market to
Asian youths of today" at the Youth Marketing Forum 2004 conference.
Hundreds of business people had paid thousands of dollars to learn the
secrets of how to sell things to children. Sitting in the audience were
representatives from McDonald's, Disney, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Nestlé and MTV.
A special workshop held the previous day had promised to help companies
create "brand preference and loyalty" among children.
"It is all about establishing a relationship early," Paul Kurnit, the
president of a marketing firm called KidShop, told the conference on
The relationship between big companies and small children has changed
enormously in the past 30 years. Until recently, just a handful of
companies aimed their advertising at children and they mainly sold
breakfast cereals and toys. By 2002, however, the top five food advertisers
in the UK were McDonald's, Coca-Cola, KFC and Pizza Hut. British food
companies now spend £300m every year advertising to kids. Business people
now realise that kids have a lot of money to spend and a lot of influence
on what their parents buy. Every year in the United States children are
responsible for more than $500bn worth of spending. Big companies want that
money. And too often they are willing to manipulate kids in order to get it.
Before trying to control children's behaviour, advertisers have to learn
what kids like. Today's market researchers not only interview children in
shopping malls, they also organise focus groups for children as young as
two or three.
At a focus group, kids are paid to sit around and discuss what they like to
buy. The idea of creating a squeezable ketchup bottle came from kids in a
focus group. Heinz earned millions of dollars from the idea; the kids who
thought of it were paid a small amount. Advertisers study children's
drawings, hire children to take part in focus groups, pay children to
attend sleepover parties and then ask them questions late into the night.
Advertisers send researchers into homes, stores, fast food restaurants and
other places where kids like to gather. They study the fantasy lives of
young children, then apply the findings in advertisements and product designs.
"Children are important because they not only represent a significant
percentage of our customers," a Burger King spokesman said, "but they also
have an incredible influence on what fast food restaurant their parents
The latest scientific research is also being used to make kids buy things.
At the Singapore conference, Karen Tan, representing Coca-Cola, discussed
how to make children remember a company's ads and create "brand
stickiness". According to Tan, research has found that one way to make a
lasting imprint on a child's mind is to run the same advertisement over and
over again. Repeating the same ad for a product is more effective than
running a variety of different ads. The more times a child sees exactly the
same ad, the more likely he or she will remember the product.
The average American child now spends about 25 hours a week watching
television. That adds up to more than 1.5 months, non-stop, of TV every
year. And that does not include the time spent in front of a screen
watching videos, playing video games or using a computer.
Aside from going to school, American children now spend more time watching
television than doing anything else except sleeping. The average British
child spends two hours and 20 minutes every day watching television and 25
minutes playing video games. In the UK, more than half of children under
the age of 16 have a television in their bedroom.
During the course of a year, the typical American child watches more than
40,000 TV commercials. About 20,000 of those ads are for junk food: soft
drinks, sweets, breakfast cereals and fast food. That means American
children now see a junk food ad every five minutes while watching TV - and
see about three hours of junk food ads every week. American kids aren't
learning about food in the classroom. They're being taught what to eat by
the same junk food ads, repeating again and again.
Although the fast food chains in the US now spend more than $3bn every year
on television advertising, another form of product promotion has proven
even more effective. "The key to attracting kids," one marketing
publication says, "is toys, toys, toys."
The fast food chains now work closely with leading toy makers, giving away
small toys with children's meals and selling larger ones at their
restaurants. As part of its Happy Meals programme, McDonald's has worked
with Fisher Price to give away Toddler Toys aimed at kids aged one to
three. One of the Fisher Price toys was a tiny doll of a McDonald's worker
holding a milkshake. Both McDonald's and Burger King have given away
Teletubbies dolls. Teletubbies is aimed at children too young to speak.
Children's meals often come with different versions of the same toy so that
kids will nag their parents to keep going back to the restaurant to get a
complete set. For many hard-working parents, buying a children's meal that
includes a free Hot Wheels car, a Simpsons talking watch or a Butt-Ugly
Martians doll seems like an easy way to make their kids happy. For the fast
food chains, the toys are an easy way of making money. Giving away the
right toy can easily double or triple the weekly sales of children's meals.
And for every additional child, one or two additional adults are usually
being dragged into the restaurant to eat.
"McDonald's is in some ways a toy company, not a food company," says one
retired fast food executive. Indeed, McDonald's is perhaps the largest toy
company in the world. It sells or gives away more than 1.5 billion toys
every year. Almost one out of every three new toys given to American kids
each year comes from McDonald's or another fast food chain.
McDonald's Happy Meal toys are manufactured in countries where the prices
are low. On the bottom of these toys you often find the phrase "Made in
China". Too often the lives of the workers who make Happy Meal toys are
anything but happy. In 2000, a reporter for the South China Morning Post
visited a factory near Hong Kong. The factory made Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh
and Hello Kitty toys for McDonald's Happy Meals. Some of the workers at the
factory said they were 14 years old and often worked 16 hours a day. Their
wages were less than 20 cents (11p) an hour - almost 30 times less than the
lowest amount you can pay an American worker. They slept in small rooms
crammed with eight bunk beds without mattresses.
At first, McDonald's said it had seen no evidence that such poor conditions
existed at the factory, but later it admitted that some things were wrong
there. A few months later, a reporter found that another factory in China
that made Happy Meal toys was mistreating its workers. They were working 17
hours a day - and being paid less than 10 cents an hour. McDonald's now
tries to ensure that children aren't employed to make its toys. But the
company hasn't done much to increase the wages of the workers at Chinese
toy factories. Low wages are one of the things that keep Happy Meal toys so
In fact, low wages are at the heart of the whole enterprise. Danielle Brent
is a 17-year-old schoolgirl at Martinsburg High School in West Virginia. On
Saturday mornings the alarm in her mobile phone goes off at 5.30am. It's
still dark outside as she stumbles into the bathroom, takes a shower, puts
on her makeup and gets into her McDonald's uniform. Her father stays in
bed, but her mother always comes downstairs to the kitchen and says goodbye
before Danielle leaves for work. Sometimes, it's really cold in the morning
and it takes a while for the engine of the family's old car to start
cranking out heat. There are a lot of other things she would rather be
doing early on a Saturday morning - such as sleeping. But like thousands of
other American kids of her age, Danielle gets up and goes to work at a fast
When Danielle was a little girl, she loved to eat at McDonald's. Sometimes
she would even go there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she was 16, a
friend suggested that she apply for a job at the McDonald's near Interstate
81. The friend already worked there, classmates of theirs always ate there
and working behind the counter sounded like fun.
Danielle soon realised that the job was different from what she had
expected. Some of the customers were rude. Workers in the kitchen didn't
always wash their hands and didn't care if the food got dirty as a result.
Her friend soon quit the job, but Danielle can't afford to do that. She
needs the money. A number of kids at school tease her for working so hard
at a job that pays so little. Kids who break the law and sell drugs at her
high school earn more money in a couple of hours than Danielle earns at
McDonald's in a couple of weeks.
Danielle worries about the amount of time she is spending at McDonald's.
Sometimes she is there, on school nights, until two in the morning. "At
school, I'm really tired, and I can't do my homework a lot," she admits.
Fast food chains often put attractive girls behind the counter to deal with
customers, and that's where Danielle works. The first thing she does at the
restaurant is log into the cash register, punching the last four digits of
her social security number into the touch screen. Then she grabs a cup of
coffee to clear her head before the doors open and customers start pouring
in. She usually doesn't feel awake until 10 or 11 o'clock, about halfway
through her shift. But that grogginess never gets in the way of her job.
Danielle thinks she could operate the cash register - as well as most of
the other fancy machines - in her sleep.
Fast food kitchens often look like a scene from Bugsy Malone, a movie in
which all the actors were children pretending to be adults. No other
industry has a workforce so dominated by teens. Teenagers open the fast
food outlets in the morning, close them at night and keep them going at all
hours in between. Even the managers and assistant managers are sometimes in
their teens. Unlike Olympic gymnastics - a sport in which teenagers tend to
be better than adults - there is nothing about the work in a fast food
kitchen that requires young workers. Instead of relying upon a small,
stable, well-paid and well-trained workforce, the fast food industry seeks
out part-time, unskilled workers who are willing to accept low pay.
Teenagers have long been the perfect candidates for fast food jobs. They
usually don't have a family to support. And their youthful inexperience
makes them easier to control than adults.
The labour practices of the fast food industry have their origins in the
assembly-line systems that were adopted by American factories in the early
20th century. As a result, the fastfood industry has changed the way
millions of Americans work and turned restaurant kitchens into little food
factories. At Burger King restaurants, frozen hamburger patties are placed
on a conveyor belt and come out of a broiler 90 seconds later, fully
cooked. The ovens at Pizza Hut and at Domino's often use conveyor belts.
The ovens at McDonald's look like commercial laundry presses, with big
steel hoods that swing down and grill hamburgers on both sides at once. The
burgers, chicken, French fries and buns are all frozen when they arrive at
a McDonald's. The shakes and soft drinks begin as syrup. At Taco Bell
restaurants, the food is "assembled", not prepared. The avocado dip isn't
freshly made by workers in the kitchen; it is made at a gigantic factory in
Michoacan, Mexico, then frozen and shipped to the US. The meat at Taco Bell
arrives frozen and pre-cooked in vacuum-sealed plastic bags. The beans are
dehydrated and look like brownish cornflakes. The cooking process is fairly
simple. "Everything's add water," a Taco Bell employee says. "Just add hot
In 1958, a McDonald's executive named Fred Turner wrote a training manual
for the company that was 75 pages long. It was a book of instructions that
described how almost everything had to be done. Hamburgers were always to
be placed on the grill in six neat rows; French fries had to be exactly
0.28in (about 8mm) thick. Today, the McDonald's manual has 10 times the
number of pages and weighs about 2kg. Known within the company as "The
Bible", it tells workers exactly how various appliances should be used, how
each item on the menu should look and how customers should be greeted. This
is standard practice in the industry.
"Smile with a greeting and make a positive first impression," a Burger King
training manual suggests. 'Show them you are GLAD TO SEE THEM. Include eye
contact with the cheerful greeting."
The strict rules at fast food restaurants help to create food that always
tastes the same. They help workers fill orders quickly. And they give fast
food companies an enormous amount of power over workers. When all the
knowledge is built into the operating system and the machines in the
kitchen, a restaurant no longer needs skilled workers. It just needs people
willing to do as they're told. It seeks workers who can easily be hired,
fired and replaced.
The rate at which fast food workers quit or are fired is among the highest
in the American economy. The typical fast food worker quits or is fired
after only three or four months. One of the reasons they leave their jobs
so often is that the pay is so low. The fast food industry pays the minimum
wage to more of its workers than any other industry in the US. And fast
food workers are the largest group of low-income workers in the US today.
Whenever members of Congress try to raise the minimum wage (which in 2006
is only $5.15 (£3) an hour), the fast food industry always fights hard
against any increase. And the industry almost always wins. Between 1968 and
1990, the years in which the fast food chains grew at the quickest rate,
the real value of the minimum wage fell by almost half. The fast food
chains earn large profits as wages fall, because it costs them less money
to hire workers.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a McJob is a job that's
low-paid and offers little opportunity to get ahead. McDonald's isn't happy
about that dictionary definition and has publicly complained that it isn't
fair to the company. But the dictionaries insist that that's what the word
actually means: a McJob is a job that doesn't promise much of a future.
· These are edited excerpts from Chew on This by Eric Schlosser, published
on May 25 by Puffin. © Eric Schlosser 2006. To order a copy for £5.99 with
free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875.
The 59 ingredients in a fast-food strawberry milkshake
To make one at home, you need four fresh ingredients. The processed version
isn't so simple ...
Britons now spend more than £52bn on food every year - and more than 90% of
that money is spent on processed food. But the canning, freezing and
dehydrating techniques used to process food destroy most of its flavour.
Since the end of the second world war, a vast industry has arisen to make
processed food taste good.
During the past two decades the flavour industry's role in food production
has become so influential that many children now like man-made flavours
more than the real thing. As marketing to children has become more and more
important to processed food companies and fast food chains, flavourists
have increased their efforts to discover what children like. The flavour
companies constantly run "taste tests" for kids - focus groups in which new
products are piloted.
Fresh fruit and vegetables often have complicated, unpredictable flavours
that combine bitterness with sweetness. When flavourists create additives
for adult foods, they try to imitate nature as closely as possible. When
flavourists create additives for kids' foods, they usually get rid of the
bitterness and increase the sweetness. Children's flavours are often twice
as sweet as those made for adults.
"Children's expectation of a strawberry is completely different," says one
flavourist. "They want something that is strong and that has something like
The phrase "artificial strawberry flavour" offers little hint of the
scientific wizardry that can make a highly processed food taste like a
strawberry. For example, if you wanted to make a strawberry milkshake at
home, here's all you'd need: ice, cream, strawberries, sugar and a touch of
Now take a look at the ingredients you might find in a fast-food strawberry
milkshake: milkfat and nonfat milk, sugar, sweet whey, high-fructose corn
syrup, guar gum, monoglycerides and diglycerides, cellulose gum, sodium
phosphate, carrageenan, citric acid, E129 and artificial strawberry flavour.
And what does that "artificial strawberry flavour" contain?
Just these few yummy chemicals: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate,
anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid,
cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl,
dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl
heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl
propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl- 2-butanone (10%
solution in alcohol), ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate,
lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate,
methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl
naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential
oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum
ether, undecalactone, vanillin and solvent.
The chicken nuggets and hamburgers at fast food restaurants are usually the
least profitable things on the menu. Selling French fries is profitable -
and selling soft drinks is incredibly profitable. "We at McDonald's are
thankful," a top executive once said, "that people like drinks with their
sandwiches." Today, McDonald's sells more Coca-Cola than anyone else in the
The fast food chains buy Coca-Cola syrup for about 53p a litre. They add
the syrup to bubbly water and serve it in a paper cup. A medium Coke that
sells for 75p contains about 5p worth of syrup. Buying a large Coke for 85p
instead, as the worker behind the counter always suggests, will add another
2p worth of syrup - and another 8p in pure profit.
Thanks in large part to the marketing efforts of the fast food chains,
Americans now drink about twice the amount of soft drinks as they did 30
years ago. In 1975, the typical American drank about 120 litres of soft
drinks a year. Today, the typical American drinks about 240 litres of soft
drinks a year. That's well over 500 340ml cans of soft drink, per person,
Even toddlers are now drinking soft drinks. About 20% of American children
between the ages of one and two drink soft drinks every day.
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