In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan traces the journey of steer 534 from a South Dakota pasture to the take-out window at McDonald’s. By the time his steer gets to a feedlot in Kansas, Pollan can no longer track him individually, and by the time what’s left of 534 ends up between two buns in a Happy Meal, he’s become more vegetable than animal. In fact, the entire meal the Pollan family consumes at McDonald’s is made primarily of corn. “Animals exquisitely adapted by natural selection to live on grass,” Pollan writes, “must be adapted by us — at considerable cost to their health, the health of the land, and ultimately to the health of their eaters — to live on corn.” It turns out that Pollan’s list is incomplete. In a just-released study, “Super-Sizing Public Costs: How Low Wages at Top Fast Food Chains Leave Taxpayers Footing the Bill”, the National Employment Law Project estimates that McDonald’s also costs U.S. taxpayers $1.2 billion a year. That's what we pay in public assistance to augment the “low wages, non-existent benefits, and limited work hours” of the company’s 700,000 front-line workers. And let’s not forget, 534 – and the corn he is force-fed – is also taxpayer-subsidized every step of his short, miserable life.
Meanwhile, the company, its shareholders and its brass are doing just fine: $5.5 billion in both profits and shareholder returns last year, and a CEO earning $13.7 million. Maybe those who excoriate the “takers” in our country should look up as well as down.