Moms defend 'victimized food': McDonald's marketing program is working

How many Happy Meals does it take to make someone truly happy? McDonald's is trying to figure out that formula by recruiting and educating "real" moms to defend its food as a healthful choice for their children -- or at least give them the assurance that the food is sanitary. A pilot program has recently been expanded in the Washington, D.C. area with five local moms who responded, among 83,000 others, to be taken on tours and pitched on how McDonald's fries are a "victimized food."

The program pitches the nutritional content of menu items and astounds customers with "real eggs!" used in its Egg McMuffins (the eggs are actually cracked and fried, although scrambled eggs are sent in already liquid form to franchisees). McDonald's says it is undergoing this program to bring "transparency" (and, likely, buzz on blogs and other social media networks, including its own web site about the project). But it must have chosen the moms with care; none of these seem concerned with what the chickens are eating, or how the cows were slaughtered; they're more focused on whether restaurant workers are using gloves to assemble salads from bagged lettuce (but, umm, what about the lettuce's treatment before it got to the bagging facility?). Once these questions have been answered thoroughly and with photo ops!, the moms are satisfied, guilt assuaged and prepared to inspect the hands of the servers on their next visit with eagle eyes.

McDonalds Courts Moms

    Joanna Canizares (far left) of Miami, Fla.; Tonia Welling (center) of Bentonville, Ark.; and Monica Fuentes of Anthem, Ariz. are part of McDonald's strategy to mobilize moms to tout the health benefits of McDonald's food.

    McDonald's USA / AP

    Here, more moms -- Monica Fuentes (far left), of Anthem, Ariz., and Gilda McHenry (center right), from Downingtown, Pa. -- watch with McDonald's food quality and safety experts as Egg McMuffin sandwiches are prepared on a recent tour of a restaurant in Oak Brook, Ill.

    McDonald's USA / AP

    The moms in the marketing effort, known as the Quality Correspondents, write about McDonald's food in online journals. The company is hoping that getting the seal of approval from a group of moms will shake off some of the bad reputation that fast food has.

    McDonald's USA / AP

    Even fries are on the agenda. These moms learned how McDonald's fries are made during a tour of a McDonald's potato supplier. Horst Ellendt, Lamb Weston Plant Manager on the right shows Tonia Welling, Bentonville, Ark., right, and Gilda McHenry, Downingtown, Pa., left, how the potatoes are processed.

    McDonald's USA / AP

So, McDonald's moms outreach program is working fantastically well, and is in fact being emulated by other corporations such as Wal-Mart and Walt Disney. Moms focus in on facts such as "it really IS 100% beef!" and taking comfort in the lack of organ meats and excess fat, as well as the antimicrobial precautions taken by the slaughterhouse and the packing plant. The overall message seems to be: "McDonald's: It probably won't kill us because of E. coli" but the unstated question of "is this food even worthy of being a small part of a busy mom's family meal plan?" plays too loudly through my mind as I read all of this.

Evidently, according to the detailed journal entries from moms who are part of the panel, the typical mom worries more about whether someone sneezed on her food, whether it's past its expiration date, whether the cheese comes from a tube, and how many chemicals have been added. While it's important information, this food discourse is at the very bottom of the culinary continuum and demonstrates the frightfully low standards moms across America -- and the world -- have for their fast food.

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