Cookbook author and food activist Mark Bittman has a piece in the New York Times taking McDonald’s to task for adding oatmeal to its menu as an ostensibly healthy breakfast alternative and then loading it up with fat and chemicals to the point that from a nutritional standpoint it’s not significantly better than a sausage biscuit.
To me, this says less about McDonald’s than it does about the typical McDonald’s diner. If the restaurant could sell oatmeal that’s actually healthy in the same volume as the unhealthy oatmeal that they offer, they would probably do so. What we can infer from the composition of McDonald’s oatmeal is that the people who order it want to feel like they’re making a positive choice, but that when it comes down to it, their main interest is in eating something that satisfies their craving for fast food. That’s why they’re eating McDonald’s as opposed to making a bowl of cheap, healthy oatmeal in their own home.
This is, I think, a large problem with food activism in general. Food activists want to believe that most people are bamboozled into eating unhealthy diets of processed foods and that a little education will go a long way toward getting people to change their habits. I think it’s much more likely that people appreciate the convenience of processed foods and that food scientists and market researchers in the food industry have a very good idea of exactly which kinds of products people will be eager to buy. McDonald’s makes the oatmeal that they can sell.