Strong opinions, weakly held

More on McDonald’s oatmeal

Ezra Klein has a good response to the Mark Bittman piece on McDonald’s oatmeal that I linked to earlier in the week. Here’s his conclusion:

That gets to the part of this that I think Bittman is really right about, though. His post is basically an attempt to shame McDonald’s into making its “healthy” options, like oatmeal, less unhealthy. And that seems to me to be the key to better eating: better eating out, and better snacking. My lunchtime diet has gotten a lot better since Devon and Blakely opened on 15th and H, as I can now get soup that isn’t terrible. I’d eat less of Kelly’s chocolate if the other choice wasn’t Oreos in the vending machine. My hunch is that a lot of people are willing to opt for a slightly healthier option when they eat out during the day. The success chains like McDonald’s have had with faux-healthy foods suggests I’m right. But when they quietly make the seemingly healthy options into unhealthy foods, they’re making it very difficult for consumers to make better choices.

This problem goes far beyond McDonald’s. Not many products marketed as “healthy” at the grocery store are really that healthy. For example, take a look at this Special K Protein Shake (for weight loss). Each bottle has 18 grams of sugar, almost as much as a normal size bag of Peanut M&M’s. The idea behind these is that you should skip breakfast and drink this bottle of sugary goo instead. Kellogg should also be ashamed.

I have no idea whether shaming works, but Matthew Yglesias is hopeful that offering “healthy” food that’s not healthy instead of obviously unhealthy food is a step on the path toward offering food that’s actually healthy. Maybe he’s right.


  1. Tangentially along these lines, New York City has a thing called the healthy bodega initiative: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cdp/cdp_pan_hbi.shtml

  2. It still sounds to me like we’re debating what we upper-middle-class people might do when we’re not McDonald’s core demographic.

  3. Stan, I think your concern is well-founded. However, I do think that McDonald’s core demographic does care about their health and actually choose these faux-healthy products thinking they are making better choices.

    Here are a bunch of comments from McDonald’s customers that seem pleased with the oatmeal precisely because they believe it to be healthy. http://www.yumsugar.com/Review-McDonalds-New-Oatmeal-13198802

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