A fast food drive-through window is about the last place we expect humane or organic food. But the corporate world is full of surprises. Recently, some fast food outlets have changed to cage-free eggs and pork, while organic is starting to appear in small and multinational food franchises.
The New York Times headlined on September 25, 2015 that, “McDonald’s to Serve an Organic Burger in Germany,” stating that, “McDonald’s will offer its first 100 percent organic beef hamburger ever for a limited time in Germany as the company revamps its food-sourcing practices. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 18, McDonald’s will offer ‘McB’ burgers, made from organic beef sourced from organic farms in Germany and Austria. ‘We have made a great effort to secure sufficient quantities of meat which satisfies the organic requirements and our own quality claims,’ said Holger Beeck, chief executive of McDonald’s Germany. A McDonald’s spokeswoman in the United States declined to say if the company would offer the burger in other markets.”
Given McDonald’s loss of appeal to Millennials, and domestic competition from the likes of In-N-Out Burger; this move shows some creative moves to maintain a market edge, or relevancy, at least in some time zones.
How well the “McB” sells in Germany (German media seems to be underwhelmed, as it’s mostly seen as a PR stunt) may dictate whether organic burgers will make it into wider outlets. Aside from pricing considerations, an already tight supply of organic feed could limit the expansion of this market test.
Animal welfare concerns
The organic burger announcement comes hot on the heels of an earlier September announcement that McDonalds is shifting to cage-free eggs in the U.S. and Canada, after a similar decision by rival Burger King that they will use 100 percent cage-free eggs and pork by 2017.
CNN reports that Wendy’s has agreements with the Humane Society on the humane treatment of pigs. “What this does is send a clear message to these industries that their customers and the public don’t want animals confined for their entire lives in cages. They will have to make changes,” said Matt Prescott, food policy director for the Humane Society.
Clearly the food giants are responding to public pressure about the abuses of animals in industrial animal production, especially in Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Exposure of these practices has been attributed to documented footage of animal mistreatment. This documentation has resulted in an industry backlash in the form of laws designed to stop the exposure.
New York Times reporter Mark Bittman coined the term “ag gag” in 2011, referring to state laws that forbid the act of undercover filming or photography of activity on farms without the consent of their owner — particularly targeting whistle blowers of animal rights abuses at these facilities. Kansas was the first state to enact an ag gag law, in 1990. Montana and North Dakota followed in 1991. Widely seen as an abuse of free speech and a means to control the image of meat production; the demise of ag gag laws is seen as a victory for transparency in modern meat production. In April of 2015, a U.S. District Court recently struck down Idaho’s ag gag law, ruling it unconstitutional.
The growth of organic fast food
Despite the gains of farmers markets, organic grocers and sustainably-sourced restaurants; one only has to travel outside the “foodie bubble” of the urban Northwest to see that the vast majority of our fellow citizens still order fast “junk” food.
It has been a long-time fantasy of mine to roam a land dotted with organic fast food chains, and to be able to pull into a drive through window to order a vital meal.
If you are in Rhonert Park, in Northern California, you could patronize Amy’s Drive Thru, where the menu is 95 percent certified organic ingredients, and offers organic burgers, burritos and pizzas, chili, fries and drinks at its single location. Amy’s is well received, and has garnered considerable buzz since opening in June of 2105.
Chipotle, the burrito chain with multiple locations, has long touted its responsible sourcing of ingredients, stating on its site that “We set minimum space requirements for the animals producing the meat and dairy products that end up in our restaurants. If, due to supply shortages, we have to serve conventionally raised meat, we clearly post signs in the affected restaurants.” They also make strenuous efforts to buy local.
Chipotle has taken a well-publicized stance against GMO menu items, but in May, 2015 issued a disclaimer that “It is important to note that most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means that the meat and dairy served at Chipotle are likely to come from animals given at least some GMO feed.”
While the big players attempting to reshape the landscape of fast food choices find their footing, there has been growth of smaller franchises that offer organic, local or vegan food include:
- Sweet Green has 27 locations in and around Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
- Veggie Grill in California, Oregon and Washington state
- Lyfe Kitchen in California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Chicago
- Native Foods in California, Colorado, Oregon, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
- Elevation Burger, serves burgers made from 100 percent USDA-certified organic, grass-fed, free-range beef. Currently in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Maine, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, the Carolinas, Florida and Indiana
- Cafe Yumm, a Pacific NW chain with over 50 percent of its menu certified organic
So there is an hunger for organic, local and even vegan fast food. Consumer demand is being heard. The existing heavyweights of fast food can see the writing on the wall, and are starting to respond. Can a reshaping of the all American icon be far behind?