Category ArchiveFood



Food & education 08 Aug 2013 04:04 pm

Financial planning under the golden arches

McDonald’s is under a lot of scrutiny lately for a financial planning site it created with Visa to teach employees how to manage money.

The company’s so-called Practical Money Skills Budget Journal came to the public’s attention at about the same time that fast-food workers across the industry started to pressure employers to raise hourly rates to $15 and allow them to unionize.

Famously lampooned last month on the Colbert Report, a so-called sample budget on the site allots only $20 a month for health insurance, even though McDonald’s least expensive health plan is $12.58 a week for employees who have been with the company more than a year. Initially, the budget made no allowance for heat, although the website was later revised to include $50 a month for this.

Of course, all employers should pay a living wage, especially a company like McDonald’s that, according to Bloomberg, achieved 135-percent profit growth from 2007-2011 and paid CEO Donald Thompson a truly obscene $8.75 million last year alone.

But here’s the problem: Even if McDonald’s increased wages to $15 an hour — and let’s be clear, the company has given no indication that it’s even considering this — it wouldn’t be enough. At that higher rate, a worker would make $31,200 a year before taxes (which is a very big “before”) and about $23,400 after.

This is far better than minimum wage, of course, and workable for households of one. But for families of two or more people, unless they are incredibly frugal or both have full-time jobs, $15 an hour is not a living wage.

Maybe it was sufficient 20 years ago, and it still sounds like a princely sum, but the reality is that $15 an hour sounds like a ticket to easy street only to people making less.

Those who make less, and a lot of Americans do, basically have three options: Learn to live within very modest means; find a second — and possibly third — source of income; or take steps to ensure their minimum-wage reliance is only temporary.

McDonald’s worksheet proves that the first option is hardly workable (unless your idea of wealth is pocketing $2 a day after paying all bills).

The second option, finding additional sources of income, drew audible gasps from the Colbert audience, though I’m not sure why. Working a second job is an honorable way to make ends meet, although admittedly difficult for single parents, workers with physically exhausting jobs, and employees whose shifts change from week to week — like many McDonald’s workers.

The best option is probably Door No. 3, doing everything possible to get into a better-paying position, through additional education and/or advancement within a company. Again, easier said than done, especially in this economy.

The sad truth is that wealth in this country is unfairly concentrated in the hands of a few movers and shakers, the much-ballyhooed 1 percent, who take home 24 percent of the nation’s income. Compare that to 1976, when the top 1 percent made only 9 percent of the country’s income, and it’s apparent that this seesawing of available money is depleting the middle class, with more of us falling into poverty each year.

How can a man like Donald Thompson feel no guilt for making $8.75 million annually while so many of his employees rely on subsidies financed by U.S. taxpayers to make ends meet? Because he looked after his employees with a facile budgetary guide that advises them to carpool and use public transportation instead of driving solo?

I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s here. Its situation is hardly unique. Across America, a small cadre of the super rich hold the rest of us hostage. And whenever somebody even suggests the redistribution of wealth, the GOP starts waving copies of “Atlas Shrugged” and screaming “socialism,” before trotting out some chart-wielding PR maven who will explain that, exorbitant as CEO salaries may appear, lowering them won’t really fix the problem, and anyway, who would want all an exec’s responsibility for a piddling $350,000 a year? Don’tcha know these guys are busy creating jobs?

How nice it would be if the mega-rich would limit themselves to salaries that were merely, oh, 20-30 times greater than that of their average employee’s salary, instead of the ridiculous 380-times-bigger paychecks that many take home. But that’s as laughable as believing that the NSA isn’t really spying on Americans.

So I cheer on fast-food workers in their quixotic quest to increase wages. Even though they’re barking up the wrong tree, I can’t really think of a better one. The people in all the gated tree houses, after all, are too high up to even hear them.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

twitter.com/cschillig

Originally published Aug. 8, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Food 11 Jul 2013 10:28 am

Pillorying Paula

Is it OK to say “cotton-picking” but not “cotton-picker”? It depends whom you ask.

This usage problem came to my attention though a Facebook friend. After helping a senior citizen open a produce bag in a grocery store, my friend was appalled to hear the old woman say that she just couldn’t get her “cotton-picking” hands to work.

She considered the remark racist. A few people on Facebook agreed with her, a few did not. I initially argued that “cotton-picking” — as in “wait one cotton-picking minute” or “my cotton-picking hands don’t work” — refers to the physical act of picking cotton by hand, a tedious and arduous task. It does not refer to a person, and hence is not racist.

A Google search of the term yielded a few sites that maintain a difference between the adjective “cotton-picking” and the noun “cotton-picker.” Many saw the former as a substitute for a mild profanity like “damn,” but the latter as a derogatory term for people of color in the old South, who were forced to pick the crop.

The Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com) did not make this distinction, tracing the adjective no further than a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but saying it’s based on the older “cotton-picker” noun and is, therefore, “a deprecatory term.”

In the interest of sensitivity, then, I’m modifying my position and removing the adjective from my vocabulary, even though I doubt if I’ve ever used it more than two or three times.

Which brings me to Paula Deen.

These days, the celebrity chef has a lot of “formers” in front of her name: former host of a popular show on Food Network, former celebrity spokesperson for Smithfield Foods, and a woman whose products were formerly sold at Sears, Home Depot, Target, Walmart and Walgreens.

Deen’s fall from grace has been widely documented. In a deposition as part of a lawsuit, she said that she had used the N-word in the past and allowed racial jokes at her Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House.

In retrospect, it is hardly stop-the-press news that a 66-year-old Southern woman has heard and used racial slurs. Maybe people were riled by her “of course” answer when asked if she’d ever used the N-word, or perhaps by her bizarre trifecta of apologies, including one stitched together in several takes, as if she couldn’t hold herself together long enough to read a cogent statement.

Of course, the “N-word” is highly offensive. Using it now is wrong, and using it then — whenever “then” may have been — was equally wrong.

Yet who among us hasn’t at least heard racial slurs on a playground, in a locker room, or at a place of employment and failed to call out the person using them? Who hasn’t been around people of a certain age who still harbor racial insensitivities? Who hasn’t outgrown certain prejudices against particular groups and abandoned the language that goes with it?

If asked under oath about particular words and attitudes, many of us would be obligated to answer as Deen did, hopefully with the same caveat that “it’s been a very long time.”

I won’t go so far as to defend Deen. As co-owners of a business, she and her brother had an obligation to stop racist, sexist and homophobic comments and to defuse a hostile work environment. If she didn’t, shame on her.

But I also think we don’t gain much by using Deen as a poster child for racism. The companies that have distanced themselves from her are making themselves look good at her expense, while many continue to sell movies and music that exhibit some of the same problematic language and opinions for which she is being publicly pilloried.

Using the N-word isn’t like “cotton-picking” or “cotton-picker.” It’s not a judgment call; it isn’t even close. But maybe Deen’s use of it was followed by a recognition, belated though it may have been, that the word was wrong, that it was time to outgrow old and faulty points of view.

That’s called maturation, a process we’re all guilty of. We hope.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published July 11, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Food & Media 16 Aug 2012 12:52 pm

The thinning of Larry

quaker

The Quaker Oats guy has enrolled in the advertising equivalent of “The Biggest Loser.”

The venerable mascot with the distinctive blue hat and white, wavy hair has changed, his plumpness giving way to a more toned, svelte look. The modification is noticeable only if you’re looking for it or if, like me, you mistakenly drop two boxes of Quaker Oats products in your shopping cart at the same time. (As a bonus to online readers, I’ll include the side-by-side photo on The Review’s website. There you can also see, if you squint, two bottles of orange juice and a roll of paper towels joyriding in my cart. Ah, the fast-paced, super-sexy life of a newspaper columnist …)

Anyway, the slimming of “Larry” — I swear I’m not making this up, the Quaker Oats guy’s name is Larry, although “Otis” would have been more apropos — was the subject of an ABC News report a few months ago. It explained that the makers of Quaker Oats, in an attempt to appeal to more health-conscious consumers, gave an ad agency the go-ahead to drop Larry’s double-chin, shorten his hair slightly and airbrush away about five pounds. At 135 years old, we should all be so well preserved.

(”When my age you reach, look as good you will not,” Yoda says, making me long for a meeting between Larry and the 900-year-old Jedi master, with the former waving maybe a buggy whip and the latter brandishing his lightsaber. The smart money’s on Yoda.)

A few ironies exist in this artistic nip-and-tuck. Among them: Americans may be crazily health-conscious, imbibing record numbers of diet sodas and making reduced-fat foods vanish off the shelves quicker than drug charges off an OSU football player’s Alliance Police Department rap sheet, yet we are, as a nation, fatter than ever.

One-third of all Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and just 62 percent of us walk for more than 10 minutes a week. The impact on health care costs is, if you’ll pardon the pun, immense, with the Bipartisan Policy Center warning that the battle of the bulge could eventually bankrupt the country. Even if that’s more than a little alarmist, it’s still cause for concern, and something to think about as we go back to the buffet for seconds and thirds, tickle the backs of our throats with feathers to clear the decks for dessert, wash it all down with diet sodas and dream of the day when we’ll look like the new-and-improved Larry, the Quaker Oats mascot.

A second irony is that Quaker Oats has been owned since 2001 by PepsiCo, whose other products include super-healthy Pepsi Cola, Frito-Lay potato chips and Cheetos. However the War of the Waistline plays out, Pepsi will stand victorious.

Maybe this mascot-facelift tactic could pay handsome dividends for other brands, too. I would personally feel more at ease with Kool-Aid Man if he would trim down from a two-quart pitcher to an eight-ounce glass. (He could also stop smashing through brick walls and scaring the bejesus out of little kids and their parents. Just sayin’.) Colonel Sanders would be more trustworthy without facial hair, and a collagen injection would smooth those wrinkles under his eyes and erase about 10 years. McDonald’s has already more or less eliminated Ronald, but less cake makeup and a more healthy facial tone would make me stop clowning around in the drive-thru line and buy more hamburgers.

Until then, I’ll have to content myself with my new best friend, Larry the Thinner. I don’t want to get too accustomed to him, however. If he’s like most Americans, the old, chubby Quaker will be back, just as soon as he succumbs to one too many bowls of oatmeal-flavored ice cream or something.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig at Twitter

Originally published Aug. 16, 2012, in The Alliance Review.