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June/July 2002
Editorial: What’s So Bad About World Domination?

By Catherine Clyne


What’s so bad about aspiring toward world domination? This is the question I keep bumping up against as I sift through all kinds of information on one of the greatest symbols of global dominance, McDonald’s. Reading their corporate strategy to “capture” all possible “meal occasions,” their term for exhausting a market of all its potential to spend money at McDonald’s or one of its “partner brand” restaurants, it seems reasonable to think, if they can do it, why shouldn’t they? If fast food is what people want, what’s so bad about taking every opportunity to give it to them? It’s cheap. It’s designed to be tasty. It’s convenient. Weary parents can get a moment of peace as their kids are distracted by junk food, sugar water and cool toys. Plus it’s familiar. (Don’t underestimate how important the comfort of familiarity is—to some it offers a modicum of stability and cultural identity in a frequently chaotic world.)

The new “BK Veggie” burger has many vegans and vegetarians in an uproar. Burger King has introduced a near-vegan burger in some of their U.S. restaurants. On the one hand, Hooray! Finally mainstream America is putting vegetarianism on the map, er, menu, which gives burger-eaters an alternative to animal flesh, and just might turn more people on to veggie food. Most importantly for ethical vegetarians, if just one animal is saved from the slaughterhouse disassembly line, then it’s something to celebrate. On the other hand, the idea of praising anything even remotely related to the fast food industry makes the stomach turn. Burger King wouldn’t serve a veggie burger if they didn’t think they’d profit from it—they’ll drop the option faster than you can say “BK Veggie” if it flops. This may not seem like a big deal, after all, it’s the way of the market, but it raises a much deeper question: Should ethical vegetarians support multinational corporations at all?

Fast food giants like Burger King and McDonald’s are fueled by exploitation—be it nonhuman or human animals—and they’ve made it clear that they don’t intend to change anytime soon, which goes against the very essence of ethical veganism: compassion.

When is Enough Enough?
The sun never sets on the American fast food empire—seriously. McDonald’s has 30,000 restaurants in 121 countries with a collective average of 46 million customers a day. Ironically, their busiest restaurant is in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square. In 2002 they plan to add more than 1,300 McDonald’s restaurants and to open 100 to 150 of their “partner brand” restaurants (like Boston Market and Donatos Pizzeria. But is a respectable four percent sales increase in 2001 enough? McDonald’s doesn’t think so.

McDonald’s is the world’s number one consumer of cow and chicken carcasses. It employs some 1.5 million workers (not including the people who raise and slaughter the animals—they’re contractors, not employees), the majority of whom receive the legal minimum wage, and is the single largest employer of teens in the U.S. While their 2001 Annual Report boasts that Fortune magazine “ranked McDonald’s among America’s Most Admired Companies in the area of social responsibility,” they go through great pains to ensure that minimum wages worldwide do not rise. McDonald’s is the muscle behind the industry’s trade group—the National Restaurant Association—which has successfully lobbied Congress to block an increase in the federal minimum wage since it was raised to $5.15 in 1996, and puts the pressure on whenever states or cities dare to propose an increase. Rather than small businesses, McDonald’s is a major recipient of millions of dollars in federal subsidies for the training of employees, even though their restaurants are so mechanized that little training is required and the average tenure of a McDonald’s employee is three months. Add on top of this the elaborate reasons given by the board to justify why CEO Jack Greenberg deserves a “bonus” of $1.2 million in addition to his nearly $1.4 million annual salary (which increases an average $100,000 a year), and the world seems absolutely inside-out. To examine the absurd, it’s best to listen to a master.

The Wisdom of Dr. Seuss
In Dr. Seuss’s children’s fable, The Lorax, the main character, the Onceler, sets up a factory and begins to chop down trees to make “thneeds” (“a fine-something-that-all-people-need”). The Lorax, who speaks for the trees “for the trees have no tongue,” chastises the Onceler for cutting them. After protesting that he means no harm, the Onceler tells the Lorax to buzz off so he can increase production and profit. For efficiency, he invents a “super-axe-hacker” to cut four trees in one whack. While the thneed factory flourishes, the neighboring creatures flee, one by one, because there’s no fruit to eat, no trees to roost in, and the water and air are polluted. As the spokes-creature for the animals and trees, the Lorax confronts the Onceler again, who finally gets mad. “All you do is yap-yap and say, ‘Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!’ Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you I intend to go on doing just what I do! And, for your information, I’m figgering on biggering and biggering and biggering and BIGGERING, turning more trees into Thneeds, which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!” Of course the Onceler cuts down every single tree and only regrets the destruction once they’re all gone. What’s left is a barren wasteland. It’s a sobering tale and illustrates just what is wrong with world domination. People not knowing when to stop, and not taking responsibility for the negative consequences of their greed.

It’s amazing that this story was written more than 30 years ago, because it’s so familiar. Is this ultimately our fate?

World Meat Production

Guidelines for the humane treatment of farmed animals are needed. Although there’s no such thing as humane slaughter, if an animal’s sheer terror and misery can be reduced at all—in life and in death—then it’s worth fighting for. Of course, I would rather that someone I love be killed swiftly, rather than scalded, flayed and dismembered while still conscious, but this “either/or” scenario is absurd and misses the point because there should be no misery or death for me to choose for any creature in the first place.

The glaring truth to all of this is that the UN recently reported that last year meat production went up, particularly in developing countries; and domestic birds—“poultry”—are the fastest growing sector of the meat industry. Regardless of how many BK Veggies we eat, the reality is that meat eating is on the rise globally. Which gets me back to the question, why is world domination “bad”?

One of the fundamental ideas on which Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence rests is the noncompliance and noncooperation with injustice. What rattled the very core of the British empire was that people refused to comply with their oppressors; they simply removed their actions from the equation. If the British wanted the Indian people to purchase imported clothing, well, they’d just spin their own clothes. If the government was going to tax people when they bought salt, they’d just retrieve their own from the sea.

Sure, I’d love to see fast food chains start serving only vegan food tomorrow. I’d love to see major apparel brands stop using sweatshop and child labor, and pay everyone a living wage. Even so, the underlying problem would remain—a structure built on greed churning out stuff, with clever advertising convincing us we need and want that stuff. Is there a real choice in this? One McDonald’s is just like another, with the same limited options. A BK Veggie in suburban Virginia is just like one in the heart of Manhattan. Fast food is designed to have the exact same taste everywhere. When did the world become so convenient that we stopped having to think for ourselves?

In the big picture, BK Veggies and animal welfare guidelines are next to meaningless in a world where vast numbers of people are still starving and can’t have a reasonably clean drink of water, the environment is still being rapidly destroyed, and animals are still being slaughtered in numbers I can’t even begin to comprehend. Most of the people in this world can’t afford a one-dollar McMeal. It’s clear that multinational corporations are comfortable with the status quo; they benefit greatly from it, and so fight to keep the world just as it is. Well, that’s not acceptable. We need to take Gandhi’s philosophy deeply to heart and take ethical vegetarianism to the next level. It’s radical but very simple: noncompliance with cruelty; to refuse to participate in a rapacious system sustained by greed. If we refuse to cooperate with cruelty in every aspect possible, sooner or later, the worldview of dominance at all costs will become unsustainable and fall away.

What scares a bully most? Intentional indifference. A bully feeds on fear, otherwise, if people don’t care, bullies becomes impotent and unimportant. The British weren’t ousted from India overnight, but with perseverance, persistence and, most importantly, love, they were defeated. We can do the same, for each other, for ourselves, and for every being we share this planet with.


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