Today, McDonald’s begins touring UK festivals with its ‘McNugget Van.’
The McNugget experience includes a ‘McNugget maze’, exclusive augmented reality ‘McNugget lenses’ and a ‘360-spinning selfie experience.’ At the end, participants get rewarded with a box of free McNuggets.
From the outside, the experience resembles a big McDonald’s-branded shed—not unlike a chicken factory farm—with some giant nuggets stuck on the side. The inside is considerably wackier, with more giant nuggets and a spinning camera, and is worth checking out even if just for the sheer absurdity.
McDonald’s invests a lot into its image, having gone to great lengths to rebrand itself as a sustainable, ethical company over recent years. Under the company’s sustainability programme, ‘Scale for good,’ they state that they believe delicious food “can also be sustainable – for our customers, producers and the environment.”
Walk by McDonald’s on Oxford Street in London, and you’ll see large lettering plastered all over their windows reading: ‘quality,’ ‘responsibility,’ ‘balance,’ and ‘farm’ – quality being one of those words often used to trick consumers into thinking animals are well treated.
On paper, McDonald’s cares about the environment. They claim to care about rising temperatures, CO2 emissions, and responsible leadership.
But at a time where most experts are calling for meat reduction to divert catastrophic climate destruction, McDonald’s is choosing to encourage an increase in consumption, targeting young audiences at festivals like Wireless, Reading and TRNSMT, drawing them in with promises of selfies and free food.
I wonder where on McDonald’s Scale for good giving away free factory-farmed meat to teenagers falls? While the experience McDonald’s is offering does appear to be limited to 16+, in one of the upcoming festivals, the McNugget Van is conveniently placed next to the children’s ‘Fun Fair’ play area. The company’s McNugget glorification strategy is quite obvious here.
Aside from the message that giving out free McNuggets to teenagers sends about their commitment to sustainability, what does this mean for the animals?
Chickens raised and killed for McNuggets are still unnaturally bred to grow so large and so fast that they can literally become immobilised under the weight of their own enormous bodies, often unable to stand or walk and left to lie in their own excrement. The issue is so severe that if humans grew at a rate similar to McDonald’s chickens, we would weigh 300 kilos at just two months old. It’s not uncommon for some to even die of heart attacks caused by the pressure of their rapidly growing body. As one of the biggest restaurant chains in the world, McDonald’s is profiting from chickens bred to suffer.
Some might say: why are you singling out McDonald’s? Don’t x, y and z company also operate like this? It’s true that intensively rearing chicken is the norm, but many companies are beginning to change. And, that approach fails to take into account who McDonald’s really are. Think about it: when was the last time you turned on the TV, went into town without seeing a McDonald’s advert, or went for a long drive without encountering a McDonald’s restaurant. This company is absolutely pervasive, penetrating every corner of our culture.
And, McDonald’s themselves state that they are one of the world’s biggest buyers of beef, while in another claim, they state to now sell more chicken than beef. Putting two and two together, McDonald’s are most likely responsible for more chickens than any other company on the planet. This is why it is crucial for McDonald’s to step up and lead the change. Companies with less buying power look to McDonald’s, and if McDonald’s aren’t doing it, then there’s much less chance they will be willing to either.
McDonald’s came under fire recently for having their office security guards turn away two young campaigners petitioning the company to stop giving away free plastic toys with Happy Meals.
When it was brought to light how damaging to the environment it was to give away free plastic toys with every Happy Meal, McDonald’s responded. Not only did they apologise to the two young campaigners who launched the petition, they also pledged to reduce the amount of plastic in their Happy Meals by 60 per cent over the next six months.
At The Humane League UK, we have repeatedly raised our concerns around the welfare of chickens reared for McNuggets and have in fact been campaigning for McDonald’s to commit to the higher chicken welfare criteria laid out in the Better Chicken Commitment for nearly one year. We’re not heartset on an apology, but we would like a pledge to do better for chickens as a matter of urgency. An increasing number of companies are signing up, including Pret A Manger, wagamama, Nestlé, Carluccio’s and ASK Italian. McDonald’s refuses to budge.
The saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.’
Too often, if something is free, someone is paying the price. It’s just not you.
By Vicky Bond, Managing Director, The Humane League UK