There are few symbols - save Old Glory and maybe a slice of apple pie - more symbolic of mainstream American culture than McDonald's sweeping yellow arches. While there is nothing wrong with McDonald's per se - we enjoy a basket of fries and Big Mac as much as the next person, maybe more - there is a big problem with America's dietary relationship with McDonald's and the rest of the fast food industry that McDonald's has rightly or wrongly come to represent. That relationship is more like dealer and junkie than that of restaurant and customer, something that Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock noted a few years back when he reported that McDonald's refers to its frequent customers, as "heavy users." It's a relationship that McDonald's courts with its aggressive marketing toward children (McDonald's distributes more toys than the nation's biggest toy retailers in any given year) and its oversized portions.
The other piece of the equation is convenience. McDonald's was founded on a principal of getting its food to customers as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of that system is the now ubiquitous drive-through lane. Like other McDonald's innovations such as frozen, pre-cut fries that eliminated the need for prep cooking, the drive-through lane helped revolutionize how Americans get their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now McDonald's is looking to further revolutionize the All American Meal right here in Bend by debuting its latest innovation: the two-lane drive through, which would obviously cut down on wait times while theoretically allowing twice as many customers to wolf down their Double Quarter Pounders without taking a hand off the steering wheel or their butt off the car seat.
There is just one hang-up: McDonalds needs to "supersize" its drive-up menu board to fit in all of its oversized meals in two drive-through lanes - something that the Bend sign code won't allow under the current regulations, which were adopted years ago to reduce visual clutter in commercial areas by setting some reasonable restrictions on total sign size. In this case, McDonald's is restricted to a maximum of one 40-square-foot menu board, or two 20-square-foot menu boards. Not surprisingly, that's not enough real estate for McDonald's, which would like to upsize its menu board to 45 square feet and remove the restriction limiting to it to one sign. McDonald's is also requesting that it be allowed to add a 15-square-foot pre-menu board in the drive-through lane, presumably to help those folks who insist on pondering over a menu that they've seen a hundred times while others idle behind them hungrily.
It all sounds like good business for McDonalds. And if America were one large feedlot and you and I the cattle, that's a great system for calorie delivery. However, it's not the best set-up for a nation struggling with an obesity epidemic that is strongly linked to out fast food addiction. And being fat has a cost for our country and our communities. Obesity is the number one cause of diabetes, a disease that will affect roughly one in three children born today, cutting 20 or more years off their lives. Those of us who manage to avoid developing diabetes will also pay a price. We'll help pick up the tab for their medical costs in the form of higher premiums on our insurance.
As a community that prides itself on its overall healthy lifestyle as well as its beautiful surroundings, Bend is under no obligation to change its sign codes at McDonald's whim. To the contrary, this a chance for Bend's elected leaders to tell America's largest fast food purveyor that this is one order that we don't want to super size - now or ever.
In order to help our elected officials digest the concept, we're giving the entire double drive-through idea and its oversize menu boards the Boot.