McDonald’s marketing department doesn’t have an easy job.
On the one hand, McDonald’s is supposed to make food “easy”. No thought needs to be put into where the ingredients come from, how they are prepared, shipped, etc. The customer simply drives up, orders, and receives her meal. All of the hassle of securing one’s sustenance is reduced to the simplicity of using an ATM. People have enough to worry about between work and family obligations, after all.
On the other, there is growing concern that fast food is not really “food”. Most of us have heard terms like mystery meat, factory farms, franken-food and the like. People are being warned against eating food-like products and encouraged instead to eat “real” food. Michael Pollan’s NY Times article, which served as the basis for his highly-praised In Defense of Food, actually took a shot at McDonald’s in its very title: “Unhappy Meals”. McDonald’s competitors have taken out adverts mocking the dubious origins of its fish sandwich.
So McDonald’s has to thread a difficult needle- convincing the consumer that its products are Real Food, without calling too much attention to how its products are actually made. Thus we get promotional blitzes for the Angus burger, and the commercial above for the Filet-O-Fish. That commercial uses humor and a catchy jingle to remind the customer that the sandwich is Real Food while allowing it to remain essentially a commodity rather than an animal.
While McDonald’s commercials are coy about the actual kind of fish used in its sandwiches, you can find this information on its website. The Fillet-O-Fish is made with pollock and hoki. Hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae) is also known as blue grenadier, blue hake, whiptail, or New Zealand whiting, and is supposed to be sustainable.
As commercial fishing has grown and once seemingly boundless traditional fisheries have crashed, we’ve begun to exploit and subsequently over-exploit so-called “trash fish” stocks as well. Fisheries that were virtually untouched have become dangerously overfished in as little as a decade or two. The journal Science recently published a review of the state of global fisheries that tried to put a positive spin on some grim realities. And the journal Evolutionary Applications devoted their entire August issue (open access) to the alarming evolutionary pressures commercial fishing has put on global fisheries.
Hoki was supposed to be different- it has been championed as a well-managed fishery, a model of how daunting industry needs could be met with sustainable practices. Unfortunately for hoki managers and their industry clients, it appears that this fishery is also being over-exploited, and it’s become headline news.
McDonald’s, for its part, no longer has to worry about its customers wondering where their Filet-O-Fish has been coming from. But given the pace of over-exploitation of fisheries, the company might want to think about where they will come from in the future.