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  • This video is sponsored by Brilliant. If you stick around until the end I'll give you

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  • A hamburger and fries. The quintessential fast food meal. And nowhere else in the world

  • is this combo more readily available, and more iconic, than at McDonald's. The fast-food

  • chain has essentially conquered every part of the world with its golden arches. Second

  • only to Subway in terms of numbers of locations, the McDonald's brand spans over 100 countries

  • with a total of 38,000 stores. From Guantanamo Bay to Kansas City, Mcdonald's seems to

  • have grown exponentially since its inception in 1948, a success which many attribute to

  • their low-prices and iconic menu items. With the rise of this global franchise has also

  • come staunch critiques of McDonald's business practices revealing the brand's exploitation

  • of workers and shattering of local food systems with highly machined food. Today, however,

  • I want to focus on the hidden environmental costs of McDonald's, in order to understand

  • just one aspect of how McDonald's is able to simultaneously keep their prices so low

  • and grow their empire.

  • Loaded with two beef patties, shredded lettuce, secret sauce, and even a bun in the middle

  • for extra support, the Big Mac is the iconic McDonald's burger. It's not only the epitome

  • of McDonald's offerings; it is also a perfect example of how McDonald's and its suppliers

  • use and abuse the environment to make their food. So let's briefly follow the Big Mac

  • from calf to mouth to understand just how much Mcdonald's is impacting the environment.

  • The typical McDonald's beef patty starts as a calf raised on one of over 700,000 cattle

  • ranches in the United States. For 8 to 12 months these cows are set to graze on grasslands,

  • hay, or other available feed. And for the calf to grow it needs space. It's estimated

  • that grazing operations require 26% percent of the earth's habitable areas. After the

  • cow reaches 600 pounds in weight it's then shipped off to one of the 20,382 Concentrated

  • Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs for short, in the United States to fatten it up before

  • slaughter. I did a deep dive into the terrible environmental and physical conditions of CAFOs

  • in my video about plant-based meats, but here's a quick summary: feedlots pack thousands of

  • cattle into confined spaces and then pump them full of corn, soybeans, and antibiotics

  • all so cows can gain 600-900 pounds in 90-100 days. More like a factory than a farm, these

  • CAFOs pollute the air and water with particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide, and high levels

  • of nitrates. And the cow manure build-up from CAFOs is extensive, releasing nitrous oxide

  • which has 300 times the global warming effect of C02. In all, livestock is estimated to

  • cause between 14.5 to 18% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, consume

  • of the world's yearly grain production, and drink 16% of the global freshwater supply.

  • So, even before the beef is minced, packed, and frozen into its circular shape, hamburger

  • patties destined for a Big Mac have devastating consequences on the environment. And McDonald's

  • has been at the frontlines of this shift in animal agriculture from quality to quantity.

  • In 2010, McDonald's senior director of U.S. food and packaging, John Hayes said that they

  • use 1 billion pounds of beef every year just in the U.S. And as McDonald's continues

  • to grow, so too does that number. But to keep the cost of that much meat low enough to serve

  • their burgers at fast-food prices, McDonald's needs exploitative farming practices like

  • CAFOs. By dumping the environmental cost onto its surroundings, these feedlots can churn

  • through cows and satisfy the massive demand from McDonald's for cheap.

  • If beef, the staple in McDonald's burger heavy menu, is such a burden on the environment,

  • why don't they offer some sort of the plant-based alternative? That's a great question, and

  • honestly, McDonald's has given some pretty unsatisfactory answers. In a wave of conversions,

  • Burger King, A&W, and White Castle all have added some form of plant-based burger to their

  • menu, but McDonald's has been slow to act and has yet to do the same in the U.S. which

  • hosts the majority of their stores. The CEO of McDonald's, Steve Easterbrook, says that

  • they're hesitant about adding a plant-based burger to their menu because it creates complexity:

  • We know there's complexity. The question is will the demands make it worth absorbing

  • the complexity because it will drive the business.” So like almost all for-profit companies, McDonald's

  • will only consider the environmental consequences of their food if it's good for their bottom

  • line. We can see this mindset in their collaboration with Ford to divert the 62 million pounds

  • of coffee chaff that would usually go to the landfill into durable, lightweight car parts.

  • A move that will definitely eliminate a large amount of food waste, which is awesome. But

  • it also might bring McDonald's more business from coffee drinkers looking for a sustainable

  • option. Mcdonald's have also worked to transition their packaging from styrofoam and plastic

  • towards biodegradable and recyclable products. But of course, these transitions are not without

  • faults. McDonald's switch from plastic straws drew sharp backlash from the disabled community

  • for being ableist, as well as from some of the environmental community who claimed that

  • the new paper straws weren't even recyclable. And in some cases, like in the European Union

  • where single-use plastics will be banned in 2021, this is less of an act of goodwill,

  • than a response to regulation. So, while McDonald's has instituted some effective environmental

  • initiatives, we should also note that McDonald's has the power and ability to do so much more.

  • They have the opportunity to be a sustainability trailblazer, and yet they seem to simply be

  • following in the footsteps of others. Yes, they have announced some emissions reduction

  • targets but they are conservative and lack actionable steps. On their website, the company

  • asserts that theywill partner with Franchisees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related

  • to McDonald's restaurants and offices by 36% by 2030” and alsothrough collaboration

  • and partnership with our suppliers and producers, the Company also commits to a 31% reduction

  • in emissions intensityacross [their] supply chain by 2030.” This is a great first step,

  • and their waste-diversion of coffee chaff demonstrates some amount of effort to reach

  • these goals, but a few sentences about how they're going to work across their supply

  • chain and franchises to implement low-carbon solutions seems more like marketing fluff

  • than substantial plans. McDonald's can definitely be more aggressive in its climate action.

  • There are companies its size like IKEA pursuing much more drastic targets. But instead, it

  • seems as if McDonald's has to be dragged kicking and screaming towards a better environmental

  • stance. Indeed, a group of investors worth $6.5 trillion recently called on McDonald's

  • and five other fast-food chains to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and water usage

  • of their meat and dairy suppliers. One of the investors, Jeremy Coller, notes thatother

  • high-emitting industries are beginning to set clear yet ambitious climate targets, making

  • animal agriculture one of the world's highest-emitting sectors without a low-carbon plan.” It's

  • this type of pressure then, not necessarily environmental damage or climate change that

  • seems to get McDonald's to make sustainable changes.

  • At the end of the day, McDonald's exists within, and in many ways has co-created, an

  • industrial food system that externalizes all sorts of environmental, social and physical

  • costs onto its communities. Refusing to eat at McDonald's is certainly a way to use

  • individual action to influence change, but for many, McDonald's offers a cheap and

  • convenient way to consume food. As professor of food and nutrition policy at Virginia Tech,

  • Vivica Kraak, argues, “It's not people's faultThe environments they live in foster

  • overconsumption and unsustainable choices." So, we must also address the food system that

  • has been forged on the griddles of fast food companies through a dual-pronged structural

  • approach. We need to be supplying people with healthy, delicious, ethical, and sustainable

  • food options by supporting smaller farmers and ethical food operations--something that

  • McDonalds just isn't doing, all the while simultaneously working through regulatory

  • channels--in much the same way the European Union did by banning single-use plastic--to

  • shape McDonald's into a more ethical and sustainable food source. But the fact of the

  • matter is that for over 50 years, McDonald's, alongside its fast-food competitors, has fostered

  • a supply chain and food system hell-bent on creating food that casts aside the environment,

  • animal welfare, and community well-being to expand profit margins. Change from within

  • McDonald's is important, but its roots are rotten. McDonald's very existence and its

  • profitability rely heavily on our current food system. So don't expect it to do anything

  • drastic soon. Only outside pressure from us, together, can make that change.

  • Okay, I'll admit it, building a better, more sustainable food system is an extremely

  • complex task. It's going to take problem solvers from all sorts of backgrounds to foster

  • the kind of quick transition from old to new that we need. But Luckily, Brilliant is already

  • teaching this next generation of problem solvers through an amazing selection of online courses

  • that use interactive puzzles to hone critical, mathematical, and scientific thinking skills.

  • And the best part is, you can learn these skills from the comfort of your own home.

  • Brilliant is a course-based website and app that lets you explore the realms of math and

  • science through storytelling, interactive explorations, and daily challenges. Which

  • is exactly what you'll get when you dive into their Calculus in a Nutshell course.

  • Using visual and physical intuition to present the major pillars of calculus, Brilliant guides

  • you through the intricacies of calculus: an essential tool for aspiring ecologists and

  • urban planners alike. Ultimately, if you're like me and are curious about how the world

  • works or just want to build your problem-solving skills, then I'd highly recommend getting

  • Brilliant Premium to learn something new every day.

  • So, if you want to start developing your analytical abilities and build a brighter future, go

  • to brilliant dot org slash OCC, or click the link in the description, and sign up for free.

  • As a bonus, the first 200 people that go to that link will get 20% off their annual premium

  • membership.

  • Hey everyone, Charlie here. This video is, as always, brought to you in part by my Patreon

  • supporters! If you're trying to find a way to help make sure this channel continues making

  • videos, supporting me on Patreon is a great way to do that. Your support gives me the

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  • I will see you in two weeks.

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Why is McDonald's so cheap?

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    joey joey posted on 2021/07/03
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