7 Dirty Secrets Fast Food Chains Don’t Want You to Know

“Convenient” is the moniker of fast food, but it’s a deceptive one when you look closer at the wasteful and toxic industry that’s highly problematic. From disingenuous marketing, littering, unfair wages and hidden ingredients, there are more secret layers to the fast food industry than there are layers in a Double Whopper with Cheese. Here are seven secrets you may not know about what’s really going on inside your favorite fast food chains.

Calories Shmalories: The average fast food visit can result in consuming anywhere between 800 to 1,100 calories, and in some cases, double that, exceeding the recommended daily caloric intake for adults and children in a given day. On average, a regular order of French fries alone is more than 300 calories. Add a Carl’s Jr. Double Six Dollar Burger, for example, and you’re already over 1,800 calories, not including the soda.

Super Size All Sizes: Credit the caloric increase with larger portion sizes. New York City has just launched an ad campaign that demonstrates the size increase of common fast-food menu items over the last 40 years, such as the quadrupling of soft drink servings (from 7 to 32 ounces in 40 years) and the tripling of French fries (from 2.4 ounces to 5.4 ounces).

Target Kids: Fast food chains spent more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2009 on advertising, despite pledges to decrease ads seen by children. A 2009 Yale University study found that preschoolers saw 56 percent more ads for Subway, 21 percent more ads for McDonald’s and 9 percent more ads for Burger King, compared with 2007. And children age 6 to 11 saw even more: 59 percent more ads for Subway, 26 percent more for McDonald’s and 10 percent more for Burger King.

Want Litter With That?: Fast food packaging is second only to cigarette butts in public litter and according to Californians Against Waste, less than 35% of fast food stores’ waste is diverted from landfills. And as for the uneaten food, CaliforniaWatch says that of the 90,000 restaurants in the state, the vast majority of them do not participate in any food donation programs.

Secret Ingedients or Hidden?: From GMOs in most processed food to the toxic preservatives and other undesirable additives that never make it on to the menu board, products like Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries—which sound like a minimal ingredient product—actually contain chemicals including dextrose and dimethylpolysiloxane.

More Cows More Burger?: “All Beef Patties” may sound like a good thing, but it can actually mean it in another sense—as in coming from ALL the cows in a herd—as meat from as many as 100 different cows (and from a number of countries) can be found in a single burger, making it difficult to trace bacteria outbreaks. 

The Sweet Taste of Cheap Labor: Notorious for low wages and high turnover, fast food chains like McDonald’s have other labor issues like the Socially Accountable Farm Employer program criticized for lacking overtime pay and freedom of association.

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