How Does Your Guilty Pleasure Stack Up?

How Does Your Guilty Pleasure Stack Up?

Fast food is bad, mm-kay? That’s a fact. And the point of this article is not to go back on that or justify in any way that you go hit the drive-thru. If anything, it’s meant to show just HOW bad fast food is, while acknowledging that some are better than others and, of course, like anyone, you’re going to do it once in a while. And when you do, choose wisely. That’s all I’m saying. But for good measure, don’t do it.

A joint report by six* food and health organizations has ranked fast food and chain restaurants based on their use of antibiotics. Their methods and the results are fascinating.

But we first should quickly establish why they would even do such a thing and why antibiotics in animals are bad.

You might be aware that livestock is often raised in what are called factory farms. These farms put as many animals per acre as they can fit, often cramming them into very tight quarters. Not only does this raise humanitarian concerns, but it also makes it so that disease spreads quickly among the animals. But most factory farmers don’t wait for disease to spread. Rather, they keep their animals on a regular diet of antibiotics.

The problem is that you then eat that animal. You help encourage antibiotic resistance; you get a leaky gut from these foreign chemicals increasing the permeability of your intestinal wall. There are many other health concerns surrounding regularly consuming antibiotics and the animals that do, but those are the basics. And you vote with your dollars, which only encourages farmers, distributors, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. to continue participating in this industry.

So it makes sense that you would want to avoid eating meat from restaurants that use this type of meat–or maybe they’re not aware of their supply chain–a shame, but it happens.

On to the report:

Researchers submitted surveys to several famous restaurant chains, asking them about their meat sourcing policies. Researchers also looked to find policies themselves online. They then rated the policies on a 1 – 10 scale based on how rigidly the company avoided antibiotic-ridden meat. I’ll include the chart at the bottom of this post. But here are the highlights.

  • Chick-fil-A had the best combination of meat policy (commitment to antibiotic-free, hormone-free meat by 2019) and transparency about its policies and practices.
  • Chipotle and Panera Bread were also at the top of the list, with commitments to grass-fed, free-range proteins and organic fruits and vegetables.
  • McDonald’s was surprisingly NOT at the bottom of the list, scoring a solid C. They have good policies in place, but they don’t apply to all types of meat (the chicken, for example, does not apply) and the restaurant is quite transparent, allowing third-party audits regularly.
  • Restaurants with failing grades (a combination of not being transparent or not having a good meat policy) include Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King, Denny’s, Domino’s, Olive Garden, Papa John’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Jack in the Box, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Outback Steak House, Little Ceasar’s and Sonic.
  • The survey gave honorable mention to several smaller chains, many with a number of locations numbering near the hundreds, but not big enough to be considered a real powerhouse in the chain restaurant industry. I’ll mention them, just in case you’ve got one in your area. It would be worth checking out! They are: Shake Shack, Elevation Burger, BurgerFi, Burgerville, BGR, Farmer Boys, Pret a Manger and Good Times Burger.

The lesson here is, if you’re going to go to a chain restaurant, even though I highly recommend against it–and not because they don’t have good policies or you like the food–but because I know you can do better by supporting local or cooking yourself an awesome meal. But if you’re going to do it, try Panera, Chick-fil-A or Chipotle before just stopping anywhere that’s closest to you so you can get a gut-full of hormones, antibiotics, and questionable “food” products on the go.

Or hey, if any of those honorable mentions are in your area and you try it out, I’d love to hear all about it!

*Friends of the Earth, National Resources Defense Council, Keep Antibiotics Working, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Food Animal Concerns Trust