Tag Archives: environment

Letters to McDonald’s

September 18, 2019

McDonald’s Corporation / Steve Easterbrook, President and CEO 110 N Carpenter Street / Chicago, IL 60607-2101

Dear Steve Easterbrook:

I grew up with two hard-working parents, in a family of four. Because of my parents’ full schedules throughout my childhood, our family generally ate out two meals per week, and one of those meals was usually fast food. McDonald’s, as a fast-food franchise, is a very early part of my dining experience and cultural awareness.

Six hours from Chicago by car, the first white-and-red-tiled McDonald’s we frequented was a drive-up. The golden arches were singular—one adjacent to the other, as if guarding the little magic building which produced consistently perfect, golden French fries, super rich shakes and reliably filling sandwiches. Eating there was like basking in a spot of California sunshine during the long winters of the Upper Midwest. (I think the Beach Boys’ music playing on the car radio might have helped a little bit or the sunny feeling that warm food produces in a child’s full belly.)

Now, back to our story. Our family counted the rising number of burgers, updated on the sign each week, along with headquarters, as well as enjoying the introduction of the Big Mac to the menu. We appreciated that our McDonald’s restaurant, as busy as it was, would also take the time to make a plain fish sandwich for the likes of my younger sister, who was a particular, particular eater. (Yes, two particulars.)

As a young, conscientious American family, we were on-board with the put-your-litter-in-its-place campaign. My father, a teacher, drew attention to the printing of the campaign’s slogan on McDonald’s packaging. As a household, we celebrated McDonald’s corporate decision to changeout polystyrene clamshells for biodegradable cardboard. (We might have held a bias on this decision because we lived in paper-making country.) The conscientious, corporate move on McDonald’s part to phase out all-white napkins and take-out bags and replace them with their natural counterparts made us, as a family, feel like you cared about our rivers and streams, the very waterways where the logs for making paper used to float to the papermills.

Because I grew up in a teaching household, each of these seemingly minor decisions granted my father additional teaching moments. “Industry leader” and “corporate responsibility” entered my awareness, shaped my observing mind and expanded my growing vocabulary.

The time has come for McDonald’s to reassume its position as an industry leader of corporate responsibility.

I am writing to request that you consider the use of bamboo utensils, going retro with your straws by reintroducing paper, phasing out the use of plastic drinking cups in favor of a biodegradable alternative/s, as well as switching to tree-free toilet paper. Then, tell us about it. Education is a two-way street. These may seem like large requests, but I know that McDonald’s has a history of solution-based leadership. I trust you to do that which you have been able to do in the past—innovate and help us all move forward.

Sincerely,

Julian Lynn

Because I sent out more than one letter, choosing to mail to multiple corporate officers, I received two responses.

October 17, 2019

Thank you for contacting McDonald’s about the environment. Like you, we care about the environment and are always looking for ways to preserve it.

McDonald’s has a long history of helping the environment. More than 40 years ago, our corporation’s founder, Ray Kroc, picked up litter for several blocks surrounding his first restaurant. Today, we remain committed to responsible and environmentally sound practices in every aspect of our business.

For more information about our commitment to the environment, please visit our website at www. macdonalds.com.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us about this important issue.

It is 2020, and I pick up the trash in and around my neighborhood, which is about seven blocks from a MacDonald’s, as well as a variety of other fastfood chains.  Alas, I have not yet had a  sighting of the benevolent ghost of a Ray Kroc doing trash pick-up in my neighorhood.  The trash I collect includes many nonbiodegradable, plastic drink cups from MacDonald’s.

This is the second response from the same customer service representative.

December 04, 2019

Thank you for taking the time to re-contact McDonald’s about our sustainability efforts and the use of plastic straws.

At McDonald’s, we are committed to improving the environmental and social impact of the way food is farmed, produced and served. We are working to maximize the efficiency of our restaurants, create smarter packaging and transform waste into new resources. McDonald’s is resolved to be part of the solution and influence change.

As you stated, plastic pollution is a problem. But it’s also an opportunity for creative thinking and innovation. We continue to work with our suppliers to seek innovative, sustainable packaging designs. It takes a lot of work, effective partnerships and new technologies, and we’re committed to doing it.

Again, thank you for contacting McDonald’s.

Errands

Driving a friend to the south end of town to look for an appropriate shower gift for someone else, I am in the rare circumstance of being in a traditional retail store. Once inside, we agree to go our separate ways and meet up a little later.

Wandering the aisles and enjoying all of the beautiful displays, I find myself standing in the middle of a large selection of handbags. I cannot help but pick up an exquisitely designed bag. The handbag is in medium brown with an alligator-skin pattern. The hardware is minimalistic and shiny gold. The supple material of this mid-sized purse yields easily to the touch and has a tender, “authentic” feel. Upon further inspection, I see that the bag is labelled vegan. Thus, the purse is probably made from a synthetic material derived from petrochemicals.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Because of my early exposure to a wide array of petrochemicals, experience has taught me to be careful about purchasing petroleum-based or plastic products. If any new products of this ilk are purchased, they spend weeks sunning on the edge of our back deck or in the garage to be outgassed before entering the house. My visual-aesthetic sense gets the best of my logical knowing, and I do not put the handbag down, opting instead to cross the large retail space to find my shopping companion for a second opinion.

The store is crowded, humming. Amid the background hum as I leave the section with handbags, I overhear a gentleman shopping with his wife remark, “Look at all of these purses. I had no idea there would be so many to choose from.” Style, color, size, material, brand. The array of choices in one department alone can be overwhelming.

Meeting midway between each of the departments where we had been browsing, my shopping companion and I compare the items we have found. Our conversation is not only practical, but philosophical as well. We ask questions about how we make choices as consumers—the internal and external drives behind what and why we buy.

Considering the vegan handbag in hand, I begin with an internal consideration, “There are my own issues of chemical sensitivity to consider.” Then, switching to an external consideration, I muse, “I have vegan friends who would be in full support of  my choosing this handbag over one made of traditional leather.  And, with the leather handbags here, there is no way for me to determine, without a lot of research, whether or not the makers have used a vegetable tanning process—not to mention issues of labor.”

Various concerns are raised as we talk about the advantages and disadvantages surrounding my potential purchase. From experience, I know a well-made leather handbag lasts me ten to twelve years. And, although this bag has the look and feel of leather, I also know that, from a materials perspective, it would last no more than two to three years, because plastics crack. Also, stark images of this vegan  bag ending up in the stomach of some cetacean are adding to my desire to take the bag back to its place of display.

“Why aren’t any designers making excellently crafted fabric bags with high-end hardware?” I wonder aloud.

“Why don’t you just get that bag and see how you feel tomorrow?  You can always return it,” my friend offers me a quick solution on our way to the checkout.

Continuing our conversation while in line, I voice some of my ongoing thoughts, “In addition to the issues of manufacture, I am thinking about end-point disposal. With a leather bag, assuming a rare cotton lining, I can actually denude a bag of its hardware, dig a pit in my garden and, over time, everything would return to the earth. With the leather bag scenario, the only issue, then, would be the non-biodegradable material from the bag’s stitching.”

Purchases in hand, we walk out to the parking lot.

At home, I place the new bag on the edge of my bed, then, close the door of my room. In the kitchen, I prepare dinner for my family. Three hours later, after dinner has been enjoyed and dishes have been done, I return to my bedroom to turn down my covers. Opening the door to the room, I take three steps back because the fumes from the new handbag are completely overwhelming. Calling my husband to get the offending item out of the bedroom, he appears to remove the item. Walking the new bag out to the garage, it is hung from the end of a metal, garage-door track, awaiting its return voyage to the store.

Spiritual Seasons

A large, mature black-walnut tree stretches its limbs to embrace the sky.

In our backyard, this tree’s trunk is so substantial that, for the tree itself to be embraced, two people would need to reach out, press the sides of their faces and their unguarded hearts against the tree’s bark to clasp hands. Only then would another circle of awareness be able to touch the tree’s Being.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Some urban yard keepers consider the black walnut a high-maintenance tree. During good years, the walnut bears large seeds, with nut meats firmly ensconced in hard protective shells, guarded by yet another layer or husk of a pithy bright green.

All of this fruit is of a substantial diameter and mowing becomes impossible without its timely collection. In addition to black walnuts, every autumnal season, our yard fills with a layer of detritus from the tree’s fine, needle-like leaf stems or petioles (black walnuts have a composite leaf structure), as well as a traditional cascade of deciduous leaves.

One of the walnut tree’s functions, as a “community citizen” engaged in selfless service, is that of neighborhood fresh-food market. When there is a good year or season, this tree produces enough walnuts to help sustain, not only a thriving community of squirrels, but our own.

We collect and fill gigantic tubs with the unhulled walnuts, which may be sold to a local processing facility. This processing facility, in turn, sells the shelled black walnuts back to the community. There is not a great deal of money to be made in this endeavor, but the collection of the walnuts is part of honoring the tree’s natural labor and the more general circle-of-life.

The act of producing fruit is not an annual constant. We have lived through two years of severe drought with this tree, thinking there might be few walnuts during those years. Nonetheless, during the years of severest drought, we were surprised to observe the tree ramp up nut “production” to bring forth not one but two bumper crops.

For two consecutive years, the black walnut seemed to produce something out of nothing—fleshy moistness out of the earth’s brittle dryness, as if striving to reaffirm its own life as well as the lives of those around and seeming to draw from its own internal stores of water to give more than it received.

Sometimes, when our own lives are endangered, we push our children forth into the world to take our places—whether we sink our roots deeply into the soil to commit to serving in one location or roam the earth to find our place of service, while walking on just two legs.

During the drought years, as I observed the phenomenon of this tree’s abundant fruit-bearing with amazement, I could not help but be reminded of the European Jews who were recorded throwing their babies to the outstretched arms of other Jews fortunate enough to be leaving Europe on departing ships at the outset of World War II.

In reality, the walnut tree standing in our yard is not “ours.” We share a place in the world with this tree, and this black walnut shares itself with us and our outdoor neighbors, the squirrels.

The tree stands as a source of food, shade, playful respite and shelter. In our own ways, “we”—the squirrels and members of our household—each try to give back in support of the tree by assisting the walnut with its process of propagation.

Gathering and planting black walnuts in the soil, where they hope the seeds will winter-over and become late-winter or spring meals, the squirrels busy themselves with the act of putting food by, all autumn long. Sometimes these walnuts become breakfast, lunch or dinner; sometimes these walnuts are forgotten and, in remaining unclaimed, take root in the soil to become seedlings.

For our part in the process of propagation, whenever our household is able, we dig these seedlings, pot them and eventually drive to replant them in remote places on rural land. It might be stealth reforestation or guerilla forestry. It is part of a spiritual practice which assuages feelings of modern isolation or urban disconnectedness from the natural world.

Looking for sunlight amid an opening in an already full canopy of foliage outside of the city, we plant seedlings where they might thrive. It is a process of hike, search, dig, plant, water, then, retreat. We say farewells, “We wish you well. Grow tall, majestic, become who you were meant to become,” because, after all is said and done, that is what each of us was brought here to do—affirm one another’s lives in the context of Community.

Spirituality & Refuge

Spirituality

This spring , as the edges of my garden expanded into the alleyway, I purchased and planted a large bag of wildflower seeds for the pollinators coming through our neighborhood.  More than anything, I wanted to create a place of refuge—not only for myself in terms of the beauty of my natural yard—but also for my neighbors in the natural world.  In this narrow space, of perhaps a foot in width and twenty-five feet in length with intensively productive flowering plants, there have been a myriad of visitors: bees, butterflies, moths, cardinals and hummingbirds, among our many known flighted friends.  All summer long, they have been busy coming, going and otherwise retrieving what they need to live.

In contemplating the idea of refuge, I consider how we, as individuals, may choose to  offer refuge in the context of our human relationships—through the extension of kind speech, generous acts, our gifts or talents, as well as shared education in community—but, also, how we are capable of broadening the framework for the extension of refuge.

It seems that, in all of our busy, human and myopic doing,  we have forgotten that we are part of a broader world—the natural world.  We are not the only creatures on the planet, placed here to live and thrive.  We are not the only creatures on the planet seeking to live our lives in relative safety as we rear our young.  Thus, our concept of refuge needs to expand.  And, to that end, as co-inhabitants of the earth, changers of the planet’s landscape and configuration, we—as consumers—need to remember that our daily life-style choices have a tremendous impact on the ability of our fellow creatures to simply carry on with the business of their lives.

Aldo Leopold, Landscape & Ethics

Walking across town to the veterinary clinic to pick up some medicine for the dog, I observe the changes made to the landscape two days ago by a severe storm. The thunderstorm came with torrential rains and a solid five-hour flash flood warning.  Dirt, gravel, brush and a lot of trash have been rearranged.  There are a few puddles that the birds are still taking advantage of—as though each reservoir of precious water is a three-star-resort’s bathing pool in some forgotten Eastern European town—a real spa affair.

Spirituality

City crews put their backs into shoveling debris from around the openings of the storm-sewer’s drainage system.  Everyone is glad for the mild spring weather.

As I amble down one street, an area of active revitalization, new plants are being set in around trees and in one neglected earthen bed. Mounds of urban dirt are turning green with welcoming arrangements of miniature shrubs and perennial flowers.  The effort put into landscaping over the past five years has made a remarkable difference in softening the edge of social attitude toward this area of the city.

A new tea shoppe, where well-heeled members from the south-end of town now venture out for safe daylight jaunts (to enjoy sweet iced tea and light lemon cakes), is doing a booming business. All spit and polish, the cars in front of the shoppe have trunks waiting to be loaded with a little north-end kitsch, hand-dyed garments or some other off-beat booty.

Passing one of the landscaping crew, I thank the man pulling weeds. He sends me to express my gratitude to the main contractor, a woman, walking my way, “The arrangements and selection of plants you have made look great.  Your work has made a real difference.  Thank you.”

Beyond the store-fronts, I go through another residential area behind the clinic. An empty box carried by the storm from who-knows-where is waiting to be used.  I commit to cleaning up a half-a-block’s worth of trash caught against a fence.  Partway through, I meet a snake sunning a yard away.  We say hello, and he gets to keep the dark plastic bag next to him.  It may be acting as a heat sink and point of comfort for his body.  I wish that were all anybody ever wanted—a place to feel safe while soaking up the sun.

With the box full, six blocks remain on my trip. Aware of my status as a pedestrian (in an automotive society) in a raucously large sunhat (sunhats of this stature were hip circa 1972) and sporting my favorite walking sneakers (fresh from the laundry), I realize that by all external appearances I am just another one of those colorful, local personalities who populates the sketchier neighborhoods on the north end of town.  Yet, on the inside, my heart is all spit and polish for one concern:  this precious landscape.