15 October 2011

Mother...what is an Apple Slice?

I'm taking NURS-313, Obesity and Society. I do enjoy the class and I really respect my professor (Dr. Compher). Here is one of the assignments: Look at a piece of media and explain the stigma/message. Unfortunately, I didn't get the grade that I wanted because the prose wasn't formal enough. Well, it's definitely formal enough for this blog! Quite pertinent, too.
As a reminder, if anyone would like to use information from my site, citing me would be necessary.

Mother...what is an Apple Slice?

While I was rinsing chard one day, an apartment-mate asked me, "What IS that?" Chard is neither famous nor common, so it's understandable that one is wary of eating a blood-red stalk. Apples, however, are ubiquitous in the U.S., so it's ridiculous to ask "What is an Apple Slice?" [1] This absurd statement is portrayed in the satirical cartoon by Bryant Arnold. A shallow interpretation is that McDonald's is a maverick for educating children and sneaking fruit into their meals. However, it is more likely that it signifies that the business of food today is neither healthy nor natural, and that children’s food education is inadequate.

An obese Caucasian mother and her equally obese son purchase a Happy Meal from a skinny Caucasian McDonald's employee. The son asks "Mother...what is an Apple Slice?", while in the corner, a sign proclaims that McDonald's has now added Apple Slices to Happy Meals (notably, the word "Happy" is cut off, and no characters look happy), which occurred in July 2011 [6]. Although the child barely reaches the countertop, he is drawn to be ugly and old, which contrasts with the common depiction of children as adorable. The skin around his eyes is wrinkly, his various chins are wobbling, and his face is red and blotchy; it looks as though he could be in the process of a stroke! One of his front teeth is missing, and he is wearing a bland sweater, which, with its various curves, extends outwards out of the frame. He possibly represents the population of children already suffering from disorders traditionally only considered to affect adults. Similarly, the mother's facial expression resembles a pig and she looks haughty and defiant, as though she dares anyone to ask her why she’s at McDonald's. She clenches her son's shoulder, as though with a talon. Like her son, she isn’t dressed in a flattering outfit, signifying the American layperson. 

Despite asking "Mother... what is an Apple Slice?” in a possibly cautious tone, the child nevertheless attempts to grab the Happy Meal. This incongruity can imply two things. Perhaps children would eat anything, as long as it has been well-advertised and has familiar McDonald's packaging. Therefore, even though there is a new item in his Happy Meal, the child will eat it due to its "fast food"-style packaging. On the other hand, perhaps children are willing to try new things, including fruit, if only their authorities (i.e. parents, McDonald's) would offer them the chance. According to the cartoon, the mother has never given apple slices to the child. This implies that childhood obesity can be traced to irresponsible parents. 

The phrasing is also awkward. "Apple Slice", with capitalization, implies something sinister; it's as though apples are only sellable as a brand name product! Plain apple slices have morphed from an apple cut into wedges to Apple Slices, skinless, seedless, and wrapped in plastic. This disconnects children from farms and nature; will kids soon think that apples come in plastic (like how tuna comes from cans)? This also depicts the general laziness of the population; it is certainly not difficult to buy an apple at the grocery store and slice it (which isn't even necessary); instead, patrons take the same amount of time driving to a fast food restaurant to buy Apple Slices. In addition, only about 11% of customers actually choose to get Apple Slices rather than fries, although this will change since McDonald's is soon adding Apple Slices to Happy Meals by default and removing a portion of the fries [6].

The McDonald's employee, Billy, contrasts entirely with the other two characters. He is skinny, and represents the 1/3 of Americans who aren't overweight or obese [2]. His expression is wary and apologetic, which represents two things. As a person, he represents the normal-weight population who stigmatizes overweight or obese people, and he is separated from them by a counter [6]. As a McDonald's employee, Billy represents the "business" that exploits the general population by creating a façade of appearing "ideal" in order to make money.

A better message could elicit an even more outrageous response in satirizing the situation further, because the point of the image is to portray problems and misinformation in the food industry. By using a Ronald McDonald look-a-like instead of Billy, parents would feel more contrast and disgust, because the skinny Ronald, who is advertised as the champion of being friendly and caring, instead lures their children towards unhealthy food. Using McDonald's Apple Dippers would have made McDonald's more insidious. Apple Dippers are two servings of Apple Slices plus a “Low Fat Caramel Dip”, which has 100 Calories and 15 g of sugar, which is more than that of the Apple Slices (35 Calories and 6 g of sugar)* [4, 5]! The Apple Slices/Dippers also lack skin, and therefore, fiber. Also, the mother could have retorted with a comment such as “Stay away, that hasn’t been processed for human consumption!” to represent the current media’s lack of mention (whether positive or negative) of fruits. Marketing for high-sugar cereals and processed foods that have added vitamins, instead of fruits that naturally possess vitamins, misinform consumers. In addition, this cartoon may be seen by some to stigmatize obese people because the question could portray obese people as stupid, since the child doesn't know what an apple is [3]. To portray an alternative message that puts more blame on society, companies, advertising and convenience (rather than on misinformation or personal choice), the mother could've said "Fat chance that'll change anything!" which would indicate that she is aware that she is obese, but that the obesogenic environment fueled by McDonalds and other companies has made her powerless. This way, the stigma of obese people being stupid wouldn't be implied.

*Actually, this figure isn’t trustworthy because the McDonald's website has glitches. By refreshing the page, I get values of 35 Calories/6 g sugar/68 g/1 Carbohydrate and 70 Calories/9 g sugar/21 g/0.5 Carbohydrate for the Apple Dippers (without dip) and 15 Calories/3 g sugar/34 g/0.5 Carbohydrate

[1] Arnold, Bryant. "McDonald's Fights Childhood Obesity with Apple Slices Cartoon." Cartoon A Day Funny Business Cartoons and Web Comics. Copyright Cartoon A Day / CartoonaDay.com, 26 July 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. 
[2]  CDC/National Center for Health Statistics. "FASTSTATS - Overweight Prevalence."Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 June 2010. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.
[3] Lillis, Jason, Jason B. Luoma, Michael E. Levin, and Steven C. Hayes. "Measuring Weight Self-stigma: The Weight Self-stigma Questionnaire." Obesity 18.5 (2009): 971-76. Web.
[4] McDonald's. "Apple Dippers :: McDonald's.com." McDonald's.com. McDonald's, 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.
[5] McDonald's. "Apple Slices :: McDonald's.com." McDonald's.com. McDonald's, 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.
[6] Redroxe, Christina. "McDonald's to Include Apple Slices in Every Happy Meal | NOLA.com." New Orleans Net LCC. The Associated Press, 27 July 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.

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