In 2002, two kids sued McDonald’s for making them obese. David Zinczenko defends these kids in his article Don’t Blame the Eater, arguing that this lawsuit would benefit people who have little other options when it comes to food, and who should be able to know what they are eating. He uses his experience as an obese 15-year-old and subsequent weight loss to show his allegiance with the prosecutors, and then uses the American epidemic of obesity to launch into more reasons why alternatives to this style of eating are scarce.
My problem with Zinczenko’s beginning and the way he gives his own ideas later in his article is this: upon further inspection, the main idea of his paper doesn’t seem to be his own. He gives information about this lawsuit the way a shortened headline might introduce it to someone learning about this for the first time: that two kids are suing McDonald’s for making them fat, which is a gross oversimplification (1). Zinczenko goes on to present the reason for the two girls’ suit, “Complicating the lack of alternatives is the lack of information about what, exactly, we’re consuming. There are no calorie information charts on fast-food packaging, the way there are on grocery items,” without mentioning that this was the purpose of the lawsuit in the first place (8). Marc Santora put it plainly in his article, “At the heart of the lawsuit brought by Ms. Pelman and Ms. Bradley is whether McDonald’s is responsible for their obesity because it did not provide the necessary information about the health risks associated with its meals” (7). By not mentioning the point of the lawsuit itself, Zinczenko has made himself look good by sympathizing with some stupid kids that didn’t have the wherewithal to know that the food they were eating was making them unhealthy.
When I read the word “kids” the first time I read this article, I thought that some ten-year-olds had gotten their parents’ support and rallied against a company that by now, in 2017, has a mixed public opinion because of the results of that lawsuit in 2002. I assumed that Zinczenko’s use of the word “teenagers” was because he had been a teenager when he had problems with food, as he says in the beginning of his article (3). He failed to mention, however, that the two girls responsible for this huge change were 19 and 14 years old (Santora 3). One of them was a legal adult, and the other old enough to be a freshman in high school. I find it ridiculous that these two were not given more credit for their idea and reason for suing McDonald’s in the first place before Zinczenko added to their idea and gave evidence to support their actions.
On top of this misconstruance, Zinczenko’s argument for the suing “kids” seems to reflect his idea of how much responsibility a teenager can handle. While I agree that the lawsuit was a good thing that can help people watch their calorie intake, I disagree with his apparent view that people, namely teenagers, need luck to get healthy. To describe the beginning of his physical turnaround, Zinczenko reveals that he “got lucky” in becoming a healthy member of the Navy reserves and “involved with a health magazine” (4). Things like that are not a matter of luck; it was his decision to join the Navy and his decision to live in a healthier way.
My family are unhealthy eaters. We have bouts of home cooking, vegetarianism, and veganism, but we mostly just eat what we can afford. Within the last few months, my little sister has been breaking this trend by eating better and going to the gym. She is 15, the youngest person living under our roof, and one of two under that same roof who regularly exercises. My mom does it with her, but she still eats McDonald’s.
Ashley Pelman, one of the two girls to sue McDonald’s in 2002, was 14 at the time. Jazlyn Bradley, the other girl, was 19 then, my age (Santora 3). The fact that these two realized something was wrong with what they were eating when people in their own families thought their diets were “healthy” is a mark of a teenager’s ability to be just as or more self-aware than the adults that surround them (Santora 17). Turning one’s life around by eating healthier and exercising is a choice that teenagers are capable of.
In response to the question, “Shouldn’t we know better than to eat two meals a day in fast-food restaurants?” Zinczenko provides evidence that most people, “particularly teenagers,” are hard-put to find healthier alternatives to fast food (7). This may be true in some places, but not where I live and grew up. Zinczenko may find it hard to locate a grapefruit wherever he drives around, but a few blocks from my house- granted, after passing a bunch of restaurants- sits a Stater Brother’s, which happens to be across the street from a McDonald’s (7). We don’t have a problem finding fruit, vegetables, and meat here, but we also don’t have a problem with getting McDonald’s because it’s faster or easier than cooking ourselves. Zinczenko’s argument that there may not be better alternatives nearby doesn’t work when applied to my town.
The question he asked then, can be given a simple answer: yes. We should and do know better, but we do it anyway. Zinczenko argues against holding us teenagers responsible for making these choices because of our lack of options, but since I have plenty of those, it stands to reason that I should be held responsible for eating at McDonalds and restaurants like it. My age does not bar me from being conscious of the decisions I make. The ages of Ashley Pelman and Jazlyn Bradley should not bar them from this responsibility either.
Pelman and Bradley may have been living in a place where they did not have easily accessible alternatives. They were most likely in a much different position than me. It is my belief that their decision to learn more about what they were eating proves that they were capable of having this responsibility, just as I do. Their living far away from fresh produce would definitely have affected their diets, but claiming that they were incapable of the decision to be healthier is unfair to them and others like them.
Why does any of this matter? Teenagers are frequently not given enough credit for their ideas, not taken seriously, and not given responsibility simply because they aren’t quite yet adults. But completely dismissing them on the grounds that they are a year away from twenty is ridiculous because it undermines the experiences and knowledge that they have insofar collected. We are expected to do so much, but not given enough merit to do things like having a political view or taking a side in a debate without having our ideas dismissed simply because we are younger. The general opinion, shown in the part of the conversation that Zinczenko was arguing against, was that Pelman and Bradley’s cause was laughable. It got much more attention and backlash than other lawsuits about health and obesity because the two responsible for the suit were considered to be children (Wald). I am of the opinion, as a 19-year-old, that teenagers should be taken more seriously by adults because we are people and deserve a voice.
Santora, Marc. “Teenagers’ Suit Says McDonald’s Made Them Obese.” The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2002, www.nytimes.com/2002/11/21/nyregion/teenagers-suit-says-mcdonald-s-made-them-obese.html. Accessed June 26 2017.
Wald, Jonathan. “McDonald’s Obesity Suit Tossed.” CNN, 17 Feb. 2003, money.cnn.com/2003/01/22/news/companies/mcdonalds/. Accessed June 26 2017.
Zinczenko, David. “Don’t Blame The Eater.” The New York Times, 23 Nov. 2002, www.nytimes.com/2002/11/23/opinion/don-t-blame-the-eater.html. Accessed June 26 2017.