Fast food, slow progress; or, why you can’t survive on $7.25

Last night I went to Burger King. And it was gooooood. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll do (almost) anything for french fries, so there’s something really satisfying after a very long day to dig into a paper bag full of golden brown potatoes and eat all my feelings. But, friends, I have had my last satisfry for a while.

I pledge allegiance to the bag...no more.
I pledge allegiance to the bag…no more.

Today all across America fast food workers are on strike in an effort to get be able to form unions and earn a living wage. Thousands of hardworking, dedicated Americans are protesting outside of McDonald’s, Burger King, et. al chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.25.” As I listened to the story on NPR this morning I got angrier and angrier…not at the greedy corporate honchos who don’t understand the meaning of the word “enough” but at myself for being a huge part of the problem.

I am obsessed with convenience. If I’ve had a long day, I don’t want to cook, so I’ll just go pick up whatever is quickest and closest. I don’t want to go to the bank when I can do every transaction on my phone or at the ATM. I don’t even mind talking to machines when I call a customer support line. But the human cost of my convenience really hit home today.

This is the way of the modern world though. Fewer jobs require human beings to do. But instead of replacing these people, we need to both retrain them to keep them relevant and honor the work that they do. Here’s some real talk — the lady working the rush hour drive-thru at Wendy’s works harder than I do almost every day and she has to be there

English: This is the picture of the original R...
The Original Ronald McDonald

for over an hour just to afford the meal that I buy and usually end up not finishing. One D.C. McDonald’s employee summed it up well bu saying, “I live in Capitol Hill and my rent is $1050. I work my butt off at work for a $300 check that I can’t even use to pay my rent. So, it’s saddening. It’s depressing, I’m seeing a therapist. It’s just a lot.” Washington is just like LA is just like NYC is just like Chicago is just like everywhere else in America. You’re right, sister. It’s a lot.

We have this notion of lazy, food stamp-abusing, government cheese-eating, sycophants who abuse the system and ruin America. In reality, most Americans are hardworking, basically honest people who live in a system that is designed for them to fail. I have been really blessed to move up the socioeconomic ladder from sincere poverty to comfortable middle class, but so many people from my same neighborhood never had that opportunity.

And what would happen if people at McDonald’s made, say, $11/hour instead of minimum wage? The price of a Big Mac wouldn’t even have to rise and Ronald McDonald could still have his enormous clown mansion where he and the Hamburgler play hide the pickle. But perhaps that worker who can’t afford a summer program for her kid might be able to give him a chance at a better future.

There is a law that requires workers in the Los Angeles Airport to earn a living wage. As a result, the people who work in the Burger King there make significantly more than the people who work at Burger King down the street. (Try not to think too hard about the ridiculousness being against a term called “living wage” or you’ll end up angry like I am). Imagine working at Burger King and being able to afford your own apartment, or car, or -gasp- be able to get sick and not go bankrupt or have to pawn your shit. Just imagine. I will not complain again the next time my Whopper is $1 more if it means that the person serving it to me gets to live like a human being.

To those who work bs jobs for bs pay, I appreciate the role you play in our economy and how hard you work to survive. I will also look the other way if you feel inclined to add your own “special sauce” to that customer who has gotten out of hand.

broke americaIt’s really simple. Do you value money or do you value people? When you die, will you be remembered for investing in stock or in relationships? It seems like America has made its choice on a large scale, so we all have to decide if we’re going to give into our culture or help change it. To be totally clear, I support capitalism and the right everyone has to make as much money as possible. I’m all for Black Friday shopping theoretically (even if I used the holiday to pay off credit cards instead of make new debt). And I hope one day to have more money than I know how to use. But, I cannot take any joy in my profit when I am contributing to others’ suffering.

So I’m going to do my small part, starting with sacrificing my beloved fast food fries. Until the major chains raise the salaries of their workers, they will no longer get my business. I encourage everyone I know or influence to join me. We are the only ones who can make our culture better.

Everyone deserves to make enough money to support themselves. You shouldn’t need a full time job and a welfare check. That is proof of our failure as a society. There’s an old saying: a fence is only as strong as its weakest link. I am worried about my country as our strongest links exploit the weak for their gain. It’s only a matter of time before some of these peaceful protests that are sparked by the rampant inequality that pervades our country turn all Arab Spring.

Hurry up and get your shit together fast food industry. Daddy really wants some fries.

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