The Big Mac turns 40 this year. The oversized sandwich was invented in 1967 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, by McDonald’s franchisee Jim Delligatti, and it was introduced on McDonald’s menus across America in 1968. Today, approximately 550 million Big Macs are sold each year in the United States alone. Perhaps not coincidentally, a recent report from the Trust for America’s Health revealed that more than 20 percent of adults in 47 states are now obese—the worst shape the nation has ever been in. Clearly, it’s time for McDonald’s to unveil another new menu item: a McVeggie Burger.
While the Big Mac may not single-handedly be to blame for all the blubber in America, it certainly hasn’t helped. Just one Big Mac has a whopping 540 calories and 29 grams of fat, including 10 grams of saturated fat. According to a recent Business Week report, Americans consume about 17,582 tons of fat from Big Macs every single year, roughly the weight of more than 40 fully loaded Boeing 747 passenger jets.
In other words, Big Macs (not to mention Big Bufords, Whoppers and other fast-food fare) equal big butts. Seriously. Last year, a medical journal warned doctors that their injections may be ineffective, because American rumps have become so big that a standard needle frequently cannot reach muscle through all the fat.
Fast-food chains’ meaty menus don’t just cause customers to pack on pounds; they can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other health problems. Here’s a tip off: At least two McDonald’s executives have succumbed to diet-related diseases. CEO Jim Cantalupo died of a heart attack in April 2004, and less than a year later, his successor, Charlie Bell, died of colon cancer, a disease that is strongly linked to red and processed meats.
Health experts have long criticized fast-food companies for marketing their unhealthy products to kids. Child obesity rates have tripled since 1980 and continue to grow faster than adult obesity rates. McDonald’s has recently taken some steps to help kids—and adults—eat better. Instead of commercials featuring dancing McNuggets and jingles promoting the Big Mac’s “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun,” McDonald’s newer advertisements feature a hip-hop Ronald McDonald groovin’ with fit kids, encouraging American youth to get active. And as the nation’s waistlines have expanded, so has McDonald’s menu. The Big Mac is still one of McDonald’s most popular sellers, but the company now offers entrée-sized salads, fruit and juice as well.
Yet one item is conspicuously missing from the menu. While Burger King offers a BK Veggie burger at its 8,500 U.S. locations, McDonald’s has yet to put a veggie burger on its menus nationwide. This is an easy and effective thing the company could do to show that it is serious about ending obesity. Vegan foods are naturally low in fat and calories, and veggie burgers typically have more nutritional value than traditional fast-food items.
This move would also make good business sense. Due to consumer demand, many chain restaurants, including Johnny Rockets, Ruby Tuesdays and Chili’s, have already added veggie burgers to their menus.
The Big Mac has had its 40 years of fame. Now it’s time for the super-sized sandwich to give way to a healthier, more humane menu item: the McVeggie burger.