Which Fast-Food Chain Is the Least Despicable? – Heated


Which fast-food chain commits the fewest transgressions?

Stefano Guidi for Getty Images

If you have eaten fast food today, you are not alone: by this evening, a third of American adults will have, too. Whether you have it regularly, avoid it like mad cow disease, or are somewhere in between, there’s no denying that fast-food chains, um, have issues.

Fast-food industry workers are among the lowest-paid members of the labor force, netting just over $20,000 per year on average. Hart Research Associates found that 40 percent of women face sexual harassment in the fast-food workplace (in the fields — which fast-food chains along with the rest of us rely upon — it’s twice that).

The fast-food sector is a $570 billion worst-of-the-worst supply chain. The unfathomable volume of food companies sell in a given day across the world means that they only work with multinational suppliers that source the cheapest ingredients made at the largest scale in the entire world, such as Cargill, JBS, Kraft Heinz, and Smithfield Foods (a part of the Chinese-owned WH Group) — and, of course, Coke and Pepsi.

It may be more “efficient” to have as few suppliers as possible, but the demands of volume, timeliness, and price translate to such a devastating waste of resources that to call it “efficient” — whose definition includes waste-minimizing — is a joke: Fast food drives modern-day slavery, massive water use and contamination, deforestation, biodiversity loss, antibiotic resistance, and animal cruelty on a scale and consistency unrivaled in global history. It’s so bad that recently, investors worth almost $7 billion grew so guilty profiting from this planetary destruction that they publicly let themselves off the hook by calling for action. (We haven’t seen much.)


All this without mentioning what fast food does to our bodies. Poor communities and some communities of color, in particular, have weak purchasing power and limited access to alternatives and, as a result, they bear the brunt of diet-related health problems.

With this in mind, Heated brings you a not-super-quantitative but fact-based ranking of five chains that especially suck: Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Wendy’s.

A disclaimer: We don’t mean to make normative judgments about the weight of each issue; all of these problems are severe and important. And we’re certainly not encouraging you to go to Chick-fil-A. But if you gotta go … here are the rankings.

Worst of the worst: Wendy’s

Joe Raedle for Getty Images

Wow, Wendy’s is really bad. Fox Business reports managerial salaries at Wendy’s were the lowest in a list of 12 prominent chains, only beating out Subway in that regard.

Perhaps the worst thing about Wendy’s is that it misses the layups. Other than Chick-fil-A (which provides different reasons to be despised), the rest of its peers in this competition have signed on to the Fair Food Program, in which buyers spend an extra penny per pound on tomatoes to ensure better conditions and pay for farmworkers harvesting those tomatoes. It’s a landmark program that has transformed labor organizing and farmworker well-being in Florida tomato fields — and it’s nothing short of utterly shameful that Wendy’s refuses to participate.

What’s more, the Natural Resources Defense Council has pressured the fast food industry to reduce the use of antibiotics in meat supply chains. Routine use of major antibiotics accelerates the evolution of resistant viruses that put all of us at risk. Wendy’s has made next to no effort to step up.

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