Good Food Store promotes McDonalds

Our local, values-based natural food store is putting on a McDonalds Holiday Benefit. I knew times were tough for multinational corporations, what with the ever-escalating fight for who can pay the highest salary, but this seems a bit much.

Well, OK, that’s a bit deceptive. But, then so is the Ronald McDonald House that is the beneficiary of this event. Yes, it is a charity. And, yes, providing a hotel for families to stay in while other members of the family are undergoing medical treatment is noble, indeed. But, another big winner is McDonalds.

There is simply no way to separate the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) from the fast food chain. The trademarked symbol of every house features Ronald McDonald, a cartoon character invented to sell hamburgers. Every family that comes through the door is subjected to constant reminders of the connection to McDonalds, Ronald McDonald, and the Golden Arches. McDonalds is the single largest donor, and every house is funded and promoted by the local McDonalds. The sales of USA Today inside the store are all donated to RMHC. There is even a RMHC-themed McDonalds restaurant. And the website for the local RMHC is © 2005 – 2009 McDonald’s Corporation.

Don’t get me wrong. RMHC is a good charity, doing good service in many communities around the world. But, if McDonalds felt this was so important that it didn’t need to use it as a marketing tool, then they could have called them Missoula Hospital Family Stay. Oh, but wait, there is one: St. Patrick House, right near St. Patrick Hospital. (The Ronald McDonald House is on the campus of the Community Medical Center, and charges the same per night as the St. Patrick House.)

So, my question is why the Good Food Store wants to promote the charity arm of McDonalds? The Good Food Store is a “non-profit corporation dedicated to supporting a healthy community“. I’m not sure I understand how promoting McDonalds is supporting a healthy community. With a bit more forethought, they could have been doing a St. Patrick House Benefit or one for the St. Pat’s Women’s Care Center or the Rehabilitation Institute of Montana at Community Medical Center or the Watson Children’s Shelter.

Sustainability and the MBIA

greenwashWith Ryan Morton (Community Affairs Director for MBIA) and Kathy Greathouse (chair, MBIA Government Affairs Committee) running for Missoula City Council, it is understandable that the activities of the MBIA (Missoula Building Industry Association) will get some scrutiny.

Take, for instance, a paid advertisement in today’s Missoulian (p. A10, not available online?) written by John Freer, of Riverworks, Inc. Each week, “industry experts from the Montana Green Building Program of Missoula and the MBIA will answer your questions and provide green building techniques, tips and advice”. You can send your questions to

Now, it just so happens that one of Ryan Morton’s major platforms for his candidacy for City Council is Green Building, so this should be interesting.
Let’s see what the MBIA recommends for reducing carbon, sulfate and nitrate emissions … Hmmm, this is interesting: “Walk …. don’t drive to that BBQ, choose local produce and foods, guzzle lots of organic beer, choose reusable plates, cups and utensils.” All well and good. I particularly like the recommendation for drinking more beer, but I would encourage local brews (Kettlehouse, Big Sky, and Bayern) – none of whom regularly brew organic.

But, how feasible is it to “Walk … don’t drive?” And is MBIA, Ryan and Kathy really going to do what it takes to make walking a REAL option here in Missoula. Because, you know, the building industry has a BIG say in how walkable our new neighborhoods will be. So does City Council.

What would it take to make Missoula an easy place to walk everywhere you need to be? Firstly, and the most green of all, is mixed use zoning – that allows you to walk from your home to your workplace, and then on to the local store for groceries and above-mentioned local beer and back home again. Like a village, everything you need would be close by – your kids school, your hairdresser, your favorite restaurant and bar, the local hardware store, etc. etc. Anywhere you couldn’t walk to, you could use the bus system. You wouldn’t completely do away with your car or truck (which would be for longer trips out-of-town, and for hauling lumber and soil and other big products, etc.), but you’d save $$$ by not having to fill up with gas every week. Oh, and you’d have to have sidewalks and well designed boulevards to make walking through the neighborhood safe and enticing.

Don’t believe it could happen in the U.S.? Check out New York City. Many folks who live in Manhattan don’t own a car. Of course, NYC is more densely settled than Missoula. And greater density is probably going to be required if it is going to be economic for your local Grizzly Grocery or Ace Hardware to be able to stay in business just off a local customer base.

As it turns out, I’m a big fan of Green Building. I applaud the Missoula Federal Credit Union for getting Platinum LEED certification for their new building and for First Interstate Bank achieving Bronze for their new highrise. A little more expensive up-front, but a money saver in the long run. The sort of thing financial institutions should be encouraging.

But, the second biggest thing that MBIA, Ryan and Kathy could be encouraging with green building in Missoula would be smaller houses. Simple really. Smaller houses use less building materials, consume fewer resources in the building or remodeling process, and take up smaller lots (which means less destruction of farmland, open space, etc.) Smaller houses take less energy to heat, less energy to clean, and less materials to furnish.

So, perhaps at the next community forum (DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday, July 21 at 3:30 pm?), when Ryan, Kathy and the MBIA talking up boldly for Green Building in Missoula we’ll hear them calling for smaller buildings in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods. I hope so, otherwise their green building stance might be unsustainable politically.

Walk, walk, don’t tell me.

They do remember how to walk, don’t they? Because the New York Times recently reported

In 1969, 40 percent of students in the United States walked to school; in 2001, the most recent year data was collected, 13 percent did, according to the federal government’s National Household Travel Survey.

Seems that all the parents are busy lining up to drop off, or pick up, their precious little ones. Door – to – door service is parental responsibilities these days.

While there may be some benefit in having the family members share some time together, I feel that all this chauffeuring comes at a great cost to the kids. As the Wall Street Journal blog puts it, not only are they missing out on a little exercise but they are also missing out on a whole lot of independence. Each day, as they venture out under their own steam, the little ones get a bit more confident and a bit more comfortable in their world. They explore and adventure in places that they would notherwise avoid. They interact with neighbors, folks across the street, and strangers down the road. They grow into their community, with the community closely watching, of course!

Instead, today the pattern is a gated world where careful vetting is conducted before anyone is allowed into the fiercely guarded private domain. Shut the world out, lock up your daughters, and pretend everything is all right!

Sadly, while I don’t think our streets are any safer than they were decades ago our level of fear is much elevated. We’re even afraid of not knowing what it is like out there. Threat level yellow, or threat level red – there isn’t much we can do about it. So, we take charge of the little things that we can control and pretend that makes things better.

The irony is that by sheltering our precious little ones, we let ourselves off the hook for the real world out there. Just drive on by, lock the car door, and pretend you don’t have to care. Those aren’t your people, not your responsibility. Besides, they’re walking!