Here's why I'm horrified: it feels like a cheap PR stunt by an organisation that needs to improve its reputation by hooking onto a good issue - in this case literacy. As a vegetarian for more than 20 years I'm never going to be a McDonalds fan, but I'm don't think it's lazy liberalism that pegs organisations like McDonalds as the 'bad guys'. Yes, eating junk once in a while isn't that big a deal but let's be honest, there are far too many people patronising fast food joints far too often - according to McDonalds they expect to distribute 15m books in two years - that's 20,000 happy meals a day!!! That isn't good for anyone's health, the environment or animal welfare. Seriously, if you have any doubts about this please, please read Fast Food Nation.
When I dug into the detail of the story I was bemused to discover that this promotion is based on a pilot last year where the chain gave out books from Michael Morpurgo's Mudpuddle Farm series. Are you for fecking real??? So children have been sat eating burgers while reading a charming little story about the animals that have been slaughtered to make those very 'happy' meals!! Not such a happy meal for the poor cow who ended up in your burger or the chicken in your chicken nuggets!
But then...the fact that this initiative is backed by the National Literacy Trust made me think again. According to the charity one in three children don't own a book, and with 8 out of ten families with young children visiting McDonalds at least once a year, the odds stack up that this is one way to get books into the hands of children who might not otherwise own a book of their own. The pragmatist in me gets why the National Literacy Trust is supporting this initiative. And giving away books has got to be better than some crappy plastic toy made in China - something it seems its customers think as well with McDonalds' own research indicating that 90% of parents wanted to see books being included in Happy Meals. But overall I do feel sad that this promotion will make McDonalds the biggest distributor of children's books in the UK. That is seriously wrong. Especially when the government's budget cuts mean councils across the country are busy closing down libraries - places where you can get an unlimited supply of children's books for free, without a side portion of junk food.