Go Green: Eat McDonald’s Fish! (but only in Europe)

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Should greens avoid eating at McDonald’s? I used to be one of those earnest environmentalists—raised on Fast Food Nation—who forswore McDonald’s entirely. But when I moved to the UK I noticed some changes at the Golden Arches. The restaurant chain introduced free range eggs. It started serving sustainably sourced coffee. So I made a decision. I would go to McDonald’s but only order eggs and coffee (seriously). My thinking was that green consumers should support ethical decisions made by large corporations. Call it the Ralph Nader lesson: there’s no point placing a silent vote. If we can make it profitable for big business to be (more) eco-friendly, they are more likely to make eco-friendly decisions. And no disrespect to the mom-and-pop coffee shop on the corner, but McDonald’s purchasing power has (for better and for worse) an unmatched influence on food sourcing across the world.

Unfortunately, eggs and coffee get boring pretty quickly–even when slathered with butter on white bread (McMuffin, anyone?). So thankfully, I now have a new dish to add: the Filet-O-Fish.

Today McDonald’s Corp announced that it will be the first company of its type to sell fish in Europe that’s been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Any decision McDonald’s makes has large implications: the Illinois-based company is the world’s biggest restaurant chain. It’s European operations serve 13 million customers in 7,000 restaurants across 39 European countries. That translates to around 100 million Filet-O-Fish orders a year, according to the company.

Now, like all things green, Europe is far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to ethical sourcing. But Big Food is starting to realize that unless it starts serving sustainable products it might find itself without a supply chain in the future. And that’s a global problem. Unilever, the world’s second largest consumer-goods company, recently pledged to buy only sustainable palm oil by 2015. Wal-Mart only sells wild seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Does this mean that it’s suddenly ethical to chow down on a Big Mac, as long as you travel to Paris or Berlin to do so? Probably not (eating meat of any sort contributes to climate change, as the Enlightened citizens of the Belgian city of Ghent can attest). But if big business goes green—and it’s not a green wash—shouldn’t we support them?