Signs of the times
For some years now, on a wall beside the back entrance to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (what used to be the emergency entrance), near the corner of Gerrard and University, steps from the Children’s Healing Garden, have hung three fast food logos: one for Tim Hortons, one for Soup It Up and one for Burger King. These signs serve two purposes. They signal that those three franchises have outlets inside the hospital and act as de facto promotions for the products served therein. Now, I can live with Soup It Up and Tim Hortons. Soup is generally thought to be both nourishing and comforting; Tim Hortons is Tim Hortons, a wellspring of coffee and doughnuts. Double-doubles and sprinkles are bad for you, sure, yet so elementally native that Tim Hortons might as well serve up portions of the Canadian Shield. That leaves Burger King. Let me put this as plainly as I can: much of what Burger King serves is unhealthy. So why do they have a franchise serving food inside a hospital aimed at promoting and propagating health among children? (The fact that Burger King supported the endowment of a chair in critical care at the hospital only raises my eyebrow all the more.)
I was willing to leave this mind-bender to minds greater than my own—that is, until I read yesterday’s op-ed page of The New York Times. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, has an essay there in which he reveals that the Burger King Corporation hires private security cops to spy on pacifist NGOs seeking to protect the rights of migrant labourers who pick tomatoes for—you guessed it—Burger King. Schlosser goes on to argue that American citizens need to be protected from corporate espionage in the same way they are protected from domestic spying by their government.
While I’m sure he’s right, my aim here is less exalted. SickKids should remove the Burger King sign from its wall. And because I am entirely in favour of special pleading, I offer full disclosure: I spent a good portion of my adolescence at SickKids. I wrote a book about it, and the book was shortlisted for the City of Toronto Book Prize. I owe my life to that hospital, and in my own peculiar fashion, I’d like to think that this request is going some small way toward repaying that favour.
• Burger With a Side of Spies [New York Times]