now you can eat and pay rent

March 5th, 2008

When riding public transportation in the US, you often find yourself staring at huge advertisements. Almost anywhere you look, the walls of the train you ride in, the walls of the station platform, the floor and escalator, even the underground tunnels are covered with flickering ads. Cellular phone service, condos in fancy neighborhoods starting in the low 600s, exhortations from the Catholic church urging you to rethink abortion, almost anything can be hocked on the walls of the BART.

This morning, my eye is drawn to a simple fast food ad. I can’t stop looking at this advert. It annoys me in particular, and I’m not sure why. The bottom of the ad features a stylized San Francisco skyline in dark blue—replete with the Golden Gate Bridge and a trolley car. The background is a soft yellow that gradually brightens to a sunny gold towards the top of the ad. There, floating like an ethereal vision, is the product: a biscuit breakfast patty sandwich, a bun stuffed with what appears to be ham and American cheese, and three small cinnamon rolls, partially splattered in sugar icing that looks like glue. Golden rays of sunlight emanate from the foods like a Byzantine icon. The large caption below reads:

Now you can eat and pay rent.
The Fast Food Franchise breakfast menu starting at $1 each.
Fast Food Franchise Logo

I get it. Rent is so high in San Francisco, you barely have enough cash left over to buy food. How ironic, how wry, how… horrible. This is no joke—it’s true. There are people in this city who do not have enough money to both pay the rent and eat much more than cheap fast food. There are people in the city of peace and love who must choose between a place to live and a bite to eat—witness the many citizens living on the sidewalk and in the parks and alleyways of this city.

And then it hits me. I realize why this ad annoys me so much. Those who can eat and pay their rent are privileged. We can afford to buy local, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables and brick-oven baked bread and grass-fed meat and pastured eggs. We perceive it as our right to eat healthful food that nourishes and heals. Those who can’t afford the luxury of pesticide-free, GMO-free, nutrient-dense food must eat food that will eventually kill them, or risk homelessness. This fast food ad is, perhaps unwittingly, playing on the notion that cheap, harmful food is the only choice for the poor while healthful, nutritious food is for those who can afford it. Assuming that advertising reflects the beliefs of its audience, this is a sad state of affairs.

If there were any truth in advertising, here’s what this ad would look like:

Now you can eat government subsidized, artificial, toxic, artery-clogging food, and pay your exorbitant rent on a mildewed hovel in a slightly scary neighborhood.

Breakfast menu starting at $1, ending in sky-high health care bills.

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