From the pages of ../


Finger-Lickin’ Fitness

By Mickey Z


In terms of co-optation and propaganda, corporate America has brought irony to a new level in the late 20th century. As featured in the October 1996 issue of Fitness Management, none other than PepsiCo-owned Kentucky Fried Chicken is now being touted as a bastion of "wellness."

In her article "Wellness, KFC-Style," Christina Gandolfo touts a new tendency for corporations, i.e., "heeding the wellness message." In fact, our intrepid reporter cites a study showing that the sale of fitness equipment to corporate wellness centers had grown 11.2 percent annually since 1990. Why, you may wonder? Well, Gandolfo provides the simple answer when she declares, without irony, that "health promotion is just plain good business."

Offering Nike as a good example of a company "promoting well-being" to its employees, Gandolfo conveniently chooses to ignore those "other" Nike workers who toil in Indonesia, under oppressive conditions that do not include state-of-the-art exercise equipment, for about $1.25 a day. Sort of gives "just do it" a new meaning, huh?

Anyway, moving on to a more detailed case in point, we are presented with KFC, a company so concerned with wellness that it even "slimmed-down" its name to an acronym, notes Gandolfo. Mark Leonardi is the manager of the health and fitness program at KFC. "We may not have the healthiest product," he admits. "But, like they say, everything in moderation." Including the truth, Mark? Limiting one’s critique of KFC’s junk food to a benign statement like "not the healthiest" is a crime in and of itself.


Kentucky Fried Catastrophe

To satisfy America’s junk food addiction, pushers like the Pepsi/KFC alliance need plenty of supply. Hence, over three billion chickens per year are murdered in the United States—how’s that for societal violence? The end result of this unreported, taxpayer-subsidized mass murder spree is a precipitous rise in animal fat-related illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and cancer; the continuation of devastating farming techniques that wreck havoc on our environment; and the utter physical and spiritual destruction of a unique breed of animal.

Yes, three billion chickens are slaughtered each year and their life leading up to their execution is "not the healthiest," as Leonardi might put it. Ninety-five percent of all eggs are produced by chickens kept in crowded battery houses, never seeing daylight. Since fights break out regularly, the birds are painfully de-beaked so the "merchandise" isn’t damaged. Such treatment not only terrorizes the animal, but can lead to more toxins in our bodies.

All animals—chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, etc.—as they are being led to slaughter, eventually realize what’s in store for them. This results in a sudden release of hormones, i.e., the "fight or flight" response. Thus, when the animal is brutally killed moments later, those hormones remain in the meat to combine with all the pesticides, antibiotics, and other noxious substances already there, offering the discerning KFC consumer a "quick meal" unfit for anything except, perhaps, a toxic waste cite.

"We are a nation with an assembly-line chicken in every pot," writes John Robbins in Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth (Stillpoint Publishing 1987). "We do not know that we eat the bodies and eggs of tortured creatures. We do not know that they have been inoculated, dosed with hormones and antibiotics, and injected with dyes so that their meat and yolks will appear to be a "healthy-looking" yellow. How far out of touch we have become, not only with animals but with our own taste buds, to be susceptible to being so deprived…If we buy and eat the products of this system of food production, are we colluding with them in creating this hell?"

But, then again, when hell has a nifty corporate gym, I guess you can convince yourself to look the other way. Besides, those KFC paper pushers aren’t actually killing chickens, are they? I can hear the familiar refrain now: "We were just following orders…"


Kentucky Fried Competition

Based, of course, in Kentucky, the KFC headquarters boasts of a modest success in its ever-diligent pursuit of wellness: at any given time, 25 percent of its 600 employees participate in one wellness activity after another. However, when all else fails, there’s always the healthy lure of competition to help those other slackers attain optimal fitness. "We’ve got a lot of type-A individuals here who love competition," Leonardi notes. "You’d be amazed at the number of people who come out of the woodwork just to win a T-shirt." I wonder if that T-shirt bears the image of the corpulent white, slave-owning KFC colonel?

Besides fitness equipment and marvelous motivational tools like T-shirt contests, KFC has developed sport leagues and an annual health fair where its chicken-gorged employees can seek out cholesterol screening, nutritional education, and flu shots. However, through it all, Leonardi is more than careful to make sure his minions don’t get too health-crazed.

"We preach the fun side of fitness, and it works," he says. "When I see a member who’s been at the fitness center every day there on a Friday, I’ll be the first to say, ‘Go home—enjoy your weekend.’ That’s just as important as working out." The lesson here. Working out isn’t fun or enjoyable like the things you do on the weekend and you best trust an expert like Leonardi and not overdo it or you may become a fanatic (who may start wondering about all those greasy, antibiotic-filled drumsticks being marketed across the globe, perhaps?)


Kentucky Fried Control

Finally, not to limit themselves to mere health, KFC takes its wellness mission even further, offering "perks" like on-site ATMs, dry cleaning services (more toxins), and auto repair pick-up and delivery. It’s important to note that Gandolfo, the article’s author, does not see these co-called perks as making employees’ lives better, more stimulating, or more challenging, but "more manageable." Don’t demand more pleasure, settle for less pain, seems to be the operative theme here with Leonardi adding. "We may not get them home early, but we offer activities that teach lifestyle balance and how to be healthy—and that, we think, helps them to be better people." I can just see his soon-to-be-released New York Times best seller, Better Lifestyle Balance Through On-Site ATMs.

Does anyone at KFC headquarters believe that, perhaps, shorter hours could lead to wellness and lifestyle balance or do the purveyors of partially-hydrogenated oil, animal fat, sugar, and other deadly substances have another agenda? By freeing their employees of the "nuisance" of dealing with their own personal chores and duties and keeping them in a relatively decent physical condition, KFC has indeed cultivated the ideal post-NAFTA workforce: seduced by high-tech gyms, bowling leagues, and T-shirt contest; relived of the day-to-day personal activities that not only interfere with work time but may result in some semblance of individual thought; and oblivious to the nutritional, environmental, and ethical holocaust they are contributing to every minute of every day.


Welcome to wellness, KFC-style.