Finger-Lickin Fitness


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

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

"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
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,


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.