Let Them Eat . . . McNuggets

Let Them Eat . . . McNuggets

Editor’s Note: This article is grounded in college football and politics. It is about neither. Followers of this blog understand that I do not take sides in politics and especially do not take sides in the religion known as college football.

The Clemson Tigers football team continued their National Championship celebration with a visit to the White House. Alas, due to the federal shutdown, a number of White House workers have been furloughed. Who would feed the dozens of these enormous young men and their equally large appetites on their visit? President Trump floated, then immediately dismissed, the notion that the First Lady and Second Lady could whip together a few salads (difficult to visualize that one!).

Fear not, the Fast Fooder in Chief devised a game plan for this football team. Trump directed his staff to provide “McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King with some pizza” for the Clemson Tigers players and coaches. Complying with this charge, the White House staff broke out the good China, lit the candles on the candelabras, and set forth an array of fast food on gleaming silver trays.

Meeting with the press, standing proudly behind mounds of nicely arranged fast food containers, President Trump boasted: “We have 300 hamburgers. Many, many french fries.” As to the fare consisting of burgers, fries and pizza, Trump declared: “We have everything that I like.” As to serving fast food for an official White House event, Trump responded: “I would think it is their favorite food.” It is this last statement which got me thinking — more on that point later.

Trump then noted the unusual nature of the event had been driven by the government shutdown. Trump took the opportunity to cast blame on others for the shutdown while a White House communication noted that the President himself would personally pay for the feast. Whew! The taxpayers really dodged one on these costs. Let’s place politics to the side, talk some football, and have all enjoy tons of fast food for one evening!

But would all Clemson Tigers enjoy this smorgasbord of fast food? Meet Donna McCain, culinary professional and Executive Performance Chef of Clemson Tiger football. First, think about that. Clemson football has a full time Executive Performance Chef on its staff. A quick check of the University of Alabama website confirms that the Crimson Tide employ full time positions of Director of Performance Nutrition and two Assistant Sports Nutritionists. Is it any wonder that these programs with such resources are at the pinnacle of their sport year in and year out?

As Executive Performance Chef, McCain describes her position as half of her duties in the kitchen and the other half in educating the players. She meets regularly with players, monitors their eating habits and assists them to properly fuel their bodies. McCain conducts one on one cooking classes with the players. These classes stress the importance of nutrition and consequences of smart choices in food selection while teaching basic cooking skills. Chef McCain teaches life lessons.

McCain’s passion seeks to create a culture for the Tiger football program. McCain has become a mentor to many players who witness improvements in the weight room and on the football field which they credit to better nutrition.

Would culinary champion Donna McCain approve of the White House menu loaded with Quarter Pounders, fries and chicken strips? Probably not. Would McCain at least argue for some salad options? Probably so. But, hey, it is only one meal and part political stunt at that. McCain stresses a lifetime of good habits. Let’s face it, we all have bad diet days. We can let one meal slide.

Given culinary professionals on the staff — chefs who work to alter the perceptions about foods and stress nutritional needs — perhaps President Trump may not be correct in declaring: “I would think it is their favorite food.” Was this White House dinner an opportunity lost? Perhaps Clemson’s Chef McCain could have been consulted on the food choices. Perhaps the White House could have used its soap box to emphasize how better eating habits and better nutritional education assisted this football program in elevating player performance.

I think it is more likely that the White House suffered from what all of us do every day. We make assumptions. The White House assumed that virtually everyone, especially young people, genuinely enjoy fast food. The thought process probably did not go much beyond “get them McDonald’s, they will love it.”

A number of years ago when one of my sons was in high school, I volunteered to drive a number of players to a tournament across the state. The tournament went late and I ended up with a vehicle full of hungry, grumpy teenagers fairly late in the evening. We found an open Taco Bell and stopped for food. Each player dutifully placed an order while never even glancing up at the menu. I observed how each player knew what they wanted without consulting the menu. One responded that he has the menu memorized as he eats his dinner 3 or 4 nights a week at Taco Bell. Yum! Perhaps President Trump’s assumption was well founded. Personal note: To this day, I am proud to say that I have never eaten anything from Taco Bell.

Now past teenage years, I observe the eating habits of my sons. Apparently gone are the days of pining to stop at fast food joints. They prefer to quickly fry up some vegetables and add chicken or beef for a meal rather than make a stop for burgers and fries. Fast food is not completely gone from their diets. It appears relegated to road trips or times when no other option appears in view. Their friends appear to share the same view of deep fried cuisine. Even absent an executive chef culinary coach, the concept of better food choices is getting through to at least some in the next generation. This dynamic does not bode well for long term stockholders of McDonald’s and the like.

Yet, I think President Trump and most Americans would assume that the twenty-something crowd would cite McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King among “their favorite foods.” Perhaps they don’t. As a mediator and mediation participant, I must constantly remind and caution myself not to make or rely on assumptions. The most common assumption I hear as a mediator is the refrain that the other party only wants money, and as much as they can get. It is true that monetary relief is most often the exclusive form of relief available. It is also true that the lawyer’s job as advocate is to secure the best resolution possible which means the most money. Yet, I often hear that the aggrieved party desperately desires something more than money. They may want validation of their claim. They may want an apology. They may want a promise that the opposing party will institute preventative measures so that others do not become aggrieved. They may simply want to know that they have been heard.

When assumptions start to enter the equation, the mediation participants can easily become entrenched in their positions. However, there are preventative steps the mediator and practitioner can take to avoid this pitfall. One step is to be direct. Rather than assume about an adversary’s motivation, inquire about it. Ask what is needed to get the parties closer to settlement (besides each party raising or lowering demands). In one case, a party included as part of each offer a demand that settlement funds be paid within 2 weeks. That point alone became the obstacle to resolution. With direct inquiry, all parties learned that the plaintiff cared not when settlement would be paid, but that her lawyer needed the fees from these funds within 2 weeks to meet his firm’s fiscal year end. A structure then easily fell into place to accommodate the lawyer.

Second, make inquiry of the mediator. That professional has a feel for the dynamics in each negotiating room. The mediator may be able to suggest approaches or positions which would be well received by the opposing side. While the mediator should be taking these steps already, a plain discussion may spur different ideas or approaches.

Third, caucus with just the lawyers. There may be challenges between lawyer and client such as unreasonable expectations of the client. In a private caucus with just lawyers and the mediator, one attorney may be able to disclose such difficulties with all then crafting an approach to address the situation.

Fourth, think beyond the claims in dispute. Many times, litigation or settlement positions can be driven by external factors. In business settings, perhaps a corporate transaction is behind the scenes which precludes consideration of certain points. Litigants may be addressing personal and family issues unrelated to the claims. The adversary may not be able to disclose such circumstances, but may be able to educate the other side that different factors need to be considered.

These steps, and additional tools from the the mediator’s toolbox, can assist to avoid bad consequences from assumptions. The next time you assume that everyone wants fast food or you assume that an adversary is being unreasonable, just remind yourself that Chef McCain and all her efforts may be just behind the scenes. Many times, other issues are in play and you can figure out how to use them for your benefit.

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