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McDonald's might not be the king of fast food for much longer.

McDonald's recently had decreased profits. New ideas and millennials just ruin everything, don't they?

McDonald's might not be the king of fast food for much longer.

It's hard to think of a name more synonymous with the word "empire" than McDonald's.

Even Emperor Palpatine from "Star Wars" would be jealous of their reach and global brand recognition. McDonald's happily sits on the throne as the undisputed king of fast food and one of the world's biggest and most successful businesses.



America's favorite road-trip bathroom. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

As of last year, McDonald's had 35,000 locations worldwide and operated in 119 countries. To put that in perspective, Burger King, McDonald's biggest competitor, has 13,000 locations in 79 countries. The sun truly never sets on the McDonald's empire.

However, like all empires, McDonald's reign will one day come to an end. In fact, although they still serve around 68 million customers a day, McDonald's is beginning to slip from their place at the top.

The Wall Street Journal shows how McDonald's sales are becoming more limp than a reheated french fry.

Since last July, McDonald's has seen some declines in sales.

That's right: As of last July, McDonald's showed 12 straight months of same-store decline. That represents the company's first full-year fall in 13 years, and although they've shown a small improvement this year (a 0.9% increase in domestic sales in the third quarter), you can be pretty sure they're not lovin' it.

So what exactly is going on here?

Well, on the business side, McDonald's has had a few mishaps. In Asia, where McDonald's earns nearly 25% of its revenues, health scares have had a harsh effect on the company's sales. Reports of contaminated beef and chicken in China caused sales to fall sharply over the summer. In Japan, sales were affected by a woman who reported finding a tooth in her french fries.

Yeah, you read that right. A tooth.

But McDonald's is also having trouble here in the homeland, and that's where the story gets interesting.

It's well known in the economics world that competition is what keeps American businesses strong. Having one or more rivals keeps a company creative, efficient, and forward-thinking. Every Coke needs its Pepsi, every Apple needs its Microsoft, and every Bernat Yarns needs its Lion Brand Yarn Company. (Just don't bring that frizzy Lion Brand twine around me.)

Anyway, I digress. For decades, McDonald's hasn't had much in the way of competition. Even other fast food restaurants have struggled to present a true threat to Mickey D's despite carving out massive markets of their own.

One reason for the cracks in the McDonald's empire may be their new competition.

The growth of middle-ground, casual fast-food dining options such as Chipotle, Five Guys, Smashburger, and Sweetgreen have offered customers their first real opportunity to walk away from McDonald's and never look back.

No one even knows what barbacoa is. Photo by Ben Popken/Flickr.

Plus, a new generation of eaters has started to demand different things from their fast-food experiences.

They're trading in their Big Macs for Smashburgers, and their Chicken Wraps for Chipotle burritos. They want customization, they want healthy and sustainable ingredients, and they want guacamole, dammit!

Research shows this: Millennials and younger eaters in America are asking for a lot more than special sauce. They want to eat fresh ingredients, and they want to customize. Just like McDonald's, a restaurant like Five Guys satisfies that primal American need for a burger and fries. But in contrast, Five Guys does it with ingredients that are apparently fresh and never frozen.

In fact, millennials think about food so differently that it's started to affect major processed food brands at the grocery store. Young shoppers are buying more fresh meat, produce, and dairy products. This has caused brands like General Mills, who produce mainly packaged food, to slip in sales as well.

McDonald's has tried to combat these changes in their own ways.

They've offered digital touch-screen kiosks in some stores that allow you to completely customize your burger.

I bet this thing will still forget your extra pickles. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

They're offering all-day breakfast. They just announced $1 mozzarella sticks.

And they've made a few company-wide changes to become healthier, like abandoning margarine for butter and no longer selling chicken and beef raised with growth hormones.

For the record, McDonald's has tried in the past to appear more healthy, and they've had...

Photo by Reg Natarajan/Flickr.

...let's just say...

Photo by theimpulsivebuy/Flickr.

..."varying levels of success."

Unfortunately, McDonald's image is still hopelessly tied to unhealthy food. Despite their efforts to change their reputation, people who care about fresh food probably don't think they'll find it between a pair of sesame seed buns.

So, the next time someone makes fun of you for ordering your vegan, gluten-free, chia-seed kale shake, just smile to yourself.

Your healthy choices really could crumble an empire.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.