If these are literally the salad days at McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), why is somebody else making off with the lettuce?

Over the weekend, the world's largest restaurant chain settled a lawsuit accusing McDonald's of not coming through with its promise to reduce trans fats in its frying oil within five months of its 2002 announcement. The restaurant will pay $8.5 million, with the lion's share going to the American Heart Association to help educate consumers about the dangers of consuming foods that are high in trans fats.

In other words, Mickey D's is paying for the bullets that will arm the firing squad gunning its way. You thought those Altria (NYSE:MO) commercials -- with Philip Morris telling people not to smoke -- were an ironic hoot? Just wait until we see McDonald's stuck with the marketing tab for what may amount to having Ronald McDonald walk around with an "I will kill you slowly" sandwich board draped around his neck. The reality may be subtler by degrees, but it will be pretty much the same thing, won't it?

Two years ago, I took the company to task for launching its premium salads without a single fat-free dressing. It still doesn't offer one. At least Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) got it right when it launched the salad idea that's become so popular among fast-food purveyors. I also think it's amusing that McDonald's now lets you substitute fries with a healthy side of sliced apples -- yet triples the caloric intake by serving the apples with an irresistible caramel dipping sauce.

Yet just because the company isn't walking a perfect line, that doesn't mean that all of the shots taken at McDonald's are fair. I have read Fast Food Nation. I have seen Supersize Me. Both were brilliant works, and both slammed the burger chain -- for the most part -- appropriately. Yet when I hear about folks suing the chain just because they're overweight or because the coffee was too hot, I shake my head. This particular case, in which the company said it would incorporate healthier frying oils within five months and didn't meet its self-imposed deadline, is ludicrous. Did anyone set an alarm clock to wake up in the spring of 2003 to bolt over to Mickey D's for healthier fries? I doubt it. Did McDonald's fudge its nutrition tables before the frying oil with lower trans fats was introduced? I don't think so.

We live in wonderful times. The Internet has helped amplify the cries of dissenters and whistle blowers. Yet that creates a bigger burden for us to filter out the noise that floats across the suddenly leveled playing field.

McDonald's is trying. The company's menu does offer healthier alternatives these days. Even leaner cuts of chicken are now menu staples. Yet it will never be a fat-free haven. And that's why it will never tire of keeping its legal staff at the ready.

Just wait. I'll bet you that someone is scribing a missive about how the company should take down all of its drive-thru lanes so that hungry drivers have to engage in some physical exercise to gather their grub inside.

My, how those golden arches draw the pickaxe-yielding miners looking to strike it rich.

If you're lovin' it, here are some more McDonald's stories to feed your appetite:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys those healthy apple slices -- but only because they come with those caramel dipping sauce cups. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.