Either McDonald’s is killing us to make money, or people are telling you that to make money.

Get ready to freak out.

Ok. My reaction to that is just like everybody else’s reaction to that. I’m disturbed. I wonder why McDonald’s food seems to have better self-mummification instincts than Joan Rivers. It makes me regret eating there.

But then there are these quotes from the “expert”:

“Why are our kids eating this stuff?”

“This can’t be real food. It can’t be.”

Well, I have a question, too:

“Why am I taking health advice from someone who’s 50 pounds overweight?”

But that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is that this kind of demonstration with McDonald’s food has become popular since the hysteria-inducing documentary Super Size Me came out in 2004. Morgan Spurlock did the same thing in the film, comparing aged McDonald’s food with aged food from other sources, and it was equally disturbing. Why doesn’t mold grow on McDonald’s food? the movie wondered. And then the movie ended.

Well? What’s the answer? Why doesn’t McDonald’s food decay? Does anybody know? Anybody at all?

Do you see the problem here? These people act like asking the question also answers the question, and that the answer is: “Because McDonald’s is willing to kill its customers for the bottom line.” Yet as far as I can tell, none of these people ever actually tries to find a real, scientific answer to that question.

Could it be that people like Julia Havey — who writes diet books — are afraid the answer is not nearly as terrifying as the question, and are capitalizing on the terror?

See, anybody can do it!

I’m not defending McDonald’s, here. I’m defending rhetoric.

I’ve done a little research on my own. Here is some information from sources I can neither vouch for nor discredit.

McDonald’s gets its french fries the same way other restaurants do:

Their distinctive taste does not stem from the kind of potatoes that McDonald’s buys, the technology that processes them, or the restaurant equipment that fries them: other chains use Russet Burbanks, buy their french fries from the same large processing companies, and have similar fryers in their restaurant kitchens.

The only difference is the oil in which they’re fried. Since 1990, McDonald’s has used pure vegetable oil and something called “natural flavor,” an additive that comes from laboratories where scientists mix chemicals to produce smells and flavors for candy, food and perfume.

The FDA doesn’t require these companies to disclose the ingredients in their flavor compounds as long as the chemicals therein are “generally recognized as safe.” The only thing McDonald’s has revealed is that the “natural flavor” in their fries is partially derived from “an animal source,” most likely beef.

"Oh crap."

Ironically, until 1990, McDonald’s simply used beef tallow to cook its fries. But in 1990 it caved to criticism over the cholesterol in them, and began using the mysterious “natural flavor.” So you got what you asked for, health nuts*.

*And I’m not going to get into the victim mentality that would cause someone to complain about the fat in a restaurant’s french fries. Yes, these potatoes are cooked in beef fat. That’s why you like them so much. It’s not healthy, and you know that. Everybody knows that. You don’t like it, don’t eat them.

But we can’t expect people to be held accountable for their own decisions.

So there’s that. The “natural flavors” thing is a little bothersome, but it doesn’t really explain why the food would preserve itself, and doesn’t even necessarily suggest the food is unhealthy. The FDA, after all, recognizes the components as safe.

I did find something that helps explain the preservation of the food.

McNuggets contain several completely synthetic ingredients, quasiedible substances that ultimately come not from a corn or soybean field but form a petroleum refinery or chemical plant. These chemicals are what make modern processed food possible, by keeping the organic materials in them from going bad or looking strange after months in the freezer or on the road. Listed first are the “leavening agents”: sodium aluminum phosphate, mono-calcium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and calcium lactate. These are antioxidants added to keep the various animal and vegetable fats involved in a nugget from turning rancid. Then there are “anti-foaming agents” like dimethylpolysiloxene, added to the cooking oil to keep the starches from binding to air molecules, so as to produce foam during the fry.

It gets scary, here.

According to the Handbook of Food Additives, dimethylpolysiloxene is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effector; it’s also flammable. But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.”

Keep in mind, though, that the previous paragraph was written by a personal injury lawyer. A little more research softens the TBHQ hysteria.

In high doses, it has some negative health effects on lab animals, such as precursors to stomach tumors and damage to DNA.[2] A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high doses of TBHQ may induce carcinogenity,[3] especially for stomach tumors.[4] Other studies, however, have shown opposite effects including inhibition against HCA-induced carcinogenesis (by depression of metabolic activation) for TBHQ and other phenolic antioxidants (TBHQ was one of several, and not the most potent).[5]

So TBHQ either causes cancer, or prevents it. Basically, we don’t know anything except that it preserves food and that McDonald’s (and, presumably, almost every other manufacturer of processed foods) uses it.

So there’s your answer, Diet.com. And it turns out the answer makes Julia Havey either a) wrong, or b) a liar when she says there are no preservatives in the food. There are definitely preservatives. So while she’s cryptically suggesting McDonald’s burgers are made of styrophome or something — “This can’t be real food.” — the most basic possible research would have revealed that a McDonald’s burger is a beef patty with preservatives in it. It is real, chemically preserved food.

Another of Havey’s questions: “What is this doing inside our body?”

"Well, it's either killing us, or saving us. Lunch?"

You’d think someone who is writing books on the topic would at least have a cursory knowledge of what modern science thinks this food might be doing in our bodies.

So while we can’t come to any real conclusions about McDonald’s food, we can probably provide ourselves a nice platitude by which to navigate life: Whenever listening to someone described as an “activist” or “master motivator,” suspect that you’re not getting a full, honest story.

Yet — and this is a big yet — I think this topic says a lot about America, and I think most of what it says is good.

As I said, this isn’t a defense of McDonald’s. I am sure that it, as with pretty much any company, will do whatever it can to maximize its profits. A government agency, the FDA,  is there to keep these companies from hurting us. But nobody is trying to pass off burgers and fries as health food. Business owners are for the most part free to make whatever kinds of foods they want, and we’re free to choose the ones we like best. That’s free enterprise and it’s good.

But we also have free speech and a free press, and that keeps everybody honest. It allows people like Morgan Spurlock and Julia Havey to say to McDonald’s, “Hey, what you’re doing is legal, but that doesn’t make it right.” And it allows me to say to Julia Havey and Morgan Spurlock, “Hey, what you’re saying is true, but that doesn’t make it honest.”

And in the end, we all get to make our own (informed) decision and spend our dollar where we want to, whether at McDonald’s or Taco Bell or the local farmer’s market. That’s capitalism. That’s freedom.


5 thoughts on “Either McDonald’s is killing us to make money, or people are telling you that to make money.

  1. There is no freedom for the poor. Their options for eating are often very limited, not only by their pocketbooks, but by the type of restaurants in their neighborhood.

    The only places they can afford outside the home are fast food restaurants. And those are the only chain restaurants willing to come to their regions. They might have issues with traveling, which could make a trip to a farmer’s market very difficult. They’ll get one supermarket that they can get to easily, but will be beholden to that particular store’s employees to keep things fresh and clean.

    Yes, companies are free to sell their poisons. That’s the American way, I guess. Too bad they put Wall Street’s concerns ahead of the health of our fellow Americans.

    I used to do nutritional counseling for low-income families. I remember one woman asking me which was better and more nutritional for her kids, McDonald’s or Little Ceaser’s Pizza. That’s how sad it gets.

  2. Julia Havey is a charlatan. If she had talked to anyone with a bio degree, which I am sure she has, she would know that the fries & small burgers contain very little water which makes it difficult for bacteria and other decomposers to grow.

  3. The FDA approves all food products that McDonald’s as well as other restaurant’s sell in regards to giving government more control in allowing them to act the food police, I mean come on do we really want to give up all our freedoms, where does it stop? Big butt Mooochelle would love that position, I just think it would be a major mistake allowing it. What ever happen to personal responsibility? Why is it suddenly after all these years people cannot live without government being in control? What makes these Liberals so much smarter than the rest of us? I think the tofu has affected the brains of many, sorry, I don’t get it!

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