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The greatest food in human history
By Kyle Smith
July 28, 2013
What is “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.
Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger.
The argument above was made by a commenter on the Freakonomics blog run by economics writer Stephen Dubner and professor Steven Levitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.
Dubner mischievously built an episode of his highly amusing weekly podcast around the debate. Many huffy back-to-the-earth types wrote in to suggest the alternative meal of boiled lentils. Great idea. Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.
But we all know fast food makes us fat, right? Not necessarily. People who eat out tend to eat less at home that day in partial compensation; the net gain, according to a 2008 study out of Berkeley and Northwestern, is only about 24 calories a day.
The outraged replies to the notion of McDouble supremacy — if it’s not the cheapest, most nutritious and most bountiful food in human history, it has to be pretty close — comes from the usual coalition of class snobs, locavore foodies and militant anti-corporate types. I say usual because these people are forever proclaiming their support for the poor and for higher minimum wages that would supposedly benefit McDonald’s workers. But they’re completely heartless when it comes to the other side of the equation: cost.
Driving up McDonald’s wage costs would drive up the price of burgers for millions of poor people. “So what?” say activists. Maybe that’ll drive people to farmers markets.
For the average poor person, it isn’t a great option to take a trip to the farmers market to puzzle over esoteric lefty-foodie codes. (Is sustainable better than organic? What if I have to choose between fair trade and cruelty-free?) Produce may seem cheap to environmentally aware blond moms who spend $300 on their highlights every month, but if your object is to fill your belly, it is hugely expensive per calorie.
Junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, whereas fresh veggies and the like cost more than 10 times as much, found a 2007 University of Washington survey for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. A 2,000-calorie day of meals would, if you stuck strictly to the good-for-you stuff, cost $36.32, said the study’s lead author, Adam Drewnowski.
“Not only are the empty calories cheaper,” he reported, “but the healthy foods are becoming more and more expensive. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods.” Where else but McDonald’s can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?
And as for organic — the Abercrombie and Fitch jeans of food — if you have to check the price, you can’t afford it. (Not that it has any health benefits, as last year’s huge Stanford meta-study showed.)
Moreover, produce takes more time to prepare and spoils quickly, two more factors that effectively drive up the cost. Any time you’re spending peeling vegetables is time you aren’t spending on the job.
Activists will go anywhere to wave the banner of caring and plant their flagpole of social justice right in the foot of the working class.
Forcing New Yorkers to pay unnecessary high prices, they’ve managed to keep Walmart out of the five boroughs of New York City. The City Council of Washington, DC, recently passed a bill, designed specifically to punish only Walmart, which would mandate a super-minimum wage to benefit a small number of employees while effectively placing a surtax on every Walmart shopper. (Walmart responded by saying it was canceling plans for three stores. The bill may yet be vetoed by Mayor Vincent Gray.)
Fuel prices, like food prices, disproportionately hit the poor, so do-gooders do everything they can to raise energy costs by blocking new fuel sources like the Keystone XL pipelines and fracking. And they are always up for higher gasoline taxes and regulating coal-burning energy plants to death.
If the macrobiotic Marxists had their way, of course, there’d be no McDonald’s, Walmart or Exxon, because they have visions of an ideal world in which everybody bikes to work with a handwoven backpack from Etsy that contains a lunch grown in the neighborhood collective.
That’s not going to work for the average person, but who cares if they go hungry because they can’t afford a burger anymore? Let them eat kale!
The greatest food in human history | New York Post
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Good read! I remember about a year ago a bunch of posts online about how if left out McDonalds burgers wouldn't decay. Here's a good article explaining why that's not a bad thing.
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Haha impressive. I've never thought of mcdonalds in that light before, but I have shoved quite a few mcdoubles down my gullet.
didnt you post this last year too? i started bragging about it to people and got that bert stare
8 creepy mystery ingredients in fast food
Among all of the apocryphal tales of disgusting items found in fast food, some of the truths (crushed beetles?) may be more disturbing than the myths.
By Melissa Breyer
February 12, 2012
One of the more-enduring urban legends about McDonald’s is that their hamburgers contain cow eyeballs. While this has not proven to be the case, the company's Baked Hot Apple Pie does contain duck feathers, or at least an ingredient commonly derived from such. Truth can be just as strange as fiction.
How have duck feathers become a viable ingredient in apple pie? Welcome to the world of food additives. People have been adding flavors, spices, natural preservatives and ripening agents to food since antiquity. But as the popularity of highly processed food has risen dramatically since the 1950s, so has the astounding array of bizarre chemical additives used in food manufacturing. Fast-food recipes seem to be born more from the laboratory than from farm or field.
And although the powers that be deem these food-additive chemicals safe, the science fiction of it all is a bit unsettling. How do we come up with these things? Here are some of the wackiest of the bunch.
1. Duck feathers and human hair (L-cysteine)
You thought duck feathers sounded bad? How about human hair? These are the two most-common sources for l-cysteine, an amino acid used to condition dough for increased pliability, which facilitates better machine processing.
CNN reported that most human-derived L-cysteine comes from Chinese women who help support their families by selling their locks to small chemical-processing plants.
Although originally the primary source for L-cysteine was human hair, many manufacturers seem to have moved away from hair-derived L-cysteine and on to the more-palatable duck feathers. According to Jeanne Yacoubou, MS, research editor for The Vegetarian Resource Group, 80 percent of L-cysteine is now derived from feathers. During her research, McDonald’s told Yacoubou that the L-cysteine used in its Baked Hot Apple Pie, as well as its Wheat Roll and Warm Cinnamon Roll, was of the duck-feather variety. Many other fast-food joints rely on L-cysteine in bakery products as well.
And not to be sensationalist here, the resultant additive is far-removed from its original source — but still. It may be disturbing to many, and importantly, may fly in the face of ethical or religious dietary restrictions.
2. Sand (silicon dioxide)
Avoiding sand in your sandwich at the beach is obvious, avoiding sand in your restaurant-purchased meal may not be so apparent.
Silicon dioxide, also known as silica (also known as sand!), is used to make glass, optical fibers, ceramics and cement. Oh, and chili. Used as an anti-caking agent, it is often added to processed beef and chicken to prevent clumping, and is listed in the ingredient panels for chili from both Wendy’s and Taco Bell. Most experts suggest that it isn’t harmful for consumption, but just know that the ingredient keeping that chili meat nice and non-caking is the also the primary component of diatomaceous earth, commonly used as a natural insecticide.
3. Wood (cellulose)
Processed wood pulp, known as cellulose, is used in everything from cheese to salad dressing, from muffins to strawberry syrup. Food processors use it to thicken and stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content — as well as to minimize reliance on more costly ingredients like oil or flour. Powdered cellulose is produced by cooking virgin wood pulp in chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purified. Modified versions require extra processing, such as exposure to acid in order to further break down the fiber.
Ironically, with the increase in nutritional awareness has come an increase in the use of cellulose — with the addition of wood pulp, products can boast of less fat and more fiber. Just don’t mind the wood.
McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC, Sonic, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, and many others include cellulose in their repertoire.
4. Silly Putty plastic (dimethylpolysiloxane)
Eight-syllable ingredients make sense for Silly Putty, but French fries? Sure enough, dimethylpolysiloxane, a form of silicone used in cosmetics and Silly Putty, is also found in many a fast-food fried thing. It is the secret ingredient that keeps fryer oil from foaming. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish and French fries have it, as do Wendy’s Natural-Cut Fries With Sea Salt. In fact, most fast-food items that bathe in a deep-fat fryer are imbued with a hint of dimethylpolysiloxane. Should you be concerned? The World Health Organization found no adverse health effects associated with dimethylpolysiloxane, but come on — what’s wrong with using potatoes, oil, and salt for fries?
5. Petroleum-derived preservatives (TBHQ)
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is made from compounds derived from petroleum and finds a home in cosmetic and skincare products, varnish, lacquers and resins — and processed food. McDonald’s, for example, uses it in 18 products ranging from its Fruit and Walnut Salad to Griddle Cakes to McNuggets.
TBHQ was finally approved after many years of pressure from food manufacturers, though with approval, the FDA mandated that the chemical must not exceed 0.02 percent of a food’s oil and fat content. Why would there be a limit? Because five grams would be lethal, while one gram can cause nausea, vomiting, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. (Although you would have to eat more than 11 pounds of McNuggets to reach that level. And if you're willing to eat 11 pounds of McNuggets in one sitting, well...)
6. Soil fertilizer (ammonium sulfate)
Ammonium sulfate is sold by chemical companies to food manufacturers as “yeast food for bread,” and many fast-food companies list the ingredient in their bakery products.
But that’s just its night job; when ammonium sulfate is not moonlighting as a food additive, it performs its main task: as a fertilizer for alkaline soils. Ammonium sulfate also does duty as an agricultural spray adjuvant for water soluble insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.
7. Beetle juices (carminic acid, confectioner's glaze)
Food dyes approved by the FDA include colors synthesized from petroleum derivatives and coal tar, but with all of the negative attention paid to artificial food color, natural dyes are on the rise. Yet some food dyes based on natural ingredients come from things that you may not care to ingest. Meet carminic acid, a commonly used red food coloring that comes from the dried, crushed bodies of female scale insects called cochineal. Variously known as Cochineal, Cochineal Extract, Carmine, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, E120 — it is used in a wide variety of products ranging from some meat, sausages, processed poultry products, marinades, bakery products, toppings, cookies, desserts, icings, pie fillings, jams, preserves, gelatins, juices, drinks, dairy products, sauces and dessert products.
From the same family of the cochineal comes the Lac beetle, which is the source of shellac — as in wood-primer-and-varnish shellac. The female beetle secretes a resin that is scraped from trees in Southeast Asia and Mexico. The resin is collected and processed into a shiny coating to be donned by a variety of foods, including candy, vitamins, pills, tablets, capsules, chocolate and waxed fresh fruit. You won’t find beetle excretions on the ingredients list, however, look for its aliases: Confectioner's Glaze, Resinous Glaze, Shellac, Pharmaceutical Glaze, Pure Food Glaze, Natural Glaze or Lac-Resin.
8. Meat paste-goop (mechanically separated meat)
Mechanically separated meat (MSM) has been produced since the 1960s, but has been enjoying new fame lately courtesy of a photo making the rounds which shows an industrial machine extruding a plump ribbon of pink paste into a box. It is commonly referred to as “pink slime.” Looking more like frosting than pureed meat and bone bits, the FDA defines mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.” Mechanically separated pork is used too, although in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef was considered inedible and prohibited for use as human food.
After the meat slurry has been produced, it is sometimes treated with ammonium hydroxide to remove excess bacteria. Ammonium hydroxide is also used as a household cleaner and in fertilizers. Since the resultant meat-bone-muscle-tendon-ammonium-hydroxide goop doesn’t taste much like meat, artificial flavors are added to finish the whole thing off.
Mechanically separated meat is to blame for a number of processed meat products; think hot dogs, salami, bologna, burgers and many a chicken nugget. Fast-food restaurants are known for employing pink slime, although recently McDonald’s made clear that it no longer relies upon it in its burgers.
Generally recognized as safe (GRAS)
These four little words seem to have become the FDA mantra when it comes to food additives; all of the above ingredients, and an expansive array of other chemical additives, have been generally recognized as safe in scientific studies. Taken out of context and looked at individually, maybe a little ammonium sulfate here and a petroleum product there aren’t going to cause quantitative damage to lab animals. But if you were to add up all of the chemical ingredients consumed during a life of a fast-food fueled Western diet, what would that look like? Would it look like an epidemic of obesity, diabetes or cancer?
Michael Pollan's advice, "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" never seemed so appealing.
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HahahahahahahahahaIf the macrobiotic Marxists had their way, of course, there’d be no McDonald’s, Walmart or Exxon, because they have visions of an ideal world in which everybody bikes to work with a handwoven backpack from Etsy that contains a lunch grown in the neighborhood collective.