An Open Letter to McDonald’s
(and the entire food industry)
Hi. This is a little awkward. It’s been a long time since we last spoke. I meant to clear things up after we parted ways but I needed time to go over what to say. Sorry for taking so long. What has it been, like 10 years?
You hurt me. Not intentionally, of course. I know that. You just wanted to provide warm, delicious food at a better-than-reasonable price. The thought counted for a lot. But hurt me you did.
For a while I thought Pepto Bismol was enough to get over you. But the pain didn’t go away. I had to do some real work on myself. Well doctors did most of the work, actually. I kind of just laid there. If I’m being honest, there are some nights I still dream about your delicious chicken nuggets slathered in gooey sweet barbecue sauce, or the feeling of your perfectly round warm buns clasped between my strong hands. We had something special. It’s a shame it couldn’t last.
I have forgiven you for what you did. I want you to know that. But you need to stop hurting others. You are like a big, fat kid with mental development problems. You don’t mean to hurt, but you do. I really believe you want to do good, and my advice in this letter can help you to help yourself. Given your recent efforts to be a better person, your heart is in the right place.
It’s true too that you are not entirely to blame. Market forces and government regulation have changed you. You were young once, full of hope. Pure, and noble. It was a time when your fries were delicious. Your buns were made with good quality flour. You fed the hungry and employed the jobless. We were both young then. Actually, I wasn’t born yet. But I bet you were great. I’ve seen the photos. Heard the stories.
Sometimes we take paths we think are going to be better, but end up complicating things. That’s what you’ve done. Your food used to be straight-forward. A few ingredients. Tasty. Your customers weren’t obese back then, didn’t suffer a panoply of metabolic illness and yet not a salad in sight. They ate fries and hamburgers by the truckloads. What happened? What went wrong?
I’ve heard your fries are made of nineteen ingredients. Is it true? It’s okay if it is. We all make mistakes. But french fries are supposed to be made of only three things: fat, potatoes, and salt. Maybe seasoning if they are curly fries, but yours are not curly.
You have a lot of reasons for those ingredients. But the fries you used to make didn’t have all that other stuff. It was a simpler time. You began to use different fats because they were cheaper. It would increase your profit margins. How did that go for you? How much time and money have you spent trying to make those fats work?
The problem is spoilage. Cheaper oils don’t have lasting power. In a relationship, lasting power is everything. So you overcorrected, adding anti-spoilage agents, and those things taste terrible so there are more ingredients to improve the flavor. There are so many cover-ups in your french fries now I’m not sure if you ever really loved me.
A relationship should be simple, easy, built on trust and understanding. That kind of relationship makes a lot of money. Fries with 19 ingredients must cost a lot more than fries with 3 ingredients. Your behavior isn’t rational anymore. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress, but you’ve got a lot of dinner plates in the air all at once. They have to come down sometime. And they have, in the form of obese and diseased customers who can no longer eat your food, or can’t for very long without suffering consequences and having the government and activists on your case, never mind the people like me who would love to be in a relationship with you but can’t because you make it so damn difficult.
Being on my own is great. Not ideal, but great. I make my own french fries. All the time, with coconut oil. They are delicious. There are only three ingredients, including salt and potatoes. Unlike you, coconut oil is uncomplicated. Do you know how long it lasts? I don’t know, because my bucket has been open in my cupoard for more than two years and it’s still fresh. I’ve heard coconut oil never dies. I’d like to believe it. That’s the kind of world in which I want to live.
Yes, coconut oil is expensive. But there are substitutes which are less expensive and just as delicious, and with the same stable properties too. Fully hydrogenated peanut oil is one. Partially hydrogenated oils aren’t good enough because the part remaining apart from the “partially” is the part which goes rancid. It sets off a free-radical chain reaction which spoils the whole batch. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know this. But now you do and you can make changes. Fully hydrogenated oils don’t have trans fats either, and they extend the life of all of your food—and then you don’t need those preservatives and flavor “enhancers.” That will save you time and money. Best of all, they will make your customers healthy, instead of diseased, because those fats are stable in bodies just like they are on the shelf. It’s a win, win!
Now, it’s true that some of your other problems are beyond your control. Except that you are McDonald’s (or Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s—Guys, did you really think we wouldn’t notice you putting soy and guar gum into our “food?” It’s like you’ve never been in a relationship before). You actually have quite a bit of influence over markets and government policies, and this is what I really wanted to talk to you about, because one of these policies makes many of your customers very sick, but the blame is put squarely, and unfairly on you.
The policy is a bit obscure, old, and accepted as a normal way of life now but only because we don’t know different. It’s a serious liability to your bottom line, and to your customer’s bottoms. That wasn’t a metaphor. It literally wrecks their bottoms, inside and out. Just like those fats we talked about earlier it spoils food, so you end up with extra work and it just makes everything more complicated and expensive. But I’m afraid to talk about it. It makes people really uncomfortable—bring it up at a family reunion and no one will ever look you in the eye again. They’ll keep their children at a safe distance. Even when you make small talk or tell a funny joke you will always be that uncle who brought that up that one holiday. But for your sake I am going to talk about it because remember, I still love you even though you hurt me, because I want you to do well in life and to live up to your potential. To be the person I know you can be.
This policy has been around for a long time. Longer than you, in fact and done with the best of intentions. Unlike me you are in a position to fix this. Not only will it improve your future relationships, it will increase your profits. Doesn’t that sound great? You can again be a source of pride and joy to everyone around you. Customers will enjoy your food and not have to camp out afterward on a toilet, or go visit doctors for “cancer treatment.”
So, here we go. Deep breath.
Iron. There, I said it. It’s the iron mandated by law added to flour. Now, I know what you are thinking—hear me out! This thing that the goverment started doing many years ago, way before we ever met, was intended to help people who suffered from iron deficiency anemia. It was a serious problem back then. Since iron is necessary for health and especially the growth of children, some people thought it would be great to stick more of it in our food. Now, I like to think that I’m an open-minded person. I dont usually make judgements about other people’s lifestyle choices. But guess what happened? Rates of iron deficiency anemia didn’t change. At all. So the goverment mandated adding more iron to food. Rates still didn’t change. So they raised it again! Rates still didn’t change and they wanted to add more but at that point the therapist was like, “stop! are you trying to turn us into a beautiful skillet?”
It turns out that iron deficiency anemia has nearly nothing to do with iron in food but is a function of something called hepcidin which is influenced by vitamin A and vitamin D and you always zone out when I talk about what I want in a relationship so I’ll let you figure this one out on your own. But the gist I’m trying to get here is the damage you are doing, not only to your customers but to yourself, because of a one-hundred-year old policy which not only doesn’t accomplish its purpose but contributes to a host of other diseases, because iron is unstable just like those fats, and just like your mother it reacts to everything and destroys it (you know she never approved of us!). Iron kills good stomach bacteria and promotes pathogenic ones which is why those terrible stomachaches always come after a meal with you. This iron contributes to Leukemia and Alzheimer’s and all sorts of other problems. I mean, have you seen my shower head? The rusted iron from the old pipes is just eating away at it, and it’s a brand-new shower head! This iron added to food is not the same as the kind that’s already in food. It’s not making anyone healthier but it’s making a shit ton of people sick—people who are not even your customers who develop diseases and then blame it on your delicious, delicious food. No, it’s not really your fault, but you do have to fix it. Because if you don’t, who will?
Whew, that was rough but thanks for hearing me. I really hope you get things figured out. You are a good person. You deserve to be happy. I’m doing just fine without you, though. I recently went on a date with someone who has some of the things I’m looking for in a relationship. Five Guys. Their fries are made in peanut oil. It’s not fully hydrogenated, and their flour is the same as yours. But we all had a great time (five is a lot of guys lol!). Someday I will find a relationship that is perfect for me, but I hope we can still be friends, maybe have dinner together again like we used to, and ketchup. Wink.
Sincerely and with warmest regards,