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Does McDonald’s Get a Bad Rap?

September 24, 2014

Yesterday I was too busy asking questions and taking notes to actually scrub up, otherwise I would have volunteered to make an Egg McMuffin behind the line at the new Crossgates Commons McDonald’s. This was just one part of the brand’s “Open Door Tour” which sought to bring together community leaders, bloggers and the mainstream media, and provide a rare look behind the scenes of what may be both the country’s most beloved and most reviled fast food restaurant.

The issue, I suppose, is that when an enterprise dominates its market, it becomes a lightning rod for criticism. Take Monsanto for example. They are generally singled out by GMO opponents, even though transgenic seeds are being produced and patented by many companies.

McDonald’s has made some dramatic changes since the Super Size Me documentary was filmed. Large sodas are still comically huge, and someone could carelessly consume an entire day’s worth of fat and calories in a single sitting. Plus the food landscape has taken such a turn for the worse with restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, that it makes these minor indiscretions seem practically harmless.

Which isn’t to say they are. Let’s just try to keep things in perspective.

Truly, I could have spent all day talking food with the owners and operators of the regional McDonald’s franchise. On the tour I was the annoying person asking all of the questions. But that also means I was the clever fellow who got a lot of answers.

Maybe we should start with the teacher who ate nothing but McDonald’s for six months.

His name is John Cisna, and he seems to be a good guy. While this started off as a science project for his high school students in Iowa, upon its completion John parlayed his new celebrity into a gig as an official McDonald’s Brand Ambassador.

John tries hard to differentiate himself from Subway’s Jared, who lost a ton of weight by eating the most boring crap the sandwich maker could make. Cisna didn’t set off on this journey to lose sixty pounds, really he wanted to disprove Morgan Spurlock’s assertion that eating at McDonald’s will put your health at risk.

Cisna’s mantra is, “It’s not the venue, but the menu.”

To that end, Cisna put his students to work creating balanced daily menus at McDonald’s for six months. He was their lab rat. These had to cap out at 2000 calories a day, and hit recommended allowances for carbs, protein, sugar, and fats. Just to play it safe, halfway through the experiment there would be a blood test to check if the subject was in any danger.

So what did he eat? Well, a typical day could include a breakfast of two egg white delight McMuffins and a bowl of fruit and maple oatmeal. Lunch was a premium bacon ranch salad with a yogurt and fruit parfait with apple slices. Dinner could be a grilled premium chicken southwest McWrap with a small fires.

Amazingly, such a day satisfies dietary fiber guidelines and is within the limits of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.

The major dietary downside is that these meals deliver a s significant sodium punch. Luckily for John, he himself isn’t sensitive to sodium. But this is just one of the many reasons he doesn’t recommend trying this experiment at home.

Still, he makes a good point. That with enough planning, willpower and money (in conjunction with regular exercise and a drinking plenty of water) it’s possible not just to reduce your weight, but also improve on your cardiovascular health. And he was able to do it eating exclusively at McDonald’s.

That said, he and Mr. Spurlock were really trying to prove two different things. One finding doesn’t negate the other. Nor are either of them particularly good science. But that’s kind of beyond the point.

I know that when I go to McDonald’s the last thing I want is a salad or an egg white muffin. Accordingly, my questions were focused on their French fries and coffee.

After the coffee giveaway post last week, it was clear that many people still thought McDonald’s brewed Newman’s Own beans. I hate to be the one to break bad news, but it’s just no longer true. The coffee McDonald’s sells is pretty damn good for the price. And I learned that even though the glass carafes can sit on hot plates, the brewed coffee has a strict thirty minute shelf life before it gets dumped. That was refreshing to hear.

So what about the fries?

Well, I’ve long been curious about the miracle of the oil. Sometimes the fries don’t taste quite right, and I have occasionally attributed that to the state of the oil. Well, it turns out that the filtering of oil is an automated process. It happens after every seven runs of the frier. In addition, once a day each frier gets a more thorough cleaning. How often the oil gets changes is a bit of a squishier proposition depending on how many batches are cooked. That said, I was told a high volume restaurant would change its oil every seven to ten days.

In the back, there are two giantic containers that store the shop’s cooking oil. This location goes through 1,200 pounds of the stuff every three weeks.

There is no doubt that McDonald’s is committed to food safety. Their commitment to the ServSafe® program is impressive. It’s great to see a fast food company actually crack eggs and cook them for a breakfast sandwich. The eggs for the McMuffin have been steamed since 1975 into perfectly round disks. One national donut maker could really learn a thing or two about breakfast from these fine folks.

And none of this mentions the fascinating dietician McDonald’s brought in to talk about nutrition, the representative of the New York Apple Growers who was thrilled to be selling our state’s bounty to this large account, and the fellow from the Ronald McDonald House who spends every day helping the community.

Could McDonald’s do better? Absolutely. But it’s exciting to see them making an effort to do good things and offering this kind of transparency. When an enterprise as big as McDonald’s makes small improvements, the effects can be tremendous. Hopefully, this is just the start of even better things to come.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Billy permalink
    September 26, 2014 7:25 pm

    Yes, McDonalds does get a bad rap.

    I’m not going to defend McDonalds food. I like their hash browns, but that’s about all I’ll get there and I indulge only once in a while. But, I think that McDonalds is unfairly singled out by the “We hate Big Business” crowd. You know, the same groups who disparage Big Pharma, Big Oil, etc.—though these same people tirelessly advocate for Big Government—but I digress.

    It’s debatable whether McDonalds food is any good, but they are not evil as the anti-big business radicals would have one believe.

  2. TobyK permalink
    October 21, 2014 7:55 pm

    Sorry to say, the McD’s coffee I enjoy has slipped a bit lately…now seems weaker with a slightly burned taste. And that’s not just at one location.

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