McDonald's Spills Its Guts

Big Mac to come with a warning label

At McDonald's, ordering a Big Mac without the special sauce "saves" ten grams of fat. A Double Quarter Pounder (ie: a half pounder), the most sinful item on the menu, can be ordered without the cheese to omit 14. These joy-killing tips come from the company's elaborate online nutrition campaign, which also includes features like "Bag a McMeal", allowing you to calculate the horrifying nutritional value of your fantasy snack, and a profile of the Global Director of Nutrition for the company, with fun tidbits such as: "Favorite part of her job: I actually get paid to hang out with Ronald McDonald!"

The company recently announced its "latest transparency initiative"—nutrition labels are set to appear on most of the menu items in February. This is a voluntary step after plenty of bad press and an obesity lawsuit. The House of Representatives has just passed a bill nicknamed the "Cheeseburger Bill" which would protect fast food chains from being sued by fatties who blame franchise food for their heft. In any case, McDonald's apparently feels the need to protect itself from potentially litigious chubbies—and engender good will in general—by posting caloric and nutritional info in their little plastic shops.

McDonald's doesn't want to dissuade people from ordering their trademark items, but they do want to draw attention to new, healthy options, which might bring in a different crowd. Judging from the promotional material for the newish Fruit and Walnut Salad, these desired customers are girls. For the sake of comparison, let's note that the Chicken Selects are described on the website in a fairly sober third person: "McDonald's Chicken Selects are made with premium-quality chicken breast meat, seasoned and lightly breaded . . . " On the other hand, the Fruit and Walnut Salad promo, which appears in all lowercase, might as well be doodled in a lovelorn schoolgirl's diary. "wow, McDonald's has really done it with their new Fruit & Walnut Salad. it's just what a girl wants. a heavenly combination of fresh, crisp apples...juicy, seedless grapes . . . creamy, low-fat yogurt and sweet candied walnuts. and the best part? it's perfect for breakfast, lunch or snacktime, so i can get a 'fruit buzz' . . . whenever. finally, fresh fruit is at McDonald's! i don't think it gets any better than that."

Lovin' it: 76 grams of fat from McDonald's' diet meal suggestions
photo: Nina Lalli
Lovin' it: 76 grams of fat from McDonald's' diet meal suggestions

Intrigued by this "fruit buzz" business, I decided to try the salad and some of the other dishes McDonald's recommends for people who are trying to cut calories or fat (the idea of trying to cut carbs under the Golden Arches is just too silly to engage, although they do offer tips like "Try a Side Salad in place of French fries." Um, Thanks.) The salad proved to be less a salad than a device for tricking people into eating fruit—cover it in candy. Crunchy, tart, ice cold apple slices, which have been treated with vitamin C and calcium to keep them from browning, and slightly mushy grapes come in a plastic container with a cup of gelatinous white goo and a package of candied walnuts. The goo turns out to be low fat yogurt for dipping, but I'd have guessed it was vanilla icing from a can. The salad has 13 grams of fat—one less than a Snicker's bar.

The site also lists a number of meals for dieters, none filling enough to be dinner, but all hovering at about 25 percent of the daily calorie intake recommended by the government. It seems inevitable that fast food would attempt to bring something less toxic to the table, but in a way, it's more worrisome to think that Americans will now go to McDonald's with their health in mind, and grow to associate candy with salad. The right way to eat fast food will probably never change: get the Big Mac—with the magical orange sauce—a few times a year, or even a few times a month. But in your real life, try to locate a color never to be found at a drive-thru: dark green.

 
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