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Analysis > Friday, 19 March 2010 22:11:09 EST

Happy Meal McScience!

Keywords: health, woo, concern about children, product

I tell everybody upfront that I'm just some dumbass with a blog.  But the thing is, I'm a dumbass who at least tries to know what he's talking about.  I make an effort to understand science, and I try like hell to get my facts straight as much as possible.

So it annoys me a little when people who don't understand how science is done and haven't done their homework present themselves as knowledgeable authorities on a topic and start making claims that are not supported by their evidence.

What I'm talking about here is a story that's been making the news about author and blogger Joann Bruso, who bought a McDonald's happy meal, and left it on her office shelf for a year in order to prove a point.

Her point?  The happy meal didn't decompose, and that means that it's made up of materials that your body can't metabolize.

I'll let Mrs. Bruso explain in her own words, taken directly from her blog:

The next time you’re tempted to purchase a Happy Meal for your child, think about these photos. Food is SUPPOSED to decompose, go bad and smell foul…eventually.  When I was a kid, I remember our garbage pail for the left over food scraps was kept by our back door. After a couple of days, flies deposited their larvae (maggots) in the meat. When I would lift the lid, I would see the recently hatched maggots wiggling on the putrid mess. A fly never bothered to land on the tiny hamburger patty on my office shelf.

Food is broken down into it’s essential nutrients in our bodies and turned into fuel. Our children grow strong bodies, when they eat real food. Flies ignore a Happy Meal and microbes don’t decompose it, then your child’s body can’t properly metabolize it either. Now you know why it’s called “junk food.”

I think ants, mice and flies are smarter than people, because they weren’t fooled. They never touched the Happy Meal. Children shouldn’t either.

Science is all about replicating the conditions of any experiment as exactly as possible to determine effects.  Mrs. Bruso is comparing her recent experiment to her childhood experiences with maggots.

Do I even need to point out the obvious here?  That a garbage can at your back door is a completely different environment than that of a clean shelf in a climate controlled office?

I once knew somebody who carved faces in apples and left them on a shelf.  The apples dried out, and shrunk so that the faces became wrinkly.  It was an interesting artistic little hobby, but it would have gone nowhere if the apples had decomposed.

Example of a dried apple head made into a doll

These weren't special apples, and they weren't specially treated with chemicals in any way.  They just needed a dry, indoor environment in order to preserve themselves in this way.

The decomposition process requires moisture.  Food waste that's kept in a moist environment will easily rot.  But food that's left to dry out on a shelf?  You can keep it from decomposing indefinitely!  There's absolutely nothing special about a McDonald's happy meal in this respect.

Mrs. Bruso says that flies ignored her happy meal.  I don't know whether she gets a lot of flies in her office or not... but even if a fly did lay it's eggs on any part of the happy meal, those eggs would require their food to be moist in order to grow into little baby maggots.  Even after the first day the bun would have begun getting stale, and the patty would have been quickly drying out.  This is not a welcoming environment for maggots or bacteria.

There's nothing special about a McDonalds hamburger that would cause it to be preserved in this way.  It's just bread and meat, the same as any other bread or meat products you might buy.  Whatever health effects you might expect from eating too many burgers, it's not the case that your system will be unable to metabolize them.

This woman has written a book on nutrition, and yet she doesn't even understand the most basic facts about how metabolism works!

I guarantee you, if you place a McDonalds burger in a moist environment, like a compost heap, it will decompose.

But the thing is, people who believe things like this are absolutely wedded to their beliefs about food and nutrition.  You can't convince them by explaining the science.  And there's so much of this kind of nonsense out there.


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