Tags: burgers with worms, McDonald's, McRib, Merrill Markoe brand, pink slime, scalded stomach, slurry, yoga mat chemicals
I originally wrote this piece for VICE, who declined to publish it for reasons of their own. In it, I examine last fall’s new “frank and honest web page” marketing strategy by McDonald’s.
What if, one evening, in a fit of romantic nostalgia, you Googled your high school sweetheart and were led to a website with a FAQ page? And then what if those frequently asked questions were “Do you really have a personality disorder?” and “Are there any restraining orders against you?” and “What about the rumor you have a dungeon under your house?” Would you still want to send your old crush an invitation to get together for a drink?
That kind of describes how I felt yesterday opening the new McDonalds website to check out their answers to a lot of “tough questions.’ And no, they aren’t weighing in on ‘Free will versus fate’ or ‘Evolution versus Intelligent Design.’
I’ve never been a big McDonald’s fan. In fact, I’m a vegetarian. But obviously its impossible to grow up in this (or any) country without being aware of how many otherwise sensible people, from heads of state to notables in entertainment, regard the McDonald’s experience as a sacred ritual in the one true indigenous American religion.
For those people, McDonald’s is linked at the cellular level with happy childhood memories from irresistible junk food that comes with a free toy. Plus they hired a clown as a spokesman years before the clown lobby surrendered its ‘poorly dressed, unfunny physical comedy franchise’ to Carrot Top and rebranded themselves as rictus grinning symbols of terror.
But despite all this, recent headlines reported a big slide in fall quarter profits for McDonalds. Part of the reason involved a recent scandal in China, involving an Illinois based McDonald’s meat supplier caught mixing old meat, beyond its expiration date, with fresh meat.
To rebound from this and other bad press, McDonald’s decided to be pro-active and launch some brand new web pages .
A careful review of them offers a crystal clear cautionary tale about the difficulty of defending your reputation on line in the age of Google .
Let’s begin with the big purple-on-purple web page entitled “Our food. Your questions.” where six suggested links are being offered.
The top one is
I’ve heard many unsavory if not downright nasty things about McDonalds over the years; from that lawsuit involving their dangerously hot coffee to Morgan Spurlock’s terrifying documentary “Super Size Me” where he proves that if you eat nothing but McDonalds three times a day you wind up with a career as a cable TV personality. Yet a burger full of worms was such a disturbing new image for me that even after McDonald’s emphatic denials, it continued to live in my head making me feel like Medusa.
I escaped by moving forward to: “IS THE McRIB MADE FROM REAL PORK?”
Here McDonald’s was very clear in rebuttal that the McRib is “pork shoulder”. But having read that, I became curious about why people were asking this question. And so I Googled : ‘What is a McRib made of?’
Had I discovered it was mostly art gum erasers and silly putty, I might have tried one. Instead I learned that the 70 ingredient recipe is a “congealed slurry” of “disposable innards of the pig including tripe, heart and scalded stomach.”
“Scalded stomach”promptly leapt to the head of my 2014 list of “Hideous phrases I hope never to hear again.” where it made itself comfortable next to that burger full of worms I was trying not to see.
Next thing I knew, I was reading a 2012 Business Insider report about the McRib’s use of “restructured meat technology’…a new take on sausage making for which its inventor, Prominent Meat Luminary Richard Mandigo, won a coveted place in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. When I stumbled upon a description of “baby pigs tossed into carts like rag dolls.” I decided it was time to flee the topic entirely.
Back in the safe embrace of the McDonald’s website, I was now forced to confront another worrisome question it had never occurred to me to ask : “Do McDonalds buns contain the same chemicals used to make yoga mats?”
The answer turned out to be yes… with an explanation. Azodicarbonamide is a chemical which the McDonald’s bakers (along with those who supply Wendy’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Chick Fil A, Dunken Donuts, Jack in the Box, Carl Jr., Hardees and White Castle) use to keep their dough “consistent”. And whaddya know: its also found in rubber soles and foam plastics like yoga mats. McDonalds sums it up thusly: “Some people have suggested… that the ingredient is unsafe. It’s simply not the case. Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk. The same is true of ADA — it can be used in different ways.”
A follow up Google search showed ADA linked to respiratory illnesses and banned as a food additive in Europe and Australia, a charge which McDonald’s also responds to on a page called “ Why does your food in the US. Contain some ingredients that are banned in other parts of the world?” Naturally, once again, the answer was surprisingly simple: “Different countries may have different food and agricultural requirements.” Whew. Another silly regional difference! Obviously, yoga mats are considered food in the U.S. although not in fussy old Australia or Europe!
Next question: “Do you use so called pink slime in your burgers or beef treated with ammonia?” (Related:”Is pink slime in a chicken McNugget?”)
Ah…pink slime and ammonia: two old friends I still remember. My Google refresher course reminded me that a bath of ammonium hydroxide, also found in fertilizer and household cleaners, is used to reduce the large number of bacteria and pathogens such as E Coli and Salmonella found in certain “inedible cuts of meat” which, before 2001, were used legally only in dog food. Renamed “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (nicknamed ‘pink slime’) after being put thru a grinder, the mixture was then added to regular ground beef and approved for human consumption in the U.S. by former ‘undersecretary of agriculture Joann Smith over the objection of USDA scientists. In an amazing coincidence, Ms. Smith then stepped down from her government job and joined the board of directors of BEEF PRODUCTS, the company that makes ‘pink slime’.
On this subject, McDonald’s is once again clear. It no longer uses pink slime. Although a near by page on their site that asks “Have you EVER used so-called pink slime in your burgers?” confesses that they used to dabble a bit…. during a teensy little seven year period (2004-2011) when, at their stated rate of 225 million burgers sold a year, a mere 1,575,000,000 burgers containing pink slime were sold to McDonald’s customers.
It was in the midst of exploring this that I tripped and fell into a dank internet cavity full of high resolution microscope views of McNugget matter being compared to views of actual chicken and showing no resemblance.
Racing back to the comfort of the website, there were still more tough questions. For example: “Why doesn’t your food rot?” and “How much do you care about the people who eat your food?” Lots, since 2011!
To review: No worms. Some scalded stomachs and slurry. Yes on yoga mats and variable food regulations, hormones in beef, GMOs, carcinogenic acrylamides, trans-fats and defoamer in oil. No on pink slime or expired meat from Illinois. For now.
At this point, because the range of things connected to a McDonald’s burger had begun to seem infinite and inexhaustible I decided to try some random combination- Googling. I am relieved to report there were no links to mustard gas, or rattlesnake venom, only one link to a Chem Trail and only one to toxic gas in a bathroom in a McDonalds in Georgia killing one and hospitalizing nine.
Clearly we have entered a time when the bad things that we are not = the good things we are.
That is why my suggestion for McDonald’s is that they expand the new website even further to include the fact that all of its menu items are 100% free of cyanide, aluminum shavings and ebola. They should point out that not one elephant or African child soldier was killed to make A Happy Meal. And really, shouldn’t that be enough?