Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Forever, Mickey D's

I am, and forever will be, a great lover of the French fry. A lot of people say this, I know, but in my case the love runs deep. So deep, in fact, that when I appeared on a radio show during my senior year of college, I responded "the French fry" when asked to name the greatest invention of all time. (Not my brightest moment, but I was desperate not to name a domestic appliance as had the three women who answered before me, and fries were all that came to my terribly nervous mind.)

In any case, fries are one of my greatest culinary loves, and up until today this has included the very occasional excursion to McDonald's. There's just something incomparable about those long, thing, crispy fries, so reliable golden and salty no matter which franchise you choose. No, I do not feel good about these indulgences when I succumb to the urge (most often on a road trip), and I certainly feel no better after the fact. I have pretty much broken with all other McDonald's products, and have often wished to able to break the chains of the French fry bond. Today, I got my wish.

This morning, on WBUR's On Point, Michael Pollan discussed his most recent book, Food Rules, in which he attempts to present a simple set of guidelines to help consumers navigate their way toward whole, healthful food each day. It was an interesting discussion as always, but one that by now I'm fairly familiar with. Until they got to the subject of McDonald's French fries and their remarkably consistent perfection. As it turns out, those remarkably unblemished fries are made spot free at a cost that is, to me, unacceptable. McDonald's will not take potatoes that have the usual harmless brown spots, so farmers are forced to use an incredibly potent pesticide, one that happens to also be an incredibly potent neurotoxin. According to Pollan, farmers cannot go back into the field for five days after spraying for fear of brain damage. Even if something goes wrong with an irrigation line during that period, they'll let the fields go dry before setting foot into what has become a powerfully toxic zone. The possibility that a farmer (or a farmer's spouse, or children, or neighbors) could stumble into a field where food is being raised for me to eat and incur irrevocable brain damage is not one that I can ignore, particularly when I can get delicious, non-toxic, whole potato fries at any number of local restaurants, or make them myself at home.

One of the hardest arguments to overcome when trying to convince someone to avoid a processed food or product is also one of the simplest: "but it tastes good." It's the reason why people continue to eat hamburger full of ammonia, chickens that have never seen the light of day, and apples from New Zealand instead of next door. So, when I come across a piece of information like this I do my best to spread the word. It can take a lot for people to overcome the call of their own taste buds, myself included, but putting other people's lives at risk for a prettier french fry seems like a place where we should all resolve to draw the line.

Click here to listen to the full show.

Photo by Kevin Steele, via Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. Thanks for passing that along. I, like you, indulge in the occasional fast food fry. I think I shall now take a pass!

    Here is a recent article on Pollan that may be of interest:

  2. Oh my, that is horrifying. Imagine the toxins seeping into those potatoes. And here I thought fat was the biggest evil with McD's fries.

  3. Disappointing. Fries are also the only thing on the MacDo menu that I eat any longer. I enjoyed a large order last weekend, apparently my last...