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> The Truth About McDonald's And Children


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Posted: May 22 2005, 06:43 AM
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If you havn't seen the movie - "Super Size Me" I strongly suggest that you do.

In the late 60's my mother worked at McDonalds and we'd go there almost daily after school. The smell alone was addicting as well as the food itself. There was something in the aroma and the food that made us crave it more.

I never knew that Bozo the Clown was the first Ronald McDonald.

Wow, the things you can learn by reading the internet.

QUOTE
The Truth About McDonald's And Children
By Morgan Spurlock
The Independent - UK
5-22-5

Morgan Spurlock ate McDonald's food every day for a month, and recorded the stomach-churning results in his film 'Super Size Me'. Here, in an extract from his new book, Spurlock reveals the things he didn't say in the movie about Ronald McDonald and his campaign to win the hearts of our young.
 
Every waking moment of our lives, we swim in an ocean of advertising, all of it telling us the same thing: consume, consume. And then consume some more. The epidemic of overconsumption begins with the things we put in our mouths. The United States is the fattest nation on earth. Sixty-five per cent of American adults are overweight; 30 per cent are obese. In the decade between 1991 and 2001, obesity figures almost doubled.
 
But the truly shocking thing is that we've taught our kids how to be fat, too. Obesity rates in American children remained stable throughout the 1960s, but they began to climb in the 1970s. In the past 20 years, the rate of obesity has doubled in children and trebled in teenagers. Kids are starting to clock in as obese as early as the age of two. If we find that surprising, we shouldn't.
 
During the McMonth I endured for Super Size Me, in which I ate every meal at McDonald's, every day - taking up the option to have a Supersize portion whenever I was offered it - I couldn't get over how many kids there were in the restaurants almost any time that I walked in. Children with their parents. Gaggles of them stopping off for breakfast or for a pre-dinner snack in their cute little school uniforms. Kids in all the play areas. Kids as little as three and four having Happy Meal McBirthday parties. Or, in a McDonald's in Houston, at 9am, a mother with her two very overweight kids who, having just finished their fat-filled breakfasts, were now eating hot fudge sundaes.
 
Ray Kroc, the man behind the McDonald's empire, understood from Day McOne that youngsters were his target market. He had no sooner bought the company from the McDonald brothers than Ronald McDonald was brought in to attract the kiddies to the burgers and shakes.
 
The first Ronald was the TV weatherman Willard Scott in his younger, but apparently not leaner, days. Scott had been doing Bozo the Clown on local television. When the show was cancelled, an enterprising McDonald's franchisee asked him to come up with a clown figure that would lure the kids into the restaurant. Kroc saw it, liked it and extended the idea to the whole country.
 
But first he canned Scott. Kroc understood the negative publicity implications of an icon who looks as though he's been eating too much of the company's food. To this day you'll never see Ronald McDonald eating the food; not in any commercial. He dances and sings, grins and giggles, and smiles at the kids while they stuff their faces, but he never touches the grub. Why? Presumably because, as the late Eazy-E said in the song "The Dopeman": "Don't get high off your own supply."
 
Kroc also understood the value of promoting McDonald's as a caring, family-friendly sort of place, a place with a heart, not heart disease. Early on, he began linking McDonald's with various children's charities. One executive told John F Love, author of McDonald's: Behind the Arches: "It was an inexpensive, imaginative way of getting your name before the public and building a reputation to offset the image of selling 15-cent hamburgers. It was probably 99 per cent commercial."
 
Thus the Ronald McDonald House Charities were born. They have now provided housing (and McMeals) for the families of more than two million seriously ill children. Never mind the fact that today an increasing number of children are going into hospital because of eating-related illnesses.
 
Talking of which, one of the most shocking things I saw during my McMonth was a McDonald's in Texas Children's Hospital - a hospital that is now stapling obese children's stomachs. To me, that seemed utterly irresponsible, a flagrant violation of the doctor's pledge of "Primum non nocere" (First, do no harm). In fact, hospitals across the US have fast-food franchises in them. The top-ranked paediatric hospital in the country, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has a McDonald's outlet. Why shouldn't there be one in Houston?
 
Recently, a combination of good information and bad publicity has encouraged some hospitals to reconsider their food-service contracts. But Ronald won't always leave without a fight. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, wants to rid America's leading heart hospital of its McDonald's. But according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer of 22 November last year, the clinic's chief executive, Dr Toby Cosgrove, received a letter from a McDonald's corporate vice-president called Marty Ranft, which "defended the franchise, and vowed ... that 'McDonald's has no intention of terminating' the remaining 10 years on its lease".
 
The doctors at Texas Children's Hospital told me they had young patients who were dying of cancer, and it was hard to get them to eat anything. At least these poor kids would eat some fries, take a bite of a burger: food they were familiar with. It was junk that they had been eating all their lives.
 
But it's not enough to get young people to come to your restaurants; you have to get them to keep on coming back. McDonald's operates something like 8,000 Playlands around America. They're especially attractive to children in neighbourhoods in which playgrounds are scarce. Burger King has about 3,200 of its own. Then there's the Happy Meal, launched in the US in 1979. It cost a buck in those days. Inside a cardboard box with a circus theme, children found a McDoodler stencil, a puzzle book, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet and McDonaldland character erasers.
 
The meal-plus-toys packaging proved to be an instant hit, with the first Star Trek Happy Meals that very year. Soon, toy versions of all your favourite McDonald's mascots were included: Ronald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Big Mac, Birdie and Captain Crook. Later, toys would be themed for tie-ins with brands and films such as Barbie, Hot Wheels, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo and so on. By 2003, Happy Meals accounted for about 20 per cent of all meals sold (about $3.5bn in annual revenue).
 
And let's not forget the Mighty Kids Meal, introduced in America in 2001. McDonald's realised that by the time kids were eight or nine years old they felt they had outgrown the Happy Meal. Those were for little boys and girls. So the Mighty Kids Meal comes in a slightly more "grown-up" package. It offers bigger meals: a double cheeseburger, double hamburger or a six-piece chicken McNuggets, but still comes with a toy. We may be older, but we still like toys.
 
In 2004, McDonald's celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Happy Meal with a year-long barrage of promotions and advertisements. The company also launched a version for adults, the Go Active! Adult Happy Meal. This included a salad, a bottle of water, a book that told you how to exercise, and an adult "toy": a Stepometer, so you could measure how few steps it was from the counter to your car.
 
Good old Ronald. Under his smiling, caring guidance, an entire generation of overweight American adults who grew up following him into their local McDonald's are now raising their own overweight children to follow in their heavy footsteps.
 
Recently, the magazine Advertising Age cited Ronald McDonald as No 2 on its list of top 10 advertising icons of the 20th century. Who was No 1? It was the Marlboro Man.
 
* * *
 
Adults bear an enormous responsibility for the obesity epidemic among children. Yet there's also no question that even conscientious parents and guardians, who really do try to do well by kids and teach them healthy life choices, are not playing on anything like a level field. They're going up against billions and billions of dollars spent every year in corporate marketing, all aimed at teaching kids to make exactly the opposite sorts of choices.
 
McDonald's and the other fast-food chains make no secret of the fact that kids are their primary targets. "We have living proof of the long-lasting quality of early brand loyalties in the cradle-to-grave marketing at McDonald's, and how well it works," James McNeal, a well-known children's marketing guru and the author of Kids As Customers, has said. "We start taking children in for their first and second birthdays, and on and on, and eventually they have a great deal of preference for that brand. Children can carry that with them through a lifetime."
 
Today, corporations spend more than $15bn every year on marketing, advertising and promotions meant to programme American children to consume, consume and consume some more. Why? Because they realise that children not only have more expendable income of their own, but they influence how their parents spend their hard-earned bucks, too - to the tune of more than $600bn a year. What do children choose to buy with all that cash? What do you think?
 
Nor is it just their current expenditure that corporations want a slice of: they're looking at the long term. Brand logos for all sorts of crap now turn up on nursery blankets, crib toys and mobiles. In my office, I have a collection of baby bottles shaped like little bottles of 7 Up, Dr Pepper and Pepsi. I found them on eBay. When we contacted the California manufacturer, Munchkin Bottling, they told us they had produced these things for a few years in the mid-1990s. They'd developed the concept themselves, then licensed the various drinks companies' names and logos. Think about the associations formed in infants' minds by these things. Think about the mentality that sees nothing wrong in marketing them.
 
Not to be outdone, McDonald's marketing genius M Lawrence Light - the guy who rolled out the "I'm lovin' it" campaign - wants to surround the youth of the world with McDonald's brand images. "Light wants to turn everything he can into an ad for McDonald's," wrote Business Week magazine in July 2004. "He's pushing the Oak Brook chain to open clothing shops so kids will walk around in T-shirts with the Golden Arches logo, just as they already do with Old Navy or Disney. He envisions a deal with the National Basketball Association to play the five-note tagline of the 'I'm lovin' it' ad in the stadium every time a player shoots a three-pointer. He's even toying with making the jingle available over the internet so it could be downloaded as a mobile phone ring tone."
 
Light chose China as the market in which to open the first McKids store. "There will be 25 McKids stores there," he told Business Week. "It's got a line of toys, a line of clothes, a line of videos, all directed at young kids." Why China? Because after years of communist rule, these children can't get enough American products. A company like McDonald's can easily swoop in and corrupt young consumers from the start.
 
- This is adapted from 'Don't Eat This Book', by Morgan Spurlock
 
©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
 
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americ...sp?story=640383

http://rense.com/general65/ncd.htm




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QUOTE
"Ye shall know them by their fruits"
~ Matthew 7:16

"Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
~ Buddha
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Posted: May 22 2005, 06:46 AM
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P.S.

Today, I eat McDonalds maybe a couple of times a year if at all.

Their food quality changed and I think it sucks these days.




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QUOTE
"Ye shall know them by their fruits"
~ Matthew 7:16

"Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
~ Buddha
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Posted: May 23 2005, 02:51 PM
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I havent eaten in McDonalds in probably 20 years. I could never stand it as a kid and the smell makes me violently sick whenever I am pregnant. I completely avoid it at all costs now.


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Posted: May 23 2005, 03:44 PM
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Mark,
If you want a heart warming true story about McDonalds, this is it!
http://www.mcspotlight.org/case/trial/story.html

The McLibel Trial is the infamous British court case between McDonald's and a postman & a gardener from London (Helen Steel and Dave Morris).
The case centered around leaflets distributed outside McDonalds in London in the late 1980’s – the leaflets were:
What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything They Don't Want You To Know.

McDonalds issued writs to the 5 protestors involved, demanding that they apologize, or face legal action.
Three apologized, while Helen and Dave thought that they had nothing to apologize for.
QUOTE
It just really stuck in the throat to apologize to McDonald's.
I thought it was them that should have been apologizing to us - well not us specifically, but to society for the damage they do to society and the environment
- Helen Steel

The court case ran for two and a half years and became the longest ever English trial.
The Judge delivered his verdict in June 1997.

The verdict was devastating for McDonald's. The judge ruled that they 'exploit children' with their advertising, produce 'misleading' advertising, are 'culpably responsible' for cruelty to animals, are 'antipathetic' to unionisation and pay their workers low wages.

But Helen and Dave failed to prove all the points and so the Judge ruled that they HAD libeled McDonald's and should pay £60,000 pounds damages.
In March 1999 the Court of Appeal made further rulings against McDonald's in relation to heart disease and employment, and the damages were reduced to £40,000

David and Helen lodged a further Appeal to the House of Lords, and after this was rejected in September 2000, they launched action against the British Government in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for failing to provide legal aid in libel cases.
In February of this year, 2005, they won their action in Strasbourg.
They celebrated by holding a press conference outside the same McDonalds where it all started, 15 years ago.

The McLibel Court Case is probably the worst PR disaster in McDonald's 50 year history.
The case is thought to have cost McDonald's £10million, and they still haven’t collected the £40k in damages!
I guess McDonald's know better now than to pursue it!

And McDonalds final quote:
QUOTE

It is important to note, although the so-called 'McLibel' case came to court in 1994, the allegations related to practices in the 80s. 
The world has moved on since then and so has McDonald's.


Right-on Ronnie, I just wondered whether you meant things had got better?

LOL

A great story which shows that we can all make a difference!

http://www.bushywood.com/mcdonalds_libel_case.htm

http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/launch.html

The story has also been made into an 85minute film, which is due for US release soon.
http://www.spannerfilms.net/?lid=161
And far deeper than 'SuperSize Me'!

WF





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Posted: May 23 2005, 03:55 PM
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Hey Dreamer,
I’m not sure whether you meant that you avoid McDonalds, or Pregnancy!!
(Just Kidding – you probably meant both!)

The smell you dislike is actually a mixture of singed animal hair and burnt bones.

Mark, next time you smell it – try to identify it – you’ll be surprised (or disgusted) when you recognize it.

WF








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Posted: May 24 2005, 04:52 AM
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Hey Without Fear, thanks for that article/court case.

I had never seen that before or it got lost in my fried memory banks - lol2.gif

Actually, the smell from McDonalds today doesn't have the same addicting effect on me. It was only in the late 60s/early 70s that it seemed to affect me, thus hooking me in like crack cocaine until the 80s.

To be honest, I can't tell you the last time I ate McDonalds.

And considering that almost all of the junk food places contain sand and MSG, I'd rather starve than eat that unhealthy food.




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QUOTE
"Ye shall know them by their fruits"
~ Matthew 7:16

"Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
~ Buddha
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Posted: May 28 2005, 02:59 AM
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I never did like fast food.


Cant compete with those fresh green beans and sweet corn out of our garden I'll be munching on in a few months.


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Posted: Aug 24 2007, 01:39 PM
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user posted image
QUOTE
Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good
By Eric Schlosser
From The Atlantic Monthly
8-23-7
QUOTE
Excerpt From Eric Schlosser's book, 'Fast Food Nation' (Houghton-Mifflin, 2001)

The french fry was "almost sacrosanct for me," Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald's, wrote in his autobiography, "its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously." During the chain's early years french fries were made from scratch every day. Russet Burbank potatoes were peeled, cut into shoestrings, and fried in McDonald's kitchens. As the chain expanded nationwide, in the mid-1960s, it sought to cut labor costs, reduce the number of suppliers, and ensure that its fries tasted the same at every restaurant.

McDonald's began switching to frozen french fries in 1966 -- and few customers noticed the difference.

Nevertheless, the change had a profound effect on the nation's agriculture and diet. A familiar food had been transformed into a highly processed industrial commodity. McDonald's fries now come from huge manufacturing plants that can peel, slice, cook, and freeze two million pounds of potatoes a day. The rapid expansion of McDonald's and the popularity of its low-cost, mass-produced fries changed the way Americans eat.

In 1960 Americans consumed an average of about eighty-one pounds of fresh potatoes and four pounds of frozen french fries. In 2000 they consumed an average of about fifty pounds of fresh potatoes and thirty pounds of frozen fries.

Today McDonald's is the largest buyer of potatoes in the United States.

The taste of McDonald's french fries played a crucial role in the chain's success -- fries are much more profitable than hamburgers -- and was long praised by customers, competitors, and even food critics. James Beard loved McDonald's fries.

Their distinctive taste does not stem from the kind of potatoes that McDonald's buys, the technology that processes them, or the restaurant equipment that fries them: other chains use Russet Burbanks, buy their french fries from the same large processing companies, and have similar fryers in their restaurant kitchens.

The taste of a french fry is largely determined by the cooking oil.

For decades McDonald's cooked its french fries in a mixture of about seven percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow. The mixture gave the fries their unique flavor -- and more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald's hamburger.

In 1990, amid a barrage of criticism over the amount of cholesterol in its fries, McDonald's switched to pure vegetable oil. This presented the company with a challenge: how to make fries that subtly taste like beef without cooking them in beef tallow.

A look at the ingredients in McDonald's french fries suggests how the problem was solved. Toward the end of the list is a seemingly innocuous yet oddly mysterious phrase: "natural flavor." That ingredient helps to explain not only why the fries taste so good but also why most fast food -- indeed, most of the food Americans eat today -- tastes the way it does.

Open your refrigerator, your freezer, your kitchen cupboards, and look at the labels on your food.

You'll find "natural flavor" or "artificial flavor" in just about every list of ingredients. The similarities between these two broad categories are far more significant than the differences.

Both are man-made additives that give most processed food most of its taste.

People usually buy a food item the first time because of its packaging or appearance. Taste usually determines whether they buy it again. About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food. The canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used in processing destroy most of food's flavor -- and so a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable.

Without this flavor industry today's fast food would not exist.

The names of the leading American fast-food chains and their best-selling menu items have become embedded in our popular culture and famous worldwide. But few people can name the companies that manufacture fast food's taste.

The flavor industry is highly secretive. Its leading companies will not divulge the precise formulas of flavor compounds or the identities of clients. The secrecy is deemed essential for protecting the reputations of beloved brands. The fast-food chains, understandably, would like the public to believe that the flavors of the food they sell somehow originate in their restaurant kitchens, not in distant factories run by other firms.

A McDonald's french fry is one of countless foods whose flavor is just a component in a complex manufacturing process. The look and the taste of what we eat now are frequently deceiving -- by design.

The Flavor Corridor

The New Jersey Turnpike runs through the heart of the flavor industry, an industrial corridor dotted with refineries and chemical plants. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), the world's largest flavor company, has a manufacturing facility off Exit 8A in Dayton, New Jersey; Givaudan, the world's second-largest flavor company, has a plant in East Hanover. Haarmann & Reimer, the largest German flavor company, has a plant in Teterboro, as does Takasago, the largest Japanese flavor company. Flavor Dynamics has a plant in South Plainfield; Frutarom is in North Bergen; Elan Chemical is in Newark. Dozens of companies manufacture flavors in the corridor between Teaneck and South Brunswick. Altogether the area produces about two thirds of the flavor additives sold in the United States.

The IFF plant in Dayton is a huge pale-blue building with a modern office complex attached to the front. It sits in an industrial park, not far from a BASF plastics factory, a Jolly French Toast factory, and a plant that manufactures Liz Claiborne cosmetics. Dozens of tractor-trailers were parked at the IFF loading dock the afternoon I visited, and a thin cloud of steam floated from a roof vent. Before entering the plant, I signed a nondisclosure form, promising not to reveal the brand names of foods that contain IFF flavors. The place reminded me of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Wonderful smells drifted through the hallways, men and women in neat white lab coats cheerfully went about their work, and hundreds of little glass bottles sat on laboratory tables and shelves. The bottles contained powerful but fragile flavor chemicals, shielded from light by brown glass and round white caps shut tight. The long chemical names on the little white labels were as mystifying to me as medieval Latin. These odd-sounding things would be mixed and poured and turned into new substances, like magic potions.

I was not invited into the manufacturing areas of the IFF plant, where, it was thought, I might discover trade secrets. Instead I toured various laboratories and pilot kitchens, where the flavors of well-established brands are tested or adjusted, and where whole new flavors are created. IFF's snack-and-savory lab is responsible for the flavors of potato chips, corn chips, breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, and pet food. The confectionery lab devises flavors for ice cream, cookies, candies, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and antacids. Everywhere I looked, I saw famous, widely advertised products sitting on laboratory desks and tables. The beverage lab was full of brightly colored liquids in clear bottles.

It comes up with flavors for popular soft drinks, sports drinks, bottled teas, and wine coolers, for all-natural juice drinks, organic soy drinks, beers, and malt liquors. In one pilot kitchen I saw a dapper food technologist, a middle-aged man with an elegant tie beneath his crisp lab coat, carefully preparing a batch of cookies with white frosting and pink-and-white sprinkles. In another pilot kitchen I saw a pizza oven, a grill, a milk-shake machine, and a french fryer identical to those I'd seen at innumerable fast-food restaurants.

In addition to being the world's largest flavor company, IFF manufactures the smells of six of the ten best-selling fine perfumes in the United States, including Estée Lauder's Beautiful, Clinique's Happy, Lancôme's Trésor, and Calvin Klein's Eternity. It also makes the smells of household products such as deodorant, dishwashing detergent, bath soap, shampoo, furniture polish, and floor wax. All these aromas are made through essentially the same process: the manipulation of volatile chemicals. The basic science behind the scent of your shaving cream is the same as that governing the flavor of your TV dinner.

"Natural" and "Artificial"

SCIENTISTS now believe that human beings acquired the sense of taste as a way to avoid being poisoned. Edible plants generally taste sweet, harmful ones bitter. The taste buds on our tongues can detect the presence of half a dozen or so basic tastes, including sweet, sour, bitter, salty, astringent, and umami, a taste discovered by Japanese researchers -- a rich and full sense of deliciousness triggered by amino acids in foods such as meat, shellfish, mushrooms, potatoes, and seaweed.

Taste buds offer a limited means of detection, however, compared with the human olfactory system, which can perceive thousands of different chemical aromas. Indeed, "flavor" is primarily the smell of gases being released by the chemicals you've just put in your mouth. The aroma of a food can be responsible for as much as 90 percent of its taste.

The act of drinking, sucking, or chewing a substance releases its volatile gases. They flow out of your mouth and up your nostrils, or up the passageway in the back of your mouth, to a thin layer of nerve cells called the olfactory epithelium, located at the base of your nose, right between your eyes.

Your brain combines the complex smell signals from your olfactory epithelium with the simple taste signals from your tongue, assigns a flavor to what's in your mouth, and decides if it's something you want to eat.

A person's food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. Babies innately prefer sweet tastes and reject bitter ones; toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending on what the people around them eat.

The human sense of smell is still not fully understood. It is greatly affected by psychological factors and expectations. The mind focuses intently on some of the aromas that surround us and filters out the overwhelming majority. People can grow accustomed to bad smells or good smells; they stop noticing what once seemed overpowering. Aroma and memory are somehow inextricably linked.

A smell can suddenly evoke a long-forgotten moment. The flavors of childhood foods seem to leave an indelible mark, and adults often return to them, without always knowing why. These "comfort foods" become a source of pleasure and reassurance -- a fact that fast-food chains use to their advantage.

Childhood memories of Happy Meals, which come with french fries, can translate into frequent adult visits to McDonald's. On average, Americans now eat about four servings of french fries every week.

THE human craving for flavor has been a largely unacknowledged and unexamined force in history. For millennia royal empires have been built, unexplored lands traversed, and great religions and philosophies forever changed by the spice trade. In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail to find seasoning.

Today the influence of flavor in the world marketplace is no less decisive. The rise and fall of corporate empires -- of soft-drink companies, snack-food companies, and fast-food chains -- is often determined by how their products taste.

The flavor industry emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, as processed foods began to be manufactured on a large scale. Recognizing the need for flavor additives, early food processors turned to perfume companies that had long experience working with essential oils and volatile aromas.

The great perfume houses of England, France, and the Netherlands produced many of the first flavor compounds. In the early part of the twentieth century Germany took the technological lead in flavor production, owing to its powerful chemical industry. Legend has it that a German scientist discovered methyl anthranilate, one of the first artificial flavors, by accident while mixing chemicals in his laboratory.

Suddenly the lab was filled with the sweet smell of grapes. Methyl anthranilate later became the chief flavor compound in grape Kool-Aid. After World War II much of the perfume industry shifted from Europe to the United States, settling in New York City near the garment district and the fashion houses. The flavor industry came with it, later moving to New Jersey for greater plant capacity.

Man-made flavor additives were used mostly in baked goods, candies, and sodas until the 1950s, when sales of processed food began to soar. The invention of gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers -- machines capable of detecting volatile gases at low levels -- vastly increased the number of flavors that could be synthesized.

By the mid-1960s flavor companies were churning out compounds to supply the taste of Pop Tarts, Bac-Os, Tab, Tang, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and literally thousands of other new foods.

The American flavor industry now has annual revenues of about $1.4 billion. Approximately 10,000 new processed-food products are introduced every year in the United States. Almost all of them require flavor additives. And about nine out of ten of these products fail. The latest flavor innovations and corporate realignments are heralded in publications such as Chemical Market Reporter, Food Chemical News, Food Engineering, and Food Product Design.

The progress of IFF has mirrored that of the flavor industry as a whole. IFF was formed in 1958, through the merger of two small companies. Its annual revenues have grown almost fifteenfold since the early 1970s, and it currently has manufacturing facilities in twenty countries.

Today's sophisticated spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and headspace-vapor analyzers provide a detailed map of a food's flavor components, detecting chemical aromas present in amounts as low as one part per billion. The human nose, however, is even more sensitive. A nose can detect aromas present in quantities of a few parts per trillion -- an amount equivalent to about 0.000000000003 percent.

Complex aromas, such as those of coffee and roasted meat, are composed of volatile gases from nearly a thousand different chemicals. The smell of a strawberry arises from the interaction of about 350 chemicals that are present in minute amounts. The quality that people seek most of all in a food -- flavor -- is usually present in a quantity too infinitesimal to be measured in traditional culinary terms such as ounces or teaspoons.

The chemical that provides the dominant flavor of bell pepper can be tasted in amounts as low as 0.02 parts per billion; one drop is sufficient to add flavor to five average-size swimming pools. The flavor additive usually comes next to last in a processed food's list of ingredients and often costs less than its packaging. Soft drinks contain a larger proportion of flavor additives than most products. The flavor in a twelve-ounce can of Coke costs about half a cent.

The color additives in processed foods are usually present in even smaller amounts than the flavor compounds. Many of New Jersey's flavor companies also manufacture these color additives, which are used to make processed foods look fresh and appealing. Food coloring serves many of the same decorative purposes as lipstick, eye shadow, mascara -- and is often made from the same pigments. Titanium dioxide, for example, has proved to be an especially versatile mineral.

It gives many processed candies, frostings, and icings their bright white color; it is a common ingredient in women's cosmetics; and it is the pigment used in many white oil paints and house paints. At Burger King, Wendy's, and McDonald's coloring agents have been added to many of the soft drinks, salad dressings, cookies, condiments, chicken dishes, and sandwich buns.

Studies have found that the color of a food can greatly affect how its taste is perceived. Brightly colored foods frequently seem to taste better than bland-looking foods, even when the flavor compounds are identical. Foods that somehow look off-color often seem to have off tastes. For thousands of years human beings have relied on visual cues to help determine what is edible.

The color of fruit suggests whether it is ripe, the color of meat whether it is rancid. Flavor researchers sometimes use colored lights to modify the influence of visual cues during taste tests. During one experiment in the early 1970s people were served an oddly tinted meal of steak and french fries that appeared normal beneath colored lights.

Everyone thought the meal tasted fine until the lighting was changed. Once it became apparent that the steak was actually blue and the fries were green, some people became ill.

The federal Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to disclose the ingredients of their color or flavor additives so long as all the chemicals in them are considered by the agency to be GRAS ("generally recognized as safe").

This enables companies to maintain the secrecy of their formulas. It also hides the fact that flavor compounds often contain more ingredients than the foods to which they give taste.

The phrase "artificial strawberry flavor" gives little hint of the chemical wizardry and manufacturing skill that can make a highly processed food taste like strawberries.

A typical artificial strawberry flavor, like the kind found in a Burger King strawberry milk shake, contains the following ingredients:

amyl acetate,
amyl butyrate, amyl valerate,
anethol,
anisyl formate,
benzyl acetate,
benzyl isobutyrate,
butyric acid,
cinnamyl isobutyrate,
cinnamyl valerate,
cognac essential oil,
diacetyl,
dipropyl ketone,
ethyl acetate,
ethyl amyl ketone,
ethyl butyrate,
ethyl cinnamate,
ethyl heptanoate,
ethyl heptylate,
ethyl lactate,
ethyl methylphenylglycidate,
ethyl nitrate,
ethyl propionate,
ethyl valerate,
heliotropin,
hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol),
a-ionone,
isobutyl anthranilate,
isobutyl butyrate,
lemon essential oil,
maltol,
4-methylacetophenone,
methyl anthranilate,
methyl benzoate,
methyl cinnamate,
methyl heptine carbonate,
methyl naphthyl ketone,
methyl salicylate,
mint essential oil,
neroli essential oil,
nerolin,
neryl isobutyrate,
orris butter,
phenethyl alcohol,
rose,
rum ether,
g-undecalactone,
vanillin,
and
solvent.

Although flavors usually arise from a mixture of many different volatile chemicals, often a single compound supplies the dominant aroma. Smelled alone, that chemical provides an unmistakable sense of the food.

Ethyl-2-methyl butyrate, for example, smells just like an apple. Many of today's highly processed foods offer a blank palette: whatever chemicals are added to them will give them specific tastes. Adding methyl-2-pyridyl ketone makes something taste like popcorn.

Adding ethyl-3-hydroxy butanoate makes it taste like marshmallow.

The possibilities are now almost limitless. Without affecting appearance or nutritional value, processed foods could be made with aroma chemicals such as hexanal (the smell of freshly cut grass) or 3-methyl butanoic acid (the smell of body odor).

The 1960s were the heyday of artificial flavors in the United States.

The synthetic versions of flavor compounds were not subtle, but they did not have to be, given the nature of most processed food. For the past twenty years food processors have tried hard to use only "natural flavors" in their products. According to the FDA, these must be derived entirely from natural sources -- from herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, yeast, bark, roots, and so forth.

Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, out of a belief that they are more healthful. Distinctions between artificial and natural flavors can be arbitrary and somewhat absurd, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains.

"A natural flavor," says Terry Acree, a professor of food science at Cornell University, "is a flavor that's been derived with an out-of-date technology."

Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods.

Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor.

When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor.

When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor.

Either way it smells and tastes the same. "Natural flavor" is now listed among the ingredients of everything from Health Valley Blueberry Granola Bars to Taco Bell Hot Taco Sauce.

A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one.

When almond flavor -- benzaldehyde -- is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison.

Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.

A Trained Nose and a Poetic Sensibility

THE small and elite group of scientists who create most of the flavor in most of the food now consumed in the United States are called "flavorists." They draw on a number of disciplines in their work: biology, psychology, physiology, and organic chemistry. A flavorist is a chemist with a trained nose and a poetic sensibility.

Flavors are created by blending scores of different chemicals in tiny amounts -- a process governed by scientific principles but demanding a fair amount of art. In an age when delicate aromas and microwave ovens do not easily co-exist, the job of the flavorist is to conjure illusions about processed food and, in the words of one flavor company's literature, to ensure "consumer likeability."

The flavorists with whom I spoke were discreet, in keeping with the dictates of their trade. They were also charming, cosmopolitan, and ironic. They not only enjoyed fine wine but could identify the chemicals that give each grape its unique aroma. One flavorist compared his work to composing music.

A well-made flavor compound will have a "top note" that is often followed by a "dry-down" and a "leveling-off," with different chemicals responsible for each stage. The taste of a food can be radically altered by minute changes in the flavoring combination. "A little odor goes a long way," one flavorist told me. From the archives:

"The Million-Dollar Nose," by William Langewiesche (December 2000) Robert Parker Jr. is a plainspoken American with an astonishing gift for judging wine. He is indefatigable and incorruptible, and his numerical rating system is relied on by millions. His taste is changing the way wine is made and sold.

Naturally, the French hate him. Naturally, they honor him. In order to give a processed food a taste that consumers will find appealing, a flavorist must always consider the food's "mouthfeel" -- the unique combination of textures and chemical interactions that affect how the flavor is perceived.

Mouthfeel can be adjusted through the use of various fats, gums, starches, emulsifiers, and stabilizers. The aroma chemicals in a food can be precisely analyzed, but the elements that make up mouthfeel are much harder to measure.

How does one quantify a pretzel's hardness, a french fry's crispness? Food technologists are now conducting basic research in rheology, the branch of physics that examines the flow and deformation of materials. A number of companies sell sophisticated devices that attempt to measure mouthfeel.

The TA.XT2i Texture Analyzer, produced by the Texture Technologies Corporation, of Scarsdale, New York, performs calculations based on data derived from as many as 250 separate probes. It is essentially a mechanical mouth. It gauges the most-important rheological properties of a food -- bounce, creep, breaking point, density, crunchiness, chewiness, gumminess, lumpiness, rubberiness, springiness, slipperiness, smoothness, softness, wetness, juiciness, spreadability, springback, and tackiness.

Some of the most important advances in flavor manufacturing are now occurring in the field of biotechnology. Complex flavors are being made using enzyme reactions, fermentation, and fungal and tissue cultures. All the flavors created by these methods -- including the ones being synthesized by fungi -- are considered natural flavors by the FDA.

The new enzyme-based processes are responsible for extremely true-to-life dairy flavors. One company now offers not just butter flavor but also fresh creamy butter, cheesy butter, milky butter, savory melted butter, and super-concentrated butter flavor, in liquid or powder form. The development of new fermentation techniques, along with new techniques for heating mixtures of sugar and amino acids, have led to the creation of much more realistic meat flavors.

The McDonald's Corporation most likely drew on these advances when it eliminated beef tallow from its french fries. The company will not reveal the exact origin of the natural flavor added to its fries. In response to inquiries from Vegetarian Journal, however, McDonald's did acknowledge that its fries derive some of their characteristic flavor from "an animal source."

Beef is the probable source, although other meats cannot be ruled out. In France, for example, fries are sometimes cooked in duck fat or horse tallow.

Other popular fast foods derive their flavor from unexpected ingredients. McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contain beef extracts, as does Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Burger King's BK Broiler Chicken Breast Patty contains "natural smoke flavor."

A firm called Red Arrow Products specializes in smoke flavor, which is added to barbecue sauces, snack foods, and processed meats. Red Arrow manufactures natural smoke flavor by charring sawdust and capturing the aroma chemicals released into the air. The smoke is captured in water and then bottled, so that other companies can sell food that seems to have been cooked over a fire.

The Vegetarian Legal Action Network recently petitioned the FDA to issue new labeling requirements for foods that contain natural flavors. The group wants food processors to list the basic origins of their flavors on their labels. At the moment vegetarians often have no way of knowing whether a flavor additive contains beef, pork, poultry, or shellfish.

One of the most widely used color additives -- whose presence is often hidden by the phrase "color added" -- violates a number of religious dietary restrictions, may cause allergic reactions in susceptible people, and comes from an unusual source.

Cochineal extract (also known as carmine or carminic acid) is made from the desiccated bodies of female Dactylopius coccus Costa, a small insect harvested mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands. The bug feeds on red cactus berries, and color from the berries accumulates in the females and their unhatched larvae.

The insects are collected, dried, and ground into a pigment. It takes about 70,000 of them to produce a pound of carmine, which is used to make processed foods look pink, red, or purple. Dannon strawberry yogurt gets its color from carmine, and so do many frozen fruit bars, candies, and fruit fillings, and Ocean Spray pink-grapefruit juice drink.

IN a meeting room at IFF, Brian Grainger let me sample some of the company's flavors. It was an unusual taste test -- there was no food to taste. Grainger is a senior flavorist at IFF, a soft-spoken chemist with graying hair, an English accent, and a fondness for understatement. He could easily be mistaken for a British diplomat or the owner of a West End brasserie with two Michelin stars.

Like many in the flavor industry, he has an Old World, old-fashioned sensibility. When I suggested that IFF's policy of secrecy and discretion was out of step with our mass-marketing, brand-conscious, self-promoting age, and that the company should put its own logo on the countless products that bear its flavors, instead of allowing other companies to enjoy the consumer loyalty and affection inspired by those flavors, Grainger politely disagreed, assuring me that such a thing would never be done.

In the absence of public credit or acclaim, the small and secretive fraternity of flavor chemists praise one another's work. By analyzing the flavor formula of a product, Grainger can often tell which of his counterparts at a rival firm devised it. Whenever he walks down a supermarket aisle, he takes a quiet pleasure in seeing the well-known foods that contain his flavors.

Grainger had brought a dozen small glass bottles from the lab. After he opened each bottle, I dipped a fragrance-testing filter into it -- a long white strip of paper designed to absorb aroma chemicals without producing off notes. Before placing each strip of paper in front of my nose, I closed my eyes.

Then I inhaled deeply, and one food after another was conjured from the glass bottles. I smelled fresh cherries, black olives, sautéed onions, and shrimp. Grainger's most remarkable creation took me by surprise. After closing my eyes, I suddenly smelled a grilled hamburger.

The aroma was uncanny, almost miraculous -- as if someone in the room were flipping burgers on a hot grill. But when I opened my eyes, I saw just a narrow strip of white paper and a flavorist with a grin.

-----------------------------------

Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for The Atlantic. His article in this issue is adapted from his first book, Fast Food Nation, to be published this month by Houghton Mifflin.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly; January 2001; Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good - 01.01 (Part Two); Volume 287, No. 1; page 50-56.

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/01/schlosser.htm
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