7 Unappetizing Truths About America’s Favorite Fast Food
Everyone knows that fast food isn’t exactly health food, but the understanding of how our nation’s iconic restaurants get their food to taste as sinfully delicious as it is, is where it gets a little blurry. Many consumers also don’t even want to think about what’s going in their favorite guilty pleasures, and fast food companies’ efforts to conceal their ingredients can make finding the nutritional information and origins of their products that much harder. But the truths can be uncovered, and that’s what we’ve worked to provide you with today. Here are 10 examples of some fast food realities that you may want to keep in mind next time you’re tempted to go through the drive-thru. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
1. Animal Cruelty
Over one hundred thousand fast food restaurants exist in America alone. There are almost as many food suppliers; farmers that supply pork, chicken, eggs, and other animal products to these chains. While a blatant disregard for humane practices (such as Domino’s refusal to vote against the use of pig gestation crates) is unforgivable, one of the hardest parts of animal cruelty in fast food is controlling it. Though many major fast food chain restaurants have voiced a commitment to ensuring thier meat and dairy products are humanely sourced, there is always room to do more, and recent cases of abuse only illuminate how much room for progress there really is. Some also note that more rigorous regulations are direly needed.
In October of 2013, McDonald’s ceased business with two egg suppliers after a secretly recorded video of the farm’s employees abusing chickens — which were already being confined to inhumanely small spaces — was exposed. Another video from a California meat supplier’s slaughterhouse exposed abuse that lead to the suspension of the entire operation. Though gestation crates (small cages) used to confine pregnant sows are being phased out by many fast food chains, they are still widely used.
When profits are God, too many suppliers are at hand and regulation is inadequate, abuse is all too able to thrive. While some fast food chains have made some meager efforts to ensure that animal abuse is at least reduced, it’s a problem that is still far from solved.
2. Subway’s Egg Patty
When Forbes‘ writer David DiSalvo set out to find out what exactly is in the egg dishes or sandwiches cooked up by various fast food restaurants each day, he was pretty surprised by what he found. As listed on its web page’s list of ingredients Subway’s egg omelet patty contains the following.
“EGG OMELET PATTY (Regular): Whole Eggs, Egg Whites, Water, Nonfat Dry Milk, Premium Egg Blend (isolated pea product, salt, citric acid, dextrose, guar gum, xanthan gum, extractive of spice, propylene glycol, and not more than 2 percent calcium silicate and glycerin to prevent caking), Soybean Oil, Butter Alternative (liquid and hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, soy lecithin, natural, and artificial flavors, beta carotene (color), TBHQ and citric acid added to protect flavor, dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent added), Salt, Beta-Carotene (color). Contains eggs, milk, and soy.”
As DiSalvo points out, propylene glycol is a solvent for food color and flavoring, which is also found in anti-freeze, deodorant, and as a lubricant in machines such as air conditioners. It’s also used in condoms. There have even been tests proving that propylene glycerol rarely has adverse effects on the consumer, but no one likes to think that they’re inadvertently ingesting deodorant.
However, the eggs also contain TBHQ — or tertiary butylhydroquinone — a preservative often used in varnishes and perfumes and is actually related to (but not the same) as butane. Although the FDA puts a strict limit on the amount of TBHQ allowed in your food, consuming enough of the stuff can be deadly and, although you would have to eat a gratuitous amount of Subway’s egg patties to reach this point, it’s still unsettling to think of the presence of known toxins in popular fast foods.
3. McDonald’s McNuggets
Like Subway’s egg patties, dimethylpolysiloxane can also be found on the ingredient list of McDonald’s McNuggets, and this compound, also found in Silly Putty and a number of chemical lubricants, is used as an antifoaming agent. The FDA stipulates that no more than “10 parts per million” of this stuff should make up the McNuggets, which was originally approved for consumption back in 1998.
Also involved in the manufacturing of McNuggets? The FDA notes that it’s okay to use a small amount of formaldehyde during their food preparation process as a preservative, along with the defoaming agent dimethylpolysiloxane. McDonald’s chicken nuggets also aren’t the only ones using this chemical — it is very commonly used by many fast food chains in their food manufacturing — but it is still a wake-up call for consumers eating these nuggets regularly. We should also probably point out that only 50 percent of the chicken nugget is actually chicken, and the rest of the nuggets consist of sugar, preservatives, baking soda, and chemicals with unrecognizable names.
4. Aspartame in Soda
And no Happy Meal is complete without a fountain soda, yet even these soft drinks are hiding unappetizing ingredients. Though many recognize the fact that regular sodas are loaded with sugar, it’s also important to acknowledge that even their diet counterparts are bad news bears, too. Because although these sodas might not contain as many calories, they are made with a potentially harmful ingredient called aspartame. A zero-calorie artificial sugar substitute, aspartame is approved by the FDA as being safe for human consumption, but some new studies are suggesting otherwise. A 2007 study by the Environmental Health Perspective suggested a link between large amounts of aspartame consumption and cancer and leukemia in rats.
One of the largest concerns about aspartame is that when digested, it breaks down into the harmful and non-naturally occurring form of methanol, which is eventually converted to formaldehyde inside the body.
5. Phase Oil at Domino’s
Another loitering ingredient in some of our favorite fast food is Phase Oil. You have probably never heard of Phase Oil, but most likely have consumed it. One fast food chain that loves to use Phase Oil is Domino’s, as it uses this on its cheesy bread sticks. Phase Oil is a cheap, extremely unhealthy butter substitute with a short list of ingredients; partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat), salt, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, beta carotene, TBHQ (covered above), citric acid, and dimethylsiloxane (covered above.)
While the FDA is now attempting to ban all partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from food products, Phase Oil continues to be an essential ingredient for Domino’s, especially in the way of cost-cutting. Another unsettling reality about the food served from Domino’s is that its pork comes from pigs inhumanely confined in gestation crates, or tiny crates that allow for extremely limited movement for piglet-bearing sows during pregnancy.
6. Subway’s Rubbery Bread
And over in sandwich land, we come to Subway, another fast food chain that has been under the spotlight as of late. Subway recently promised to remove a questionable “dough conditioning” ingredient from its sandwich bread after food blogger Vani Hari exposed the chain’s usage of azodicarbonamide and created a petition asking the company to cease usage of it. Azodicarbonamide is a chemical commonly found in yoga mats, shoes, and a variety of other rubber goods. The FDA has labeled this ingredient as a fit-for-consumption dough conditioner, even though previous studies on the effects of azodicarbonamide resulted in the deaths of several test subject animals.
“We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is a USDA and FDA-approved ingredient,” Subway reported in a statement. While other fast food chains such as Starbucks and Arby’s also use the chemical, it’s outlawed entirely in Europe and Australia.
7. Wendy’s Chili and Silicon Dioxide
Wendy’s Chili contains silicon dioxide, an anti-caking agent also found in quartz and sand. While it is not considered harmful for consumption, most people don’t like knowing that they’re ingesting a little bit of sand with their chili.