Much ado about shit-all: protein patty edition

Long-term readers will not be surprised to learn that I have a few — okay a lot of — strong opinions about food and nutrition.  I believe, for example, that fat and protein are essential macronutrients, and that much of the public hysteria about fat is justified only because it does, gram for gram, pack a damn lot of kcal.  I also believe that, provided one gets sufficient (and sufficiently varied) fat and protein, carbs are rather benign things — not the sinister menace they’re portrayed to be by the Atkins/keto folks.

Wilford Brimley will not murder you for drinking a Coke

I also believe that, while most fast food is shit in terms of both nutrition and flavour, the occasional Big Mac or Double Down is not only not gonna kill ya, it’s probably not going to make a noticeable difference to your health.  Having your diet in order doesn’t mean ironclad no-exceptions adherence to whatever eating strategy you favour unless you’re about to compete in a bodybuilding event.  Having your diet in order means doing basically the right things 90% of the time.  One missed breakfast, KFC insulin romp, or twelve-pint pub night a week isn’t gonna kill ya — in fact, cutting yourself that sort of slack is probably what’ll keep you sane enough to keep making a consistent effort the rest of the time.

With that in mind, I tend to become irate when exposed to the peculiar subspecies of H. Sapiens that devotes considerable energy — energy better spent crawling the Tropes wiki or masturbating — to loudly denouncing big-market fast-food chains and lovingly crafting disturbingly convoluted conspiracy theories around them.  It’s not merely their overpowering odour of smug — I know your best interests better than you do, because I’m just that wise — that does it; it’s the blinkered self-satisfied ignorance upon which their world-views are built that really twists my nipples.  These are folks like Michael Bloomberg whose ardent crusades against Teh Ebil are grounded in nutritional doctrine that’s about as contemporary — and as robust — as Suzanne Sommers.

One of the main pillars of these aberrant atavists’ asinine arguments is The Burger That Will Not Die.  Yes, apparently you can go to McDonald’s, buy a hamburger, and keep it on your kitchen counter for years and years — and it will never rot.

This is, of course, taken as Proof Incontrovertible that McDogfood’s burger patties are made from cardboard, synthetic motor oil, and OMG TEH EBIL CHEMICALZ! After all, real food would get all mouldy and so forth, right?  And you should eat real food, right?

By way of Will Wilkinson’s Twitter feed we discover that someone has actually applied the scientific method to this problem:

Butbutbutwait!” cry the deluded Denny’s-denouncing dipshits: “We did science!  We got a burger, performed an experiment, and observed the results!  Isn’t that science?”  Not especially, no:

“[I]f you are a believer in science (and I certainly hope you are!), in order to make a conclusion, you must first start with a few observable premises as a starting point with which you form a theorem[sic], followed by a reasonably rigorous experiment with controls built in place to verify the validity of that theorem.

Thus far, I haven’t located a single source that treats this McDonald’s hamburger phenomenon in this fashion. Instead, most rely on speculation, specious reasoning, and downright obtuseness to arrive at the conclusion that a McDonald’s burger “is a chemical food[, with] absolutely no nutrition.”

(Obligatory math-nerd pedantry: a theorem is something you’ve proven from axioms and lemmata.  What we’re looking for here is a hypothesis.)

So the problem is, of course, that there are other hypotheses that could explain “McDonald’s burgers don’t rot at room temperature” besides “they are made of Chinese lead and nuclear waste”.  As with anything else, it helps to have some idea of how your experimental environment is expected to work:

Things we know so far:

  1. A plain McDonald’s Hamburger, when left out in the open air, does not mold or decompose.
  2. In order for mold to grow, a few things need to be present: mold spores, air, moisture, and a reasonably hospitable climate.

The obvious hypothesis is zOMG TEH EBIL CHEMICALZ! — or in adult language:

There is some kind of chemical preservative in the beef and/or bun and/or the wrapping that is not found in a normal burger and/or bun that creates an inhospitable environment for mold to grow.

There are, of course, other contenders.  But by writing out this hypothesis we naturally find an experiment: we can test a McDonald’s burger patty next to a “normal” burger patty of similar mass and dimensions, and see which one rots first.  This already goes far beyond the smug fucking foodies’ methodologies, which is mostly pointing at week-old McDonald’s burgers and yelling “DEATH!”

Well, well, well. Turns out that not only did the regular McDonald’s burgers not rot, but the home-ground burgers did not rot either. Samples one through five had shrunk a bit (especially the beef patties), but they showed no signs of decomposition. What does this mean?

It means that there’s nothing that strange about a McDonald’s burger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way. The real question is, why?

I’ll spare you the rest of the argument — testing for other “McDonald’s is TEH EBIL” possibilities like ridiculous amounts of salt in the patty — and bring you the shocking conclusion:

[T]he burger doesn’t rot because it’s small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast. Without moisture, there’s no mold or bacterial growth. Of course, that the meat is pretty much sterile to begin with due to the high cooking temperature helps things along as well. It’s not really surprising. Humans have known about this phenomenon for thousands of years. After all, how do you think beef jerky is made?

(Emphasis added.)

There are plenty of reasons not to eat regularly at McDonald’s — but ridiculous Luddite hysteria isn’t one of them.


1 Response to “Much ado about shit-all: protein patty edition”

  1. 1 Ish
    November 6, 2010 at 23:05

    Science. It works, bitches.


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