23 September 2010

Photographer documents the power of preservatives in McDonald’s Happy Meal

We all know the names and unfortunately the associated smells. McDonalds, Wendy’s, KFC and Taco Bell are probably more recognizable to the general public than the President himself. The fast food industry has brilliantly woven itself into the very fabric of America. Greasy spoon items such as the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder have quite frankly supplanted the once proud Apple Pie as the culinary symbol for the red, white and blue.

Marketing strategies formulated in executive boardrooms of franchisors, like McDonald’s, have targeted children, creating a youthful fan base of fast food addicts by using gimmicky toys that just also happen to be tossed into a sack full of high calorie, sodium and fat filled fare.

McDonald’s own child-centric offering, the Happy Meal, has enjoyed remarkable staying power. The now infamous combo was introduced in 1979 and is still going strong.

But unfortunately that longevity goes well beyond just remaining a force in the fast food industry—even though that is bad enough on its own.

This brings us to New York photographer Sally Davies who purchased a McDonald’s Happy Meal back in April, set it on a glass plate and has been photographing the meal regularly. As of Day 145 the Happy Meal shows no signs of decay, mold or foul odor.

This Dish Is Veg: What inspired you to start the McDonald’s Happy Meal Project?
Sally Davies: My good friend, who owns a chain of burger restaurants here in NYC, and I got into an argument one day about fast food, particularly meat. He was quite sure after 3 days the meat would begin to mold if left out, with no refrigeration. I didn't agree. So I bought a McDonald's Happy Meal (closest fast food restaurant to where I live) and brought it home.

TDIV: How long will you continue to document the Happy Meal purchased on April 10, 2010?
Davies: I'm not sure. Right now I am photographing it every 2 weeks approximately and it is still the same all the time. No changes.

TDIV: In the past we featured a Happy Meal experiment that took place in Colorado. Many people attributed the preservation to the dry conditions of the state. You live in NY which we know to be a humid location, especially during the summer. Can you explain the conditions in which the Happy Meal is being kept? Is it out in the open? What is the average room temperature?
Davies: The food is on a glass plate in my living room on a shelf. I take it down about every 2 weeks to photograph. No refrigeration and not covered with anything. It has been there with very humid temps and no air conditioning and also with the air conditioning on.

TDIV: To date, is there any decay on the food? What about odor?
Davies: The famous McDonald's smell to the food was gone within 48 hours completely. After that, there was no smell at all. No food decay and no bugs. Not even my two dogs were interested in it. The burger turned to stone very fast, as well the fries. It's as if it was petrified wood or fossilized. Only the bun is dried out and part of it broke off. I think eventually the bun will turn to dust and disintegrate. The fries are still that yellow fresh color. The meat patty shrank a little bit as it dried out, but other than that, it looks the same.

TDIV: Have you ever been contacted by McDonald's or any fast-food supporting groups?
Davies: Not directly, but McDonalds did respond to the Toronto Star (who interviewed me for the project story). They wondered why it is always McDonald's that everyone picks on and suggested that my project had little merit because they had no idea what the experiment's conditions were. They also said most fast food would do the same thing. And to that end, I have to agree with them. I do not think this is a McDonald's issue, but rather a fat food/processed food issue.

TDIV: What do you hope people learn from this experiment?
Davies: I hoped to prove to myself, what I already suspected, which was that this is not natural food and it is highly chemicalized. I quit eating meat when I was 15, 39 years ago, but at that time, because of the animal cruelty issue. Only recently have I started to investigate the health benefits of a natural plant based diet.

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Eric Fortney | @elfortney
Eric is the co-founder & executive editor of This Dish Is Veg. In addition to his TDIV work, Eric is a father of three, runner, and lover of the outdoors.

Photo credit: Sally Davies


  1. Ewwww McDonald's is downright disgusting. BTW I love your site!

  2. McDonald's is absolutely, downright awful! Though I can't say much about them. Seeing as people actually buy these foods, fully knowing what is being ingested into their bodies.

  3. I love these experiments, it just shows how utterly full of preservatives processed foods are. What a bunch of bullocks that McDonald's continues to market this rubbish to young people.

  4. So much for the dry Colorado weather causing the preservation.

  5. This made me hungry for a Big Mac, Large fries and a delicious milky chocolate shake. You vegetarians don't know what you are missing!

  6. Yeah dry weather my foot, its the 100000000 mgs of sodium.

  7. I remember reading an article with a funeral parlor worker who said that they don't need to use as many preserving chemicals any more due to the amount that the bodies already contain because of fast food. Pretty scary thought...

  8. I have read about Ms. Davies experiment before but never to this extent. She makes some excellent points.

  9. I always tell people not to eat it for the main reason that it is not even real food!

  10. They wonder why it's always McDonald's? Really? That's like a celebrity wondering why there are always all these people asking for autographs. When you become an icon, people will use you as an icon.

    There are benefits and responsibilities as well as stuff that just sucks about that status...but I think most businesses would trade places with McDonald's in a heartbeat just as most of us would consider a celebrity's lifestyle a definite upgrade.

  11. I am very intrigued by this experiment even if the conditions aren't tightly controlled. But I am wondering why, at first glance and upon further inspection of the photos, positions and placement of the food is not identical in both photos?! How come it was necessary to touch the 'food' while photographing it? I think these would be questions that would be asked by a fast food company who's goal would be to disprove or deny the merit of this experiment! Personally, it is an extremely interesting and scary fact about the so-called 'food' that so many people ingest! Great job FDA and USDA for the quality assurance! LOL

  12. You know what? You whiny veg heads just love to demonize big corporations, because that's what tree huggers do. But the real bad guys here, as we all know, are parents. I don't take my kids to McDonald's, because I think it's crap. The difference between me and people like you is, I don't try to tell other people what they should or shouldn't eat. Don't eat meat. I could care less. Just don't tell me I shouldn't. It's none of your business. Oh, by the way, the planet's fine and will be here long after the human race is gone, so get over yourselves.

  13. To *cough* brave anonymous poster:

    I find it ironic that you felt the need to make a comment telling "veg heads" and "tree huggers", on a vegan-centric site no less, to stop telling people what to do. Do you not see the hypocrisy?

    I can tell your the pie in the sky yet always pi&&ed off libertarian type. Let everyone do what they want, screw the rest of society and what they think of it. There are consequences to actions and murdering animals by the billions and ingesting food that destroys your health is ALL of our business. Sorry but you are just flat out wrong.

  14. Anonymous,

    I personally think it's fantastic that you do not allow your children to eat McDonald's food. In fact you are to be commended for doing so.

    But I must ask, where in this piece are you or anyone else for that matter being instructed to change behaviors? The facts, and they are all facts, are being presented for your consumption. It is entirely up to the reader to decide if she/he chooses to no longer frequent establishments like McDonald's and if a life filled with compassion, for all beings, fits within their core set of beliefs.

    Additionally any wounds suffered by big corporations, like McDonald's, are almost exclusively self-inflicted. They have decided to offer food that is stratospherically unhealthy to consumers worldwide.

    Individual responsibility is paramount but let us not forget that corporations are nothing more than a grouping of individuals. If each individual within that cohesive whole makes responsible decisions would that not lead to a responsible corporation?

    Thank you for reading and much success!

    Eric Fortney

  15. Eric you took the high road, you must be a patient and understanding man because I would have ripped into that anonymous poster like a 300 pound man into a Big Mac combo meal. It's selfish people like anonymous that make Americans look like dodos.

  16. zeeklovesmolly9/24/10, 12:57 PM

    How did I miss this story yesterday? Bad me! That is narsty as all get out! Eric: You were rockin' the comment response man.

  17. Here's an idea I'd like to try...take a fast food buger; McDonalds or other, and compare it to a grass feed no hormone patty. My theory is the natural burger would be what's suppose to happen vs what happens with the fast food burger. Just a thought...

  18. majc forever - - If anyone wants to try that experiment as a comparison, we would definitely highlight it on TDIV. Of course we have thought of documenting a veg burger with homemade bun for comparison as well.

    Daelyn (TDIV)

  19. Our chiropractor did something similar but his project is going on two years and it still looks basically the same! He bought the nugget kid's meal. Gross!

  20. To anonymous poster hating on vegetarians:

    It's "I couldn't care less" not "I could care less". Geez, no one in this country can speak English.

  21. Greetings, after reviewing a few posts on various social networks, including most recently a news-article about mcdonalds burgers not going bad, we decided to do a test of our own. We are placing a Mcdonalds cheesburger in front of a cam, streaming it LIVE 24/7, for YOU to see what happens with it under normal room conditions (no editing, no cheating).
    We are launching our project on Friday Oct 15th at 12pm ET, please visit our website: www.watchmyburger.com we would like to hear your ideas and comments (you can post your comments on the website).
    Thank you, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

  22. I love the reference to the "you tree huggers" Look anyone with half a brain cares about the environment, as the huge issues that a growing population is putting upon the earth's resources. I vote on the Greenpeace website on F/B because I think that political lobbying is the only way to get some of the large corporations to become more environmentally responsible, so stop being so damn stupid. What has that got to do with this debate? Well McD's is encouraging the clearing of amazonian deforestation by growing palm oils and intensive cattle rearing that they then use in their restaurants. its how they drive their costs down. Then its cutting trees for their pulp production of packaging, so if you care about the future generations in a real and non tree hugging way, then take social responsibility and start using your individual purchasing power to stop these environmental practices