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What you need to know about the McRib!!

February 13, 2013
EqBJA

So, recently I have been seeing a lot of discussion about how disgusting a food item the McRib is.  Plainly it isn’t food, it is just a combination of chemicals, preservatives and hate, all pressed together into a rib resembling product.  In fact, the hubbub recently has been about how many ingredients you will find in a McRib and how some of them are banned!!

As many of you know, I am not a fan of McDonalds.  Okay, that isn’t quite true.  I do love the food.  When I say I am not a fan, it would be more correct to say, I am fully aware of the role that fast food plays in our current obesity crisis in general and my obesity crisis in specific.  This last 5 to ten pounds I cannot get off my body may as well have McDonalds, A&W, and Taco Time logos on it.  Still, it isn’t just the fact that fast food is so rich in calories, fats and refined carbohydrates that has me mad at the companies behind it.  It is actually, the fact that they work so hard to protect their pitch, to protect the access to their markets.  They have kids meals in party boxes with toys, they have kids playgrounds and clowns and cartoon characters directly marketed to children.  They pay good money to hide the damage that their food does (#10 on the dirty dozen of 2010).  In other words, they feel that doing whatever they can to misinform you about what is healthy is okay because they make money from it.  It isn’t.

But the reverse is more infuriating to me.  Much more.  In fact, this is one of my pet peeves.  It is terrible when a corporation goes to lengths to hide the damage their products do, but I believe it is more damaging when zealots and opportunists create false stories about these same products, but with the opposite intent because these urban myths become part of our ethos, our belief system and they seem to never die, just like the burger that people still wrongly report will not rot.  People begin to believe that fast food is bad because it is made of chemicals and it doesn’t have any nutrition.  They believe that we are getting fat because we are eating foods that are entirely bereft of nutrients and therefore we need to eat more of them.   They believe that the chemicals are causing us to be fat and if we just ate organic we would be fine.  The end product of this is a misinformed public that eats organic oreos and organic chocolate cake, thinking that these are in fact healthful, when the opposite is true.

What has occurred is a level of disingenuous reporting, combined with a nearly pathological prejudiced hatred of mass production and food standardization mixed with a huge dose of a misguided sense of health.  The fact is, some people hate McDonalds and their hatred leads them to jump to conclusions that do not exist (fast food does not rot) or equally as bad, causes them to fabricate a crisis where one does not exist (McRib).  When this happens, people end up believing that specific ingredients or methods of preparation are causing obesity problems or health problems.  We have seen this absurd reporting for margarine, cheez whiz, cool whip, and swiffer, and now we have the McRib.

The McRib case in point.

We can begin with the article titled: McDonald’s McRib Sandwich a Franken Creation of GMOs, Toxic Ingredients, Banned Ingredients,

The article is essentially a mix of lies and hyperbole which culminate in an expose that misses its own point entirely.  Some of the misinformation is below:
1.  “The McRib is the result of intensive marketing by McDonald’s.”

The McRib is not the result of intensive marketing by McDonald’s.  In fact that doesn’t even make sense.  You might be able to say that about The Olive Garden and their focus tested menu, but the invention of the McRib was actually just the creation of a pretty incredible chef.  Really…

The McRib itself was the brainchild of Rene Arend, a native of Luxembourg who first appeared in the Chicago area not as McDonald’s first executive chef, but as a 31-year-old night head second cook at the Drake and a protege of “great chefs in Strasbourg, France.” Arend won a 1959 gourmet contest at the Drake with his supreme de poularde Amphitryon—chicken in sweet butter with cognac Martell, Madere sauce, cream, and goose liver, accompanied by veal dumplings and hearts of palm covered in orange hollandaise sauce—”fixed up for tastes of American people,” Arend told the Tribune. Arend moved to the Whitehall Club before being lured away by the hours, benefits, and challenge of McDonald’s in the late 1970s by Ray Kroc, a Whitehall regular.

The McRib, patterned after the pulled-pork barbecue Arend ate in South Carolina—pork barbecue itself being a means of dressing up low-cost meat in the impoverished South—was an initial failure, but it’s obviously popular enough maintain a large cult following. (source)

Given that Chef Rene is a native of Luxembourg, a graduate (first in his class) of the College Technique Hotelier de Strasbourg, and a man who has prepared dinners for such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth II of England, the king of Belgium, and Sophia Loren and Cary Grant, we asked him why the McFood at McYou-Know-Where’s doesn’t exactly taste like European gourmet cooking.

”We have to cater to the American public,” he replied. ”I am 31 years here, nearly as long as McDonald’s. I have also become Americanized. McDonald’s is perfect American food, you see. But never are any restrictions put on me when I do a product.” (source)

2. Utilizing the basics of supply and demand through creating scarcity over the McRib by only unleashing the culinary abomination for a fraction of the year that is only known once it is released

Although there certainly is a lot of marketing surrounding the McRib and every successful company utilizes the basics of supply and demand (for whatever that is worth), creating scarcity isn’t part of the marketing, it is apparently a fact of scarcity of pork trimmings.

And to this day, the McRib comes and goes from the McDonald’s menu for reasons that have to do with its intense popularity and a national supply of pork trimmings that’s typically a lot more limited than the supply of beef trimmings.

“If you suddenly start to buy a large amount of that material,” said Mandigo, “the price starts to rise.”

As the cost to McDonald’s rises, the McRib tends to go out of circulation again. And then the same parts of a hog tend to flow back into the processing lines for Spam, Vienna sausages and other specialized products. (source)

Above is just the coles notes version of the supply and demand problems with the McRib.  If you want to get deep into the research you can read a fascinating article A conspiracy of Hogs:  The McRib as Arbitrage.

This isn’t to say that McDonald’s doesn’t use the scarcity to help market the McRib, just that they don’t create the scarcity in the first place.  This works well for the McRib because according to Chef Rene Arand, ”We discovered that people would not eat pork every day” (source).
3. McDonald’s even made McRib fans sign a petition to ‘save the McRib’ online

The petition signing was clearly just a marketing technique for a sandwich they were keeping.  I don’t think anyone was MADE to sign a petition.  That is extreme hyperbole.  Seriously, did they kidnap people and torture them until they signed the petition?

They can also sign the “Save the McRib” petition and explore the BPFAA (the Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America) website,bonelesspigs.org, a fictitious organization that promotes the good will of boneless pigs. Hmm. OK. Why spend all this money if the product is just going to be dumped? Oh wait, silly me, they’re not dumping the product, they’re renewing demand by making us feel sorry for a bunch of boneless pigs. That’s it. (source)

4.  it’s a combination of unwanted animal scraps processed down in major facilities and ‘restructured’ into the form of a rib.

This one is sort of true, just not in the important way.  The meat is restructured, a technique created by a man who sits in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame:

In 1972 Professor Roger Mandingo of the University of Nebraska received a grant from the National Pork Producers Council to work on a process to create restructured meats. He developed a technology to bind small pieces of meat together in different shapes using salt and mechanical action. The results of his work can be seen today in such items as dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and the famous McRib” Sandwich. (source)

Restructured meat products are commonly manufactured by using lower-valued meat trimmings reduced in size by comminution (flaking, chunking, grinding, chopping or slicing). The comminuted meat mixture is mixed with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins. These extracted proteins are critical to produce a “glue” which binds muscle pieces together. These muscle pieces may then be reformed to produce a “meat log” of specific form or shape. The log is then cut into steaks or chops which, when cooked, are similar in appearance and texture to their intact muscle counterparts. (source)

While it is true that the meats used in the McRib are lower valued, they are NOT animal scraps.  We in North America have no value for organ meat and tripe and find it disgusting, but we are the minority in the world.  As I was reminded in my trip to China, most cultures in the world value these meats very highly and consider them a delicacy.  While in Beijing, my brother and I were very excited to go to a world class duck restaurant.  Our hosts happily obliged and asked us to do the ordering.  All we cared about was the duck, and we were not disappointed.  It may very well be the best meal I have ever eaten.  We noticed though, as soon as we had ordered, our hosts looked sad, more than sad, crestfallen.  They wouldn’t tell us what had upset them, but we knew we made a mistake.  We quickly realized that they were as excited to be eating in this restaurant as we were, but they didn’t care as much about the duck as the organ meat.  We quickly got the waiter to come back and we ordered some things that I still have no idea what part of what animal they were from, but it made all the difference to our hosts as their faces glowed and the night was a success.

According to Mandigo:

“Most people would be extremely unhappy if they were served heart or tongue on a plate,” he observed. “But flaked into a restructured product it loses its identity. Such products as tripe, heart, and scalded stomachs are high in protein, completely edible, wholesome, and nutritious, and most are already used in sausage without objection.” (source)

According to Chicago Magazine:

In other words, the McRib, or at least the restructured meat products like it, consists of staples—or even specialties—of other cuisines. Take pig heart, for instance. If you’d like to cook it yourself, here’s a 1945 recipe from GourmetCoeur de Porc en Civet à la Pompadour, i.e. stewed pig’s heart à la Pompadour, or bopis, a Filipino pig heart recipe. These sorts of things being unappetizing to the American palate, they’re shredded and restructured into an obviously fake rib. (source)

The most important point is that these parts of the pig have been used in sausage forever.  I love sausage.  Nobody thinks that an organic, butcher made sausage is frankenfood, but by most of these damning accusations above, it is.

5.  70 additives, chemicals, fillers, and GMO ingredients later, you have a ‘meat’ product that tastes like ribs.

The original claim of the article is that the McRib is made up of about 70 ingredients in total.  How in the world would all 70 ingredients, even if you exclude the pork, be chemicals, fillers and GMO ingredients?  That doesn’t even make sense, unless you are trying to fool us into thinking that the McRib is just chemicals and fillers and has no natural products in it.  Even using the graphic that the author supplies, you can quickly see that some of the ingredients are not chemicals, nor are the fillers or ‘common’ GMO ingredients.  Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, reduced Iron, Riboflavin, Water, salt, Malted Barley Flour, Pork, Tomato Paste, Spices, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Chili Peppers, cucumbers and slivered onions to name a few.

mcribingredients

The common GMO heading is a bit of a misnomer because as far as I can tell, they are suggesting that items such as distilled vinegar are commonly sourced from GMO products.  This doesn’t mean that this specific vinegar is GMO, just that it is likely GMO, as would be the distilled vinegar in your cupboard.  I hate the fact that GMO products do not have to be labelled as such, but that really has very little if anything to do with McDonalds and the McRib.

In fact, it has almost nothing to do with the McRib, because, as you can see, it really isn’t the McRib patty itself that has all the ingredients, or even many of the ingredients.  It is the bun.  As we discovered with the McDonalds hamburger, when we looked into it, the meat is relatively straightforward.  It is the bun that is bad.  But it isn’t just McDonald’s buns.  It is all buns.  To keep bread fresh and white, the amount of crap that is put into the bread is disturbing.  If you think the McRib is bad, take a look at the much loved and health conscious Subway bread:

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 12.22.05 AM

How many ingredients are in that Deli Style Roll?  In a quick count I would say more than in the McRib bread.

Of the over 70 ingredients in a McRib, more than half of them are in the bun.  More than 40!  The McRib itself has 6.  The McRib sauce has 19 ingredients.  Is that a damning number by the way?  Is the number of ingredients in barbecue sauce a bad thing?  If you look at Bull’s eye barbecue sauce you get the following 17 ingredients: Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Sugar, Vinegar, Molasses, Brown Sugar, Salt, Contains Less Than 2% of Modified Food Starch, Spice, Mustard Seed, Dried Onions, Natural Flavor, Dried Garlic, White Wine, Fruit Pectin, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid.  Similar to the McRib sauce, although no sodium benzoate or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  If you look at Rufus Teages sauce, you get this:

HS_NUTS

There are more than 30 ingredients in that list and I have to tell you, it does look like the more the merrier there.  That list of ingredients actually makes my mouth water.

The most frustrating thing about the quoted line above is that they suggest that the 70 ingredients are used to make the McRib patty, something that they think deserves to have quotes around the word meat, taste like a rib, when even a 2 year old would realize that most of those ingredients aren’t used in the meat.  The McRib actually tastes like a pulled pork sandwich, I would guess about as much as a chicken nugget tastes like a chicken strip, because it is made from pork and covered in barbecue sauce and served on what is probably the very same bun as your pulled pork sandwich is.

6.  Out of the 70 ingredients that make up the ‘pork’ sandwich, a little-known flour-bleaching agent known as azodicarbonamide lies among them.

The thing is, azodicarbonamide is actually not a little-known (it actually appears well known) flour-bleaching agent.  Even according to this article it is known to mainstream media:

mainstream media outlets have generated content revealing how azodicarbonamide is actually used in the production of foamed plastics. Foamed plastics like yoga mats and more.

You can read all about azodicarbonamide here.  The fact that a food additive is used in an industrial purpose is clearly fear mongering and a ridiculous attempt to make you associate the additive with the product that uses it, as many food additives are used in industrial processes.  Did you know that citric acid has industrial uses, yet it is used in the most organic breads you can imagine.  Azodicorbonamide is banned in many countries and has warnings in others.  It is believed to be a respiratory sensitizer, which means that it could cause asthma.  Apparently it does this by being inhaled, which would be impossible when it is in the bread, as all studies done on it have been in powder form.  Some people argue that the FDA is behind the rest of the world in not banning Azodicorbonamide, and they may be.  Certainly we can all agree that we don’t need this many chemicals and additives in our bread, whether they are believed safe or not.  This seems excessive.  The problem is, even though the media totally neglected to pick up on this fact, bloggers didn’t, Azodicorbonamide is in MOST commercially available breads (here).

According to this blogger, who won’t eat fast food now because he or she is convinced that burgers taste like gym mats, “The big story was NOT that it was in the McRib bun. The big story is that it is in almost every bun. However, it seems journalism standards have dropped these days.”

The most annoying thing about this one article that is so full of misinformation is that almost all of the sources that I used above to counter these statements of hyperbole were from his article in the first place!

Another, very annoying blogger, or more correctly stated, quack of a health nut, Joseph Mercola had this to write of the same McRib story.  The Unsavory Truth of the McRib…

Not only does Mr. Mercola fall for the unrotting burger:  “We’ve also learned that fast food fare such as McDonald’s hamburgers contain so many chemicals and so few real food ingredients that a burger fails to show signs of decomposition after more than a decade…”

To add to the 70 ingredient story that we talked about above, we get the chemicals aren’t food line:

So, is McDonald’s fare really food?

When you consider the fact that a large number of the ingredients in a fast food meal exist nowhere in nature, but are rather concocted in a lab, the answer would have to be ‘no.’

In conclusion

Obviously the title of this article is a little misleading.  You really don’t need to know anything about the McRib.  It isn’t going to kill you, at least not on its own, but I have to tell you, the actual story behind the invention of the McRib and the invention of meat glue is great reading and I would recommend it to anyone.

You should know though, the bun for the McRib is terrible.  Most commercial bread is terrible.  In fact, if you could just cut ALL bread out of your diet you would be a much healthier person.  Don’t buy the whole wheat scam either.  Just kick the bread to the curb.

I know you all know this as well, but you would be much healthier if you stopped eating fast food.  Not because some people believe it is a science experiment gone wrong, but because it is full of calories, mostly derived from fats and refined carbs.  The calorie density of fast food is terrible.  The McRib patty itself is probably very similar to the sausage patty that McDonald’s serves for breakfast, both of which are calorie bombs.

Please though, whatever you do, don’t listen to the health food quacks who try to convince you of things about fast food that simply aren’t true.  They do us all a great disservice because by lying and exaggerating their claims they somehow make the fast food restaurants into the victims and misinform people about what makes us fat and unhealthy.  The battle to lose weight is so hard, even when you know exactly what to avoid and WHY.  It is nearly impossible when you are being constantly misinformed by the corporations and their massive advertising budgets and by zealots and their misguided ideologies.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Carlos permalink
    April 24, 2013 8:50 pm

    Very frightening info, and then , how come we don’t hear this in the media.
    Thank you for providing us with this kind of information which other wise would be very hard to get in contact with.
    God bless you, keep up the good work.

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