Category Archives: Fast Food

Carbon Footprint Of Food

A Swedish fast-food chain, called Max Burger, is trying to discourage people from eating too much meat by publishing the carbon footprint of each item on its menu.

From the methane produced by the cows, to the machinery used on the farm, through to the emissions produced by the slaughterhouses and the trucks that deliver the meat all over the country – the weight of CO2 represents the carbon footprint of that meal.

Beef production emits high levels of carbon dioxide when compared to other foods. So why on Earth does a restaurant chain that sells mainly beef want to advertise how bad its products are for the planet?  They insist they are not “shooting themselves in the foot” and are quick to point out the “less-meat products” on the menu, such as a falafel burger and a half beef/half soy burger.

“We think you need to be honest with the customer. We hope to change the whole of the fast-food industry by this,” their spokesman said.  “We want people to eat less meat.”

Max Burgers’ carbon labels are getting them a lot of publicity and seem to epitomise the country’s enthusiasm for environmental food labeling.  A recent survey in Sweden found that 92% of people wanted more information about the “green credentials” of the food they were buying.

Currently, two food organizations in Sweden are working on “climate labels” that are designed to set a simple environmental benchmark for food production in Sweden.  If the new Swedish labels are a success, they fully expect to see them copied in other countries around the world.

Carbon labeling on products began four years ago in Britain:

carbon labeling

FYI:

carbon footprint

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Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Vegetable soup & saltine crackers
Dinner: Chipotle veggie bowl (no meat = free guac!)

Potatoes

Americans consume more potatoes than any other food behind dairy products and wheat flour. In 1960, the typical american ate 81 lbs of fresh potatoes and 4 lbs of frozen french fries in one year. Today, we eat 49 lbs of fresh potatoes and 30 lbs of frozen french fries per year. 90% of these fries are from fast food restaurants. French Fries are the most widely sold fast food item in the US.

McDonalds switched from fresh to frozen fries in 1965. Customers didn’t notice a difference in the taste, and this cut out the labor of peeling and cutting potatoes, making fries one of the most profitable items on the menu (far more than hamburgers). Fast food restaurants purchase frozen french fries at about 30 cents per pound, then sell them for about $6 per pound. Only three companies control 80% of the market for frozen french fries. These three companies compete heavily for fast food chain contracts which, to the benefit fast food chains, lowers their prices, making french fries even more profitable.

Since 1980, the number of potatoes grown in Idaho has nearly doubled. The huge rise in supply has caused significant drops in price, severely affecting potato farmers. Of every $1.50 spent on a large order of fench fries at a fast food restaurant, only about 2 cents goes to the farmer who grew the potatoes. In the past 25 years, Idaho has lost about half of its potato farmers, but the amount of land for potato farms, and number of potatoes produced, has increased. Family farms continue to fold as corporate farms grow and stretch for thousands of acres. Today there are only about 1100 potato farmers left in Idaho – few enough to fit in a high school auditorium.
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Breakfast: English muffin
Lunch: Microwavable pasta bowl
Dinner: An artichoke (my favorite!) & salad
This is a bit more complicated that what I do, but here’s some instructions on how to cook and eat an artichoke (I completely skip steps 1-3, I steam it without a steaming basket-just place it in about 1 inch of water, I don’t add stuff to the water, and I dip it in melted butter with garlic.)

Fast Food Facts

In 1970, Americans spent $6 billion on fast food. In 2001, we spent $110 billion. Americans spend more money on fast food than on higher education, new cars, personal computers, or computer software. We spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and music, combined. On any given day, about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant.

In 1968, McDonald’s had about 1,000 restaurants. Today it has over 31,000 and opens almost 2,000 new ones a year. An estimated one out of every eight workers in the US has at some point been employed by McDonald’s. The company hires 1 million people annually, more than any other American organization, private or public.

McDonald’s is the nation’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes, and the second largest purchaser of chicken. The McDonald’s Corporation is the largest owner of retail property in the world. McDonald’s spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other brand and has replaced Coca-Cola as the world’s most famous brand. McDonald’s operates more playgrounds than any other private entity in the US and is one of the largest distributors of toys.

The restaurant industry is America’s largest private employer, yet it pays some of the lowest wages. The 3.5 million fast food workers are by far the largest group of minimum wage earners in the US. The only Americans who consistently earn lower hourly wages are migrant farm workers.

In 1975, about one-third of American mothers worked outside the home. Today about two-thirds are employed. The entry of so many women into the workforce has greatly increased the demand for “traditional housewife” services including cooking, cleaning, and child care. A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the US was spent to prepare meals at home. Today, half of the money used to buy food in the US is spent at restaurants(mainly fast food).

In the 1950’s, a hamburger and french fries became the quintessential American meal, thanks to the promotional efforts of the fast food industry. The typical American now consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week. What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand.

The steady barrage of fast food ads, full of thick, juicy burgers and long, golden fries, never mention where these foods come from or what they contain. Much of the taste and aroma of fast food is now manufactured at a series of large chemical plants off the New Jersey Turnpike. The potato fields, processing plants, ranches, and slaughterhouses show the effects of fast food on our nation’s rural life, environment, and workers.

The fast food chains stand on top of a huge food-industrial complex that has gained control of American agriculture. During the 1980’s, large corporations were allowed to dominate one commodity market after another, causing farmers and cattle ranchers to lose their independence and essentially become hired hands for these agribusiness giants, or else be forced off their land. Family farms are a thing of the past, replaced by gigantic corporate farms. The hardy, independent farmers, whom Thomas Jefferson considered the bedrock of American democracy, are a vanishing breed. The US now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers.

The fast food industry’s vast purchasing power and demand for uniform product caused fundamental changes in how cattle is raised, slaughtered, and processed into ground beef. These changes made meatpacking, once a highly skilled, highly paid occupation, the most dangerous job in the US, performed by armies of unskilled, poor, transient immigrants, whose injuries go unrecorded and uncompensated.

These changes also introduced deadly pathogens, such as E. coli, but the federal government lacks the power to recall contaminated, potentially lethal meat. Again and again, meat industry lobbyists have obstructed this authority with help from their allies in Congress.

Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases, because it has been so carefully designed to taste good, to be convenient, and to come cheap. But the real price never appears on the menu.
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Breakfast: Egg McMuffin… JUST KIDDING! Bagel with veggie spread.
Lunch: Went to a BBQ & ate the sides: beans, potato salad, cole slaw, corn, salad, bread, and Blue Bell Ice Cream (yep, imported from Texas!!) mmm.
Dinner: Sandwich with broccoli rabe and provolone (from Taylor’s on H Street – delicious and Philly themed!)

What's Really In Your Hamburger

In the early 1900’s hamburgers had a reputation similar to hot dogs: tainted, unsafe to eat, food for the poor, sold only at carnivals (not in restaurants), made from old meat, laced with preservatives. In the 1920’s, White Castle, the nation’s first hamburger chain, worked extremely hard to reverse this image, even naming their chain something that sounded pure. The 1950’s and the rise of drive-ins and fast food restaurants is when the hamburger’s image really turned. The fast food industry marketed hamburgers as an ideal meal for children – convenient, inexpensive, hand-held, easy to chew. By the early 1990’s, the average American ate 3 hamburgers per week, more than 2/3 of these were from fast food restaurants. Thanks to some excellent marketing tactics, the hamburger had become America’s national meal.

Although the reputation surrounding hamburgers has changed, their actual content has not. So, here’s the truth about what’s really in ground beef.

First, lose that image of a huge, brown, beef steer because the majority of ground beef comes from dairy cows that can no longer milk. Dairy cattle can live as long as 40 years, but most are slaughtered at the age of 4, when their milk output starts to decline. The stresses of industrial milk production makes these cows even more unhealthy than cattle from large feedlots and they are more likely to be diseased and riddled with antibiotic residues.

Secondly, ground beef is largely responsible for the roughly 200,000 people that are sickened every year by foodborne diseases. The nontheraputic use of antibiotics in livestock feedlots has fueled pathogen mutation and the huge feedlots, slaughterhouses, and meat packing plants have proven to be an extremely efficient way to spread diseases.

The literature on the causes of food poising is full of scientific terms (colifom levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, etc), but the bottom line behind why eating a hamburger can make you sick is: There is shit in the meat.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) is a mutation of a bacterium found abundantly in the human digestive system, but this mutated version attacks the lining of the intestine, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, possibly vomiting and fever. In 4% of E. coli cases, the toxins enter the bloodstream causing kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, seizures, neurological damage, or strokes, leading to permanent disabilities (like blindness or brain damage), or death. E. coli is now the leading cause of kidney failure among children in the US. (Children ages 7-13 eat more hamburgers than any other age group.)

E. coli was first isolated in 1982 and has received a large amount of public attention in the past 2 decades because of the significant number of cases. Efforts to eradicate E. coli have failed because of its resistance to acid, salt, and chlorine, its ability to live in fresh water or seawater, its ability to live on kitchen countertops for days, or in moist environments for weeks, its ability to withstand freezing and withstand temperatures up to 160 degrees, and its ability to spread easily – through stool.

People have been infected by drinking contaminated water, swimming in contaminated water (even at water parks), crawling on a contaminated carpet, and most commonly by eating contaminated ground beef. Outbreaks have also been caused by contaminated vegetables, fruits, and milk – all of which most likely came in contact with cattle manure, although the pathogen can also be spread by feces of deer, dogs, horses, flies, and humans (person to person transmission accounts for a significant portion of E. coli cases).

The way our meat is processed has created an ideal way for pathogens like E. coli to spread. The feedlots are essentially manure recirculation plants. Not only do the animals live amid pools of manure, but they are also fed manure. In Arkansas alone, nearly 3 million pounds of chicken manure are fed to cattle per year. (See also Feeding Our Food.)

The slaughterhouses and meat grinders only spread the contaminations further. As the hide is pulled off the animal by machine, if the hide was not cleaned properly, chunks of dirt and manure will fall from it onto the meat. When the stomach & intestines are removed, if it is not done properly, the contents will spill out onto the meat and the table. With the quick assembly line and the unskilled workers, manure spillage occurs in about 1 in 5 carcasses. A single gut splatter can quickly spread as hundreds of carcasses quickly move down the line. A contaminated knife will spread germs to everything it touches and the overworked, often illiterate slaughterhouse workers do not always practice stellar hygiene. Meat that falls onto the ground (where, by the way, factory workers are known to urinate – after all, there are large drains for the blood) is picked up and placed back on the conveyor belt.

The odds of contamination grow exponentially in ground beef because beef from many animals is mixed together, increasing the chance of an infected animal being part of each hamburger. A single hamburger contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different animals. A single cow infected with E. coli can contaminate 32,000 pounds of ground beef. A USDA study found that 78.6% of the tested ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal matter.

Anyone bringing raw ground beef into their home should consider it a biohazard. A study by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, found that due to beef and poultry contamination, the average American sink contains more fecal matter than the average American toilet. According to Gerba, “you’d be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink.”


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Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Bean burrito at Anita’s Mexican restaurant
Dinner: Avocado sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing, french fries on the side