Something’s Rotten But It’s Not the Burgers

Every other year it seems somebody puts a McDonald’s burger aside, it doesn’t rot and the people freak out about how “fake” our food has become. But what does it mean when food doesn’t rot? As a fancy monkey it may be instinctual to hop up and down, pointing at the unrotted food while screeching. If we are to elevate ourselves beyond that state though, then how about we scratch our hairy little domes and dabble in a bit of inquiry?

We’re all well aware that food can rot and have seen it happen ourselves but how many times also have we found a stale peice of crusty non-rotten bread under the fridge? The ability to rot isn’t necessarily a condition of nutritional value. We’ve worked long and hard to figure out ways to preserve foods to get us through hard times and harsh environments. How fucking priveleged have we gotten where people are starving in the world and we insist on “real” foods with the shortest lifespans to flaunt our abundance? It is all well and good to question our food system and I do agree it’s dysfunctional and can use a lot of improvement but let’s use a bit of rationality and scientific endeavor when parsing through the issues.

Recently artist Sally Davies started the Happy Meal art project. She put aside a McDonald’s Happy Meal and photographed it every day since April 10 2010. The food didn’t rot. Now, this is perfectly fine as an “art project”, it should spur questions. It might be a shitty art project but there you have it. I give her the benefit of the doubt though but I suspect the label “art” was slapped on to cover for a worthless experiment.

This Happy Meal experiment is an example of how NOT to do it. From this single trial they jump to assumptions like:

“Food is SUPPOSED to decompose, go bad and smell foul…eventually.”
“Flies ignore a Happy Meal and microbes don’t decompose it, then your child’s body can’t properly metabolize it either. Now you know why it’s called “junk food.””

Basically this is the monkey screech scenario. I think it’s great that people are testing their environment and using observation but a bit of sciene literacy can go a long way to help make sense of the results. Steven Novella of SkepicBlog wrote up a quick post on how such a scenario might be handled in his recent posting The Burger Experiments. Now there seems to be countless such experiments happening using better controls such as:

So you can see how conditions must be controlled and variables isolated to understand what’s really going on. As for the former, there are dozens of reasons the food is not rotting but the reasons given rarely go beyond a vapid disgust response similar to pink goop. Does that help illuminate? Hardly. These amateur experiemnts have gotten so out of hand that McDonald’s was even compelled to release an official response.

I have to hand it to the internet though. Everytime somebody posts about one of these awful hamburger experiments the commenters jump all over the flaws. Finally, a valid platform for trolls to abide! I’d also rather see these horribly executed experiments than newage dogma about enzymes or vibration energy. At least these real world are grounded in a form of reality. So while amateurish experiments like these may fail at least it’s a nod in the right direction. I wonder though, if anything that conflicted with their world view would ever get reported.

While I try hard to put a positive spin on this pseudoscience I’m reminded of the Great Apple Experiment where sloppy experimentation can lead to some crazy ideas (or vice versa). In that example it was quite a silly harmless conclusion but this sort of pseudoscience can indeed lead to harmful results. Good scientific method is the tool of the truly open minded.

2 comments to Something’s Rotten But It’s Not the Burgers

  • Love the article. When did we become a society that rejected scientific evidence in favour of anecdotal evidence. I find this astounding. The message gets confused when we do this. McDonalds food may not be good for us and may lead to obesity, but it isn’t because the food isn’t nutritious, nor is it because they use insane amounts of preservatives (because of course, they don’t).
    As soon as we start adopting these wrong messages, even for the right reasons, people think that by eating organic foods you can lose weight. This is evidenced by the bizarre Kirsty Alley diet, Organic Liaison, which claims that weight gain is actually a build up of heavy metals in our body.
    We all lose out when we ignore science for sensationalist reports.

  • Thanks Mark! I think science illiteracy is a big problem not only in the general population but in science reporting. In this case both were compounded for a superFail.

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