A Cook's Diary

How about some microwaved French fries?

There’s a video on YouTube where an American bought several kinds of McDonald’s sandwiches, McDonald’s fries, a burger and fries from a regular restaurant, placed each food item separately in covered jars and kept them there for several weeks. All the food items, except one, started showing signs of decomposition after a few weeks. What didn’t rot? The McDonald’s fries.

First, let’s separate fact from fiction. Fact: I don’t like fast food. I don’t like the unimaginative items on the menu, I don’t like the grease, I don’t like the miniscule objects that are passed off as meat in the pasta sauces, I don’t like the artificial flavors in the brown mush that they call gravy. And yet, sometimes, I get the craving for fast food junk because nothing can be more radically different from home-cooked meals. And, there are times when, just for pure and extreme contrast, I crave for everything on the other end of the food spectrum. That happens about once every two to three months.

Despite my lack of amor for fast food, I can’t be unfair. The man who conducted the experiment claimed that the fries stay in your body that way for that long. One YouTube commenter made more sense when he said that the human digestive system excretes gastric juices which break down the food. Right. Gastric juices mean acid, acid breaks down food and acid was absent from the jar in which the fries were kept. In short, the experiment was not exactly on the spot if it was meant to prove that McDonald’s fries are not digestible.

Next point – moisture. About eight out of every ten people I know who do the rounds of fast food outlets regularly agree that McDonald’s fries are a cut above the rest. They’re crispier, they don’t turn soggy as fast and they’re tastier. I disagree about the tastier part, of course, because I can’t find any natural potato flavor in McDonald’s fries at all. I only taste grease and salt when I eat them. And the same thing holds true for fries in a lot of other food food outlets, and even frozen fries from the supermarkets. I like fries made from fresh potatoes, large cut and preferably with the skin on – real fries made from real potatoes.

So what is my point about moisture? Okay. The thin uniformly cut fries that you can buy frozen in supermarkets have had a lot of moisture removed from them. Why? So that they can be kept longer, so that they cook faster and so that they don’t get soggy as fast as fresh potatoes do. That’s the kind of fries many fast food outlets use. Bags and bags of frozen fries are delivered everyday and these are what go into the deep fryers. If you’re observant, you may have seen the attendants pouring the contents of these bags into the fryers.

Moisture causes anything to decompose faster. That’s why herbs are dried and sold in jars with airtight containers – to prolong the shelf life. That’s why fish are dried and salted – to make them last longer. Take away the moisture from potatoes and the effect is the same – it takes longer for them to rot. You might want to note too that frozen fries in supermarkets already contain sodium. As with dried fish, salt helps preserve food.

None of these, of course, say that fast food items are healthy. They’re not – period. But if we have to show that they’re not, let’s stick with facts about fat content and calories and non-compliance with the recommended food pyramid rather than through muddled experiments.

And it’s not as though the McDonald’s YouTube video is the first of its kind. There was another about microwave ovens that have been circulating in emails about an experiment using water from the tap, on the one hand, and water that had been microwaved, on the other, to water plants. According to the email, the plant that had been watered with tap water grew while the other watered with microwaved water died. The implication, of course, is that microwaving alters the natural state of food. And it ends with a warning that microwave manufacturers won’t tell you things like that.

Again, to separate fact from fiction, I am not a fan of microwave ovens. We gave away ours and we lived without one for years. I only bought a new one because our stove uses LPG, does not have an electric plate and, when we run out of LPG, at least I can heat water in the microwave for my coffee. What I don’t use the microwave for is cooking. Not for any health consideration but simply because I hate the texture of food that has been cooked in the microwave. I even hate bread that has been reheated in the microwave.

But, as with the McDonald’s french fries video, just because I don’t like microwave ovens doesn’t mean I’ll immediately believe every negative claim about it and forward to all my contacts emails such as the one about the plant that thrived and the plant that died.

The thing is, and this is something I’ve been saying for years, everyone has a claim and the claim will always favor whatever it is that the claimant is selling or fighting against. It’s all about business, who’s making money, who’s losing money and how best to get rid of the competition.

You have non-organic farmers in a battle against organic farmers over claims that organic fruits and vegetables are healthier than non-organic ones. There’s the surprising announcement by chocolate manufacturers claiming the health benefits of dark chocolate when business started sliding in this generation of health nuts who stay away from chocolates. You have coffee producers saying that coffee has even more anti-oxidants than green tea when the latter started to take the lion’s share of the beverage market. You get the idea.

The really sad part? We can’t even rely on the expert opinion from the members of the scientific and medical communities because they too have become suspect after news exploded about how doctors allow their names to be used in bylines of studies prepared by people who had been paid by business entities to advance their interests.

What can we believe then? Oh, I don’t know. Me, I have this motto: I do as I damn well please.

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