Did I really Eat That? While reading the excerpt, Why the Fries Taste Good from the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, one finds themselves on a journey of the evolution of the french fry. At the beginning of the excerpt, Schlosser writes about a young boy named J. R. Simplot who built a potato empire from nothing and how his many advances in the potato industry made the frozen french fry available to fast food chains everywhere. Schlosser then investigates the many “natural” and “artificial” flavors that are added to almost everything we eat in today’s society. Have we given in to the “artificial” flavors created in a lab?
In a society of convenience and eating on the run, do we care if it came from a bottle or from the real deal? How do all the lab created flavors really affect our health? Schlosser tells the readers about a man, John Richard Simplot, ”America’s great potato baron”(Schlosser) who dropped out of school and left home at the age of fifteen. Simplot found work as a potato sorter with a “shaker sorter,” a hand-held device in the town of Declo, Idaho. As the potato industry was getting started in the 1920’s, Idaho’s warm nights, cool days and good soil made it a perfect place to grow Russet Burbank Potatoes.
In 1928, Simplot and his landlord, Maggart purchased an electric potato sorter to sort potatoes, but soon after they had a falling out and Simplot won the potato sorter with the flip of a coin and with that, Simplot was potato farming by himself. He traveled the countryside sorting potatoes for farmers and buying, selling, and shipping potatoes and onions. In 1941 Simplot went to Burbank, California to see why the Burbank Corporation was buying so many of his onions. He found that they were using prune dryers to make dehydrated onions.
Simplot opened his own dehydration plant in Caldwell, Idaho in 1941 and sold dehydrated onions to the U. S. Army. It is with this dehydration plant that Simplot’s company perfected a new method for drying potatoes and after the war he invested heavily in frozen food technology. Simplot hired Ray Dunlap and a team of chemists to develop a product that would yield the most potential profit, the frozen french fry. Considering this article is about the evolution of the French fry, what entity made the French fry the most popular food in America?
None other than McDonald’s, who for many years was selling its famous fries fresh cut. With the growth that McDonald’s faced, crew members spent most of their time peeling and slicing potatoes. The fast food giant then shifted toward buying fries that were cut and frozen. Schlosser describes, “(McDonald’s) used a mixture of about seven percent cotton-seed oil and ninety-three percent beef tallow which gave the fries their unique flavor and more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald’s hamburger”(Schlosser).
With all the bad publicity over the amount of cholesterol in their fries, Mc Donald’s switched to a pure vegetable oil. With this switch McDonald’s was faced with a new challenge, How to make the fries have that beef flavor the customers came to love? That’s where “Natural” and “Artificial” flavors came into play. All the food that we buy whether it be refrigerated, frozen, can goods, dry packaged, or fast food, will have “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor” among the list of ingredients. Schlosser explains “Both are man-made additives that give most processed food most of its taste. (Schlosser). The reason for this being that as food is processed, flavor is lost. Thus, the food flavoring industry has become highly lucrative and highly secretive. Every formula that each flavoring company formulates and the clients they serve are considered classified. The food industry want people to believe that the foods they taste, taste like that naturally, without the aid of flavoring or the unknown companies that are behind those flavors, which make the food taste how it does today.
The most startling thing to consider when it comes to food additives (flavor or aroma) is that so many different food additives are chemical compounds that are found in so many things that are not edible. Schlosser informs the readers “IFF manufactures the smell of six of the ten best-selling fine perfumes in the United States, including Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, Clinique’s Happy, Lancome’s Tresor…The basic science behind the scent of your shaving cream is the same as that governing the flavor of your TV dinner” (Schlosser) It is the manipulation of harmful chemicals that are hen added to things that we ingest as food without apparent thought to it is the factor that is most startling. Schlosser goes on to explain that “the Food and Drug Administration does not require flavor companies to disclose the ingredients of their additives, so long as all the chemicals are considered by the agency to be Generally Regarded as Safe. ” Did I really eat that? In reading this story I find myself wondering if I really want to eat fast food anymore. Eric Schlosser makes a very good argument for why we should not eat over-processed food.
Certainly, the reason behind his writing of this excerpt is to inform us to the lengths that some companies will go to make more and more money with less regard for the safety of the public. When the typical artificial strawberry flavor contains fifty artificial flavors I’m left to wonder what does strawberry really taste like? What do most of the foods I eat really taste like? On top of another more important question what does all this flavoring do to one’s health? One thing is for sure, out of all the fast food french fries, McDonald’s are by far my favorite. The chemical compound they use is perfect to me.