Fast Food Fries Taste Worse Because of One Angry Customer
Elders speak of a time, years ago, when McDonald’s fries tasted good. The reason, so they say, was the chain used to cook the stuff in beef tallow, a special mixture called Formula 47, which imbued the fries with a buttery beefy flavor. That, however, ended in 1990, following a campaign waged by one man.
His name was Phil Sokolof. He grew rich running his own manufacturing company, then he had a heart attack at 43 and devoted the rest of his life to heart health. He sold the company that bore his name and sank $1 million into what he called the National Heart Savers Association.
He’d go on to spend $15 million campaigning against fat and cholesterol. That’s a hell of a lot (he was estimated to be worth $5 million or less when he died), and it includes one PSA he bought at the 2000 Super Bowl for $2.5 million, urging people to take drugs to lower their cholesterol.
Uh, we don’t know if that’s the best use of your money, Phil. Kind of feel like drug companies are better able to foot that bill.
Either way, Sokolof targeted milk and burgers, and he fought especially hard against fries. Beef tallow was terrible for your heart, he claimed. McDonald’s switched to vegetable oil for their fries in 1990, and while they denied this was in response to Sokolof, he took out ads afterward congratulating himself, and newspapers do credit him with how fast-food chains overall switched to vegetable oil for fries.
There’s some irony to this story, though. No, we’re not talking about how Sokolof himself ended up dying of heart disease (that’s kind of the opposite of irony, and anyway, he was 82). The irony is that the oil they switched to for the next 18 years was even worse for the heart than beef tallow. It contained trans fats, the awfulness of which we didn’t realize at the time.
Even the oil fast-food chains use today, while better than trans fat oil, might not be better for you than beef tallow, or at least not better enough to outweigh the loss in taste. No one’s ordering fries because they want a healthy option. You might say that at least skipping animal fat makes the fries vegan, but you’d be wrong — McDonald’s fries do contain some non-vegan “beef flavor,” because they do know taste still matters a bit.
Overall, then, while Sokolof thought he’d won big, it was pretty much a lose-lose situation for everyone else.
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