I don’t know about you guys, but McDonald’s played a significant part in my very early years; having a role in my life at a similar level to my best friends, or perhaps even my parents. My first word may have been “Dada”, but my third was “cheese”, and you can be damned sure that 21-month-old me meant the McDouble Cheeseburger.
As my teeth began to sprout and I could start to order entire meals for myself, a clear favorite began to emerge when it came to things I could eat at McDonald’s. No, not the Big Mac. The McNuggets were great, but not them either; no, growing up, I was all about those delicious fries.
Whether I went for the Big Mac or the Big Tasty, the McNuggets or the criminally underrated Filet O’Fish, my meal would always go with a generous helping of fries. Of course, before I got anywhere the bun or patty I had guzzled down the golden fried potato first; for me, to leave your french fries stale was a tragedy unlike no other.
Fast forward to the present day, and as my life as changed, so too has my association with McDonald’s. Sure, I still step underneath the Golden Arches regularly (one might even say too regularly), but french fries have taken a back seat to new sandwiches, the McFlurry, or simply a metric buttload of McNuggets.
Don’t get me wrong; french fries are still pretty good, but Adult Me just doesn’t enjoy them as much as Younger Me did. It’s almost as if they tasted better back when I was a wee lad, isn’t it? Well, it appears that idea is more than just me speaking through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia; McDonald’s fries actually did taste better back then.
Let’s assume that you grew up in the early 90s; living life in the year 1992. Nirvana are the biggest band in the world, Disney’s Aladdin is still pretty fresh in the memory, and McDonald’s french fries were a huge part of your life. All pretty great, I agree, but your developing little child brain may not have been aware of the dilemma gripping the food industry at that moment in time.
The early 90s saw an increase in consumer awareness of what people liked to put in their bodies, and 25 years ago, there was a big pushback against saturated fats. They had been linked to heart disease among other things, and businesses were attempting to replace their cooking methods with healthier ones. One of those businesses was McDonald’s.
Famed author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell spoke out on the podcast Revisionist History to lament the change in McDonald’s cooking methods, focusing on the humble french fry which underwent that health change in 1992. “They went from frying them in beef tallow to frying them in some combination of vegetable oil,” he said, claiming the change “destroyed” the french fry.
“As you dig into this, what you realize is that that is not an inconsequential move. It’s not like when you’re frying an egg where it doesn’t really matter what you fry it in. A fried egg is a fried egg. A french fry is a combination of a potato and some kind of cooking element. The thing you fry it in becomes a constituent part of the fry.”
It turns out that the supposed healthier option was entirely in vain: Gladwell described the vegetable oil craze as being “false” compared to the beef tallow, meaning that not only did we lose the superior recipe; we apparently lost it for no reason.
Still, Gladwell hopes that McDonald’s will realise the error of their ways.”If they had any balls at all, they would turn around and say, ‘We were wrong, and we’re going back to fries the old way,'” the author said, and we tend to agree with him on this occasion (though not exactly in those words).
Depriving us of a more delicious form of french fries all in the name of false health isn’t great, but it’s not too late for us to be Lovin’ It, just as we were in decades gone by.