Every Day is a Food Day

French Fries: Our Favorite Side Piece

May 04, 2021 Van Valin Productions & YumDay Season 2 Episode 15
Every Day is a Food Day
French Fries: Our Favorite Side Piece
Show Notes Transcript

We’re back! Today we’re getting salty as we kick off Season 2 talking about  the true hero of any fast food meal, the French Fries! But first….are they even French? Lia Ballentine tells us about the national food holidays celebrating French Fries and honoring the sacred potato (our favorite tuber), including some very passionate mashed potato wrestlers. Plus fries’ international origin story, an 18th century Frenchman’s marketing campaign to build love for the spud (#spudlove), the enslaved chef who brought french fries to America via the White House and the early 2000s "controversy" about its name (remember "freedom fries"?).  And we can’t talk about french fries without talking about those Golden Arches. In the Deep Dish, Anna Van Valin dusts off her Foodlosopher hat and tells us the story of the supersized McDrama of the McDonald’s french fry:  the superhero training montage it goes through before it even gets to the restaurant, its humble burger stand beginnings, controversial founder Ray Kroc, a very public fight over fat, and even international religious outrage. That ketchup packet shortage is only the beginning. Welcome to Season 2!

More info from the show:
-Watch a video of how McDonald's french fries are made (including the potato canon) here.
-Watch some very passionate Mashed Potato Wrestling stars talk about their craft.
-Learn more about the founding of McDonald's in The Founder,  starring Michael Keaton, Laura Dern & Nick Offerman  in  

Connect with us!
-Want to support our women and BIPOC-created independent podcast? Buy us a coffee!
-For more great content about the stories & foods we talk about on the show (plus a peek BTS) follow us at @FoodDayPod on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook or check out our webpage.
- It's a GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a special gift box from our friends at Pantry Party, filled with exciting ingredients to elevate your meals.
-Join our mailing list to keep up with all the exciting things we have planned for this season.

ANNA 0:00:01 
So, just to sum up, you've been through a cannon, water knives, a chemical bath, flash frying, and then a 50-yard long freezer tunnel.

LIA 0:00:12 
That sounds like a terrifying amusement park or something, like.

ANNA 0:00:15
I mean, those potatoes should have some superpower, right?


Hi everyone, from Yumday and Van Valin Productions, welcome to season 2 of Every Day is a Food Day! I’m your host, Anna Van Valin. 

LIA 0:00:45 
And I’m your other host, Lia Ballentine. And today we’re gonna get a little salty. 

ANNA 0:00:50 
Because in the season premiere, we’re talking about french fries.

LIA 0:00:58 
I’m going to tell you about all the holidays celebrating French Fries, the history of the potato, how a Frenchman helped build up love for the spud, the story of the enslaved man who brought French fries to America and the White House, and the early 2000s controversy about its name. 

ANNA 0:01:12 
We can’t talk about french fries without talking about those Golden Arches. In the Deep Dish, I’m going to dust off my Foodlosopher hat and tell you the epic journey of the McDonald’s french fry: its humble burger stand beginnings, controversial founder Ray Kroc, a very public fight over fat, and even international religious outrage. Trust us, there’s McDrama.

LIA 0:01:38
Be sure to subscribe and help us get the word out about the show by sharing it with anyone who loves food, podcasts - or both! To help other listeners find it, leave a rating and review.  

ANNA 0:01:47 
For more great content about the foods and stories we talk about on the show, and to get a peek behind the scenes, connect with us on social media by following @FoodDayPod, and check out the links in the show notes to our website and mailing list. We're here. It's season 2.

LIA 0:02:18 
Guys, we're back!

ANNA 0:02:19 
We're so excited! There's so many more foods.

LIA 0:02:22 
So awesome.

ANNA 0:02:24 
I know you were worried we might run out of food, don't worry.

LIA 0:02:27 
It was scary.

ANNA 0:02:28 
We were like, We've done bacon. What's left?

LIA 0:02:31
And fruit cake. Alright, we reached the end.

ANNA 0:02:34 
Did we peak with fruitcake? Oh, God. But we thought, you know, is our work here done, but no, it wasn't done, and we thought a lot about... What we had covered last time, the foods that we've done, the themes that started coming out, all the connections we started making, and we wanted to bring you guys something that was building on all that, but also all kinds of new fresh things, so the foods we're gonna talk about... This season are awesome. You're gonna love them. And beverages, let's be real. There's like...

LIA 0:03:09 
I mean, we have to have at least one drink.

ANNA 0:03:11 
There's at least one episode of beverages that we will be sampling as we record.

LIA 0:03:17 
Yeah! As we learned from the wine episode.

ANNA 0:03:20 
See, it's easier for you 'cause you go first with the food holidays, so you're not gonna be completely trashed...

LIA 0:03:28
We can flip-flop that particular episode.

ANNA 0:03:34 
Imma have to sip real slow.

LIA 0:03:37 
You gotta pace yourself.

ANNA 0:03:38 
I gotta pace myself until we get to the deep dish, we get to the deep dish and I'm gonna be like, I don't know, man. Food stories, people's stories. I love you.

LIA 0:03:45
I love you. That's the best kind of drunk though.

ANNA 0:03:50 
It really is positive drunk, you know, for a while I was on Ambien and people did some crazy shit on Ambien and I definitely did the eating and drinking on Ambien, I would eat an entire bag of tortilla chips and not realize it till I saw the bag in the trash or like the bottle of wine in the recycling. But one of the things that I would do is I would just get on social media, and love on people, I don't know why, Ambien made me really supportive to that and you would think I'd get in fights or say embarrassing things, and instead I was like, “I just wanna tell you, you're doing great. I'm really proud of you.”

LIA 0:04:28 
They're like “Anna’s on Ambien again.”

ANNA 0:04:31 
They are like, “go to sleep.” But we've got categories of foods, we did realize we had not included any fruits or vegetables last time...

LIA 0:04:42 
I know, and we wanna make sure we promote a healthy and balanced diet.

ANNA 0:04:50 
Breakfast foods were overrepresented with donuts, bacon, and maple syrup, which... I mean, write what you know.

LIA 0:04:57 
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day they say, so...

ANNA 0:05:01 
It is and you need to know about that maple syrup black market. Yeah, we might have some guests.

LIA 0:05:07

ANNA 0:05:09 
Shit's gonna get crazy.

LIA 0:05:10 
It's gonna get really crazy and you're gonna be there for it.

ANNA 0:05:15 
Are you ready? You're gonna go down this road with us, wacky ride. 

LIA 0:05:19 
Buckle up.

ANNA 0:05:20
But, whatever you do, if you haven't already, please join us on our social media @fooddaypod, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. We're all over the place. We got a mailing list. We're doing giveaways every month.

LIA 0:05:33 
Yes. Guys, so you have to go to yumday.co/podcast, join our mailing list, so you know when all of these fun things happen, also signing up for the mailing list enters you into a chance to win a fun prize from us.

ANNA 0:05:49 
Yes. What else we got on the website... Oh, also, we are an independent women and BIPOC owned... It feels weird for me to say that we're BIPOC owned and founded... Because I couldn't be less BIPOC. I actually sucked the melanin out of anyone who comes near me, it's really bad. But yeah, if you wanna support our women and BIPOC owned and created independent podcast, there's a button on there called Buy me a coffee, you can buy us a coffee more than one, make it recurring, do it one time to go towards the cost of production on this show, we would really appreciate it. And love you forever.

LIA 0:06:35 
Yeah, thank you for your support.

ANNA 0:06:37
Yeah, thanks, everybody. Thank you to everyone who's rated and reviewed and shared like, it's awesome. It's awesome. We love doing this.

LIA 0:06:44
We do!

ANNA 0:06:45  
But today, Lia, what are we talking about?

LIA 0:06:49
We're talking about French Fries.

ANNA 0:06:51 
French Fries. Yeah, I can't think of a better food to start our season off with.

LIA 0:06:57 
It's a wonderful food. It's like one of my favorites. One of the world's favorites.

ANNA 0:07:02 
It is literally the world's favorite. I'm gonna talk about McDonald's later on, 'cause you can't really talk about Fries without talking about McDonald's and according to the data, McDonald's french fries is the most popular menu item of any restaurant in the world.

LIA 0:07:19 
I believe it.

ANNA 0:07:20 

LIA 0:07:21
I believe that. I, like, have cravings for Mcdonald's french fries, specifically.

ANNA 0:07:25 
I think about them. I only have them a couple of times a year, and I think about them. If you got a burger and fries, if the burger is not great, that kind of sucks, but if the fries are bad, it's straight-up tragic.

LIA 0:07:39 
It ruins the rest of the meal.

ANNA 0:07:41 
Yeah, it really does. You can't come back from that. Because it's such a treat. It's so delicious. When it's good, it's so wonderful, and when it's disappointing, it's not like pizza, like pizza is not great, it's still good, it's f****** pizza.

LIA 0:07:54 
Yeah, you eat it cold the next day, it's fine.

ANNA 0:07:57 
Whatever, it's fine. But bad fries. I'm sad just thinking about it.

LIA 0:08:01 
Like, is there anything sadder than a limp french fry?

ANNA 0:08:06 
Or like a little hard, overdone Fry. That fry did not get to live to its full potential. That's very sad. Do you have a French fry preference? Location, brand.

LIA 0:08:19
You know that place in LA, Wurstkuche that is the brought place.

ANNA 0:08:21 

LIA 0:08:23 
So they had their double-fried Belgian fries.

ANNA 0:08:25 

LIA 0:08:26 
And Oh my God, amazing. So they're cut a little bit thick, but not too thick, and because they're double-fried, they're super extra crispy. But the inside is still like...

ANNA 0:08:38 
Pillowy soft?

LIA 0:08:39 
Uhuh. And fluffy, and then they have really great sauces to go along with their Belgian fries.

ANNA 0:08:44 
We found spicy ketchup that I'm in love with. It's like a spicy hipster ketchup. There's a man on the front with a mustache. So, and a monocle I believe.

LIA 0:08:56 
Oh, the monocle.

ANNA 0:08:57 
It's the monocle really puts it over the edge. He might be riding a penny-farthing. I know this is a fierce... We're gonna get strongly worded letters, I know that. I love In and Out, I love In and Out fries, you have to eat them immediately.

LIA 0:09:15 

ANNA 0:09:17 
Or they're gone because they don't do anything to their potatoes before they fry them, but that means that there's a window. 

LIA 0:09:24  
Right. That's true.

ANNA 0:09:25 
And so, yeah, the fries often don't make it home. So speaking of McDonald's, one of the strong affiliations I have for McDonald's is people outside of America saying weird things to me about America, so like everybody who's not from a country and has never been there, it doesn't know it, but has like, sort of, maybe weird ideas of what it's like, or what the people are like. Right, but the thing about America is everyone watches their TV and we are on the news, and we've been the superpower for a few decades, although that, tick-tock on that. One of the things is McDonald's, like I have some friends in Europe that refer to McDonald's as the American embassy, which is kind of funny, but they really do think that... I've been asked is, how many times a week I eat at McDonald's? They really do think that we just, we eat there all the time.

LIA 0:10:14 
Oh, wow.

ANNA 0:10:14
So, my favorite version of this was I was in Germany, I was in Cologne, my dad had a good friend there that we were visiting, and that friend had a son who was my age, so he offered to take me out, took me some restaurants. It was really cool. We met up with some of his friends, and, um, one of them was this girl, and she was really excited to talk to me 'cause she'd just done an internship in New York City, and before I lived in LA... So I was in New York City. She did an internship in Midtown at the Conde Nast building. So she was so excited, she was like, Oh, I love New York. All these things. All these things is like, Great. And she said, Do you know what the craziest thing about America was to me? And I was like, Oh God, let's hear it. And she said that you have grocery stores. And I was like, “What do you mean?” She was like, “I just couldn't believe that you had grocery stores. “She said, “first day I went to my internship and I got off the subway and I saw all these people coming up out of escalators with huge bags filled with food, filled with groceries,” and I was like, “Do you mean the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle?” She's like, “Yeah, I went in and there was just like, fruits and vegetables and a bakery and all the stuff,” and, And she said, I went over to where the fruit was and I picked up an Apple, and I turned to the woman next to me and I said... Do you know what this is?”  “And I was like, Okay, why did you think we didn't have grocery stores. What did you think we ate?” She was like, “I always thought you went to McDonald's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That was it.”

LIA 0:11:55

ANNA 0:11:56 
This honestly believed that everyone in America, only ate McDonald's breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

LIA 0:12:02 
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

ANNA 0:12:04 
Every Day. To the point that she was late on her first day of her internship because she had to wander into Whole Foods and marvel at watching Americans buy produce. 

LIA 0:12:14 
I think they think we just eat chicken nuggets.

ANNA 0:12:17 
It’s just chicken nuggets, jalapeno poppers. Living that dollar menu life. I was just like, that's the craziest thing about America to you? If I was gonna pick the craziest thing about America, it would not be the fact that we have apples.

LIA 0:12:333 
Yeah, I don't know.

ANNA 0:12:36 
The whole, it's easier to buy a machine gun than vote thing.

LIA 0:12:40 
Yeah, that's pretty crazy.

ANNA 0:12:42 
It was pretty high on my list anyway, yeah. I'm just imagining, we all have rickets. Liver deficiencies. Bones are like a Sink sponge. 

LIA 0:12:53 
But it is interesting how McDonald's is portrayed in media, and then if, you know, are living internationally, commercials and the things that you see about America really like, yeah McDonald's... That's all they eat. 

ANNA 0:13:06 
But, there's McDonald's all over the world. There has been for decades. It's certainly not an American thing anymore. And they all have different menus. That is something that I thought was interesting, was going into American-based fast-food restaurants in other countries to see what... What's on their dollar menu?

LIA 0:13:22 
Yeah. Like in the Philippines and McDonald's there has spaghetti, the Philipino spaghetti, and Philipinos love it.

ANNA 0:13:29 
You and your noodles. No noodles, no meal.

LIA 0:13:32 
Long-life gotta have a long life.

ANNA 0:13:34 
Long life.

LIA 0:13:35 
Get your Phillipino spaghetti at McDonald's.

ANNA 0:13:37 
I'll try it.

LIA 0:13:39 
It's sweet, like ketchup sweet.

ANNA 0:13:41 
What? Wait a minute.

LIA 0:13:47 
Alrighty, so what I'm going to talk about today, of course, I gotta start out with what are some of the crazy food holidays that are devoted to french fries? We have to... And of course, you can't talk about French fries without talking about the potato.

ANNA 0:14:01 
I can't wait. 

LIA 0:14:04 
You know how much I love potatoes. 

ANNA 0:14:07 
Alright, shall we kick off with some French fry celebrations?

LIA 0:14:10 
Oui oui. Alright, Anna. So French fries, we've got two days during the year that are all about French fries, there is a National French Friday, of course, on July 13th, which is basically a day to lure people to your food establishment with the offer of free fries. And I'm all about that.

ANNA 0:14:24 
I mean, that sounds like a full-proof plan.

LIA 0:14:26
Yeah, so I'm in support of National French Fry Day. And by the way, did you know that Americans eat on average 30 pounds of fries each year per person?

ANNA 0:14:34 
No, but I can see that. I can see that.

LIA 0:14:37 
I don't think I eat that much. Maybe I do, I don't know. And then there's national Julienne fries day on August 12, which celebrates the very thin skinny style of fry, also known as shoestring fries. But while there are only two fry-focused food holidays, there are a bunch of days dedicated to the potato, which makes sense because you can't really celebrate fries without first, honoring the potato. So we have national Tater tot day, February 2nd, National Potato lovers Day, February 8th, National cook a sweet potato day, February 22nd. And by the way, did you know that archaeologists in Peru dug up what they believed to be remnants of a sweet potato that date as far back as 8000 BC. 

ANNA 0:15:24 
Love those ruins.

LIA 0:15:25 
Yeah, and guess what... It was found in a cave. So maybe it's the same place where they found that old a** popcorn. So you have all those days in February... Because February is also National Potato Lovers Month and National Sweet Potato Month. You have national potato chip day, March 14, National Tater Day, which is also called Sweet Potato Day, and that's at the end of March. And this was a sweet potato celebration that goes way back to the 1840s. 

ANNA 0:15:51 
Oh, wow.

LIA 0:15:52 
Yeah, it was a trade day in parts of Kentucky because it was a day or a time period when people would buy and sell sweet potatoes, which were a cash crop in the area. So even today, they're still in a Tater day festival in Benton, Kentucky. 

ANNA 0:16:05 
Wow... Is that the oldest festival holiday that we've uncovered?

LIA 0:16:09
I think that's one of the oldest that we...

ANNA 0:16:10 
1840s. Amazing.

LIA 0:16:13 
There's national loaded potato month in May. National Potato day is August 19th, You have National Potato month in September that the state of Idaho promotes quite a bit. 

ANNA 0:16:24 
I bet.

LIA 0:16:25 
The National mashed potato day, October 18. One of my favorite days.

ANNA 0:16:30 
Are you gonna have your birthday legally changed to...

LIA 0:16:33 
I think I need to... I think my birthday needs to be Mashed Potato Day. And that day was started by an Idahoan, that brand of potato, that's sort of like my go-to if I wanted some kind of instant mashed potato, a little cheat, this was like a college food, the cheap flakes of potato in the packet that you could just mix up with hot water, and stir it.

ANNA 0:16:55  
That was one of the things I got when we were panic buying food last March.

LIA 0:16:59 
Oh, your potato flakes.

ANNA 0:17:00 
Yeah, a whole bunch of instant just to have hot water potatoes.

LIA 0:17:06 
That's all you need.

ANNA 0:17:07 
I think we've eaten them all by now. They are probably still good.

LIA 0:17:10 
They last for quite a while.

ANNA 0:17:11 
Good Doomsday food.

LIA 0:17:13
And if you don't eat them, you know that you can use them to make snow for television and film.

ANNA 0:17:17 

LIA 0:17:18 
Yeah. Did you know - here's an interesting instant mashed potato flake fact - that the snow in Home Alone was made of instant mashed potato flakes.

ANAN 0:17:26 

LIA 0:17:27 
Yeah, if you look closely, you can see where it is kind of clumpy.

ANNA 0:17:31 
You can see butter and chives?

LIA 0:17:33
Yeah, you see the chives raining down, but it was the most realistic thing to snow that could last a while.

ANNA 0:17:40
Well, I think before that they've been just using straight-up asbestos...

LIA 0:17:44 
Yeah, they were using asbestos.The instant potato flakes were a little bit safer than the asbestos.

ANNA 0:17:49 
That's good.

LIA 0:17:50 
Yeah, so you can eat it and you can use it as a movie effect. And then there are a ton of potato festivals throughout the year in cities across the United States. There's one called the Spring Valley potato fest in Ohio, and during the festival, they have a potato king and queen, a junior king and queen, and a prince and princess, so very similar to the Pumpkin pageant.

ANNA 0:18:08 
Love it.

LIA 0:18:09 
There's a mashed potato eating contest, which I feel like I should enter the next time...

ANNA 0:18:14 
You've been training your whole life for that, Lia.

LIA 0:18:16 
For decades. I got this... And they also have a potato car race, a potato derby, so people, like, put little wheels on their potatoes and race them down mini tracks. It's kind of cute. And then you have potato days in Minnesota, which Wanderlust travel magazine ranked as one of the top nine strangest food festivals in the world.

ANNA 0:18:35 

LIA 0:18:36
It also has a pageant. Just like the others… They also have a thing called the golden potato scavenger hunt. So they have a potato that's like bedazzled with little gold jewels, and they hide it somewhere in the Barnesville city limits in Minnesota. And if you find it, guys, you could get $100 in Barnesville bucks.

ANNA 0:19:00 

LIA 0:19:01 
Yeah, I think that that's probably equivalent to a million dollars, that's... Yeah.

ANNA 0:19:06  
Yeah, I mean, exchange rate, adjusting for inflation on Barnesville bucks is just through the roof.

LIA 0:19:13 
They have a mashed potato sculpture contest and mashed potato wrestling. I saw pictures and... It's kind of scary.

 CLIP 0:19:22  
Mashed Potato Wrestling

Speaker 1: Is holding the world championship of the universe. 

Speaker 2: Everyone’s got their eye on that belt and everyone is gonna take their chance to get a shot at their run. 

News Anchor: What started out as an idea to promote tourism in Minnesota, has blossomed, or budded if you will into something completely outrageous. 

Speaker 2: It's a bigger idea, it's food wrestling whereas if we went to Italy, we would wrestle in pasta, you know, it would be an away match, so we would be at a disadvantage. If they come here, we would wrestle in potatoes. We go to Japan, we would wrestle in sushi. You know, we go to Boston, it's clam chowder. 

News Anchor: For nearly ten years, Barnesville has hosted this event. But could they ever imagine it would spawn the Mashed Potato Wrestling Federation? 

Speaker 3: I'm un-undefeated. 

Speaker 4: And what does that mean? 

Speaker 3: I’ve never won. 

ANNA 0:20:14 
That sounds awesome.

LIA 0:20:15 
People getting at it in a baby pool of mashed potatoes.

ANNA 0:20:19 
Oh, that sounds so fun though!. I don't know if I would wanna fight somebody, but I'd roll around in that.

LIA 0:20:25
Yeah, I could sit in it and then just eat all the potato around me.

ANNA 0:20:29 
Is it warm? Are the mashed potatoes warm? Like a heated pool of mashed potatoes?

LIA 0:20:35 
Oh my gosh. 

ANNA 0:20:36 
If so, sign me the f*** up. I'm in.

LIA 0:20:40  
I’m in. There are potato festivals all over the US because they’re grown in nearly every state. But it turns out that half of America’s potatoes come from just two states: Idaho and Washington State! And that’s why both of states and their potato commissions have declared February as National Potato Lover’s Month. I mean, we knew about Idaho, but I didn’t realize that Washington State actually has some of the most productive potato fields in the world. So while Idaho grows the most potatoes, Washington grows more potatoes per acre than Idaho and the rest of the world. It’s all that wonderful volcanic soil.

ANNA 0:21:23 
I never would have thought.

LIA 0:21:25 
Yeah, so Washington State produces 20% of the US grown potatoes, and Idaho grows about 28%

ANNA 0:21:31 
Idaho, Idaho, step it up.

LIA 0:21:32 
I know Washington is like, catching up.

ANNA 0:25:35 
They are coming for ya.

LIA 0:21:36 
So there's obviously a lot to celebrate about the potato and the different ways we eat it. I think that most of us know that the potato originated in South America, in Peru, and it was a vegetable that had been domesticated thousands of years ago, as I mentioned before, you know the archeologist found that sweet potato remnant in a cave, that was like from 8000 BC, and actually, you know what, not that long ago, researchers found potato pieces in a cave on a 10000-year-old stone tool at an archeological site in Utah. So they think they found the world's oldest mashed potatoes. And what's crazy is that maybe this potato actually predates the Andien potato.

ANNA 0:22:19 
What? So maybe indigenous North Americans?

LIA 0:22:21 

ANNA 0:22:22 
Were farming or breeding some kind of potato. The plot thickens. I just love things like mashed potatoes or popcorn, where they're like, What if we destroyed it. Like popcorn, they're like, What if we just put it on fire, wait until it explodes, then ate it. Potatoes, they are like, What if we just stomped on it. Maybe it will taste better.

LIA 0:22:43 
Can you squish this?

ANNA 0:22:44 
Well, whoever did, thank you. Potatoes are a saga man, we will talk about this when we get to the McDonald's french fries, but there is drama... The potato is a drama queen.

LIA 0:22:56 
It really is. I mean, it went from, okay, South America, introduced to Europe in the 1500s, because the Spanish who went to Peru looking for gold were like, Well, we didn't find gold, but we'll take all of these potatoes instead... Which to me, I probably would do the same. Yeah, that is my gold. The potato is my gold. But, you know, now it did take a while for Europeans to really get into this idea of the potato. It wasn't really popular. It was hard to grow. When they did start growing it and started to use a new food, there were a lot of people who were a little worried about it because there were rumors, stories going around that you could get poisoned by potatoes, which you can.

BOTH 0:23:34 

LIA 0:23:35 
Yeah, there's a legend that a bunch of royal people were poisoned by potatoes because the cooks who didn't exactly know how to prepare them properly ended up not using the tuber part, 'cause it looked like a weird rock and instead served the stems and the leaves.

ANNA 0:23:51
No! That's the poisonous part.

LIA 0:23:54
That's the poisonous part. And so those people died. 

ANNA 0:24:00 
You gotta dig the eyes out, which sounds really graphic, but you gotta dig the eyes out of your spuds, people.

LIA 0:24:05 
Right. You gotta take them out.

ANNA 0:24:08 
Don't end up like those ancient royals.

LIA 0:24:10 
Yeah, because the toxic alkaloid, it's called solanine, is found in those eyes because it's the plant's way of defending itself against all these other animals, disease, and predators.

ANNA 0:24:24 

LIA 0:24:25 
The royals. So yeah, potatoes basically had a bad rap, they thought if it didn't kill you, then it caused some kind of disease, people thought it caused leprosy, and it was so bad that in the mid-1740s, even the French Parliament had banned the cultivation of potatoes. But around like, this time, there was a man who was a French army medical officer named Antoine Augustine Parmentier who decided that he was going to advocate for the potato, because at one point, during the Seven Years War, he was taken prisoner by depressions and fed only potatoes and he survived, so he thought that... Oh my gosh. They're feeding me potatoes. I've lived. This can't be bad, it actually gave me all the nutrients to get out of prison to live through this horrible ordeal. So he decided to become a potato champion. He was so fascinated by the potato that he did a study called the chemical examination of the potato, where he researched the benefits of the potato on people who had dysentery, and he wrote all about the nutritional benefits, he was able to, you know, start spreading the word about the potato through his studies in literature, and he even got to the point where he was able to get the potatoes in front of some very important people in Paris to show them that, Hey, potatoes can be edible and they're good for you, so what he would do... He's kind of like a marketing PR genius, actually. He would have these dinners and he would serve all potato dishes for all of the courses, but not just dinners for friends and family, he went for the influencers, right. He tried to go out and he hosted dinners for kings, queens, dignitaries in France, and for people across the globe, he made potatoes for Benjamin Franklin. When Ben Franklin was in Paris. Louis 16th, Marie Antoinette, and he even convinced King Louis to let him grow potatoes again. So here's where some of his publicity genius popped up, so he got the king's permission to plant 100 acres of potatoes outside of Paris, but what he did was convinced Louis that he needed to have troops guard the fields, so he had all of these troops surround the fields and then that caused other people to get really curious about what was going on, and it made local farmers eager to find out like what the heck are they farming over here?

ANNA 0:26:43 
It must be so valuable that soldiers have to protect it.

LIA 0:26:47
Exactly. One story I read said that Parmentier put a sign up outside that said, “No entry, this potato field belongs to the king,” and then at night when the troops would go off-duty, farmers would sneak in, steal the potatoes and then plant them back in their own fields, and that was Parmentiere's plan all along.

ANNA 0:27:07
You know what that sounds like to me: Reactance!!

LIA 0:27:11 
 Oh! It is reactance theory. 

ANNA 0:27:13 
Listeners, do you remember in the pumpkins episode, we talked about telling people that can't have something, makes them want it more. 

LIA 0:27:20 
Reactance. Callback!

“That’s a Callback!” Jingle

ANNA 0:27:25 
That also sounds like the name of a men's body wash.

LIA 0:33:30 
Mmmm. Are you wearing Reactance? 

ANNA 0:27:32 
It's for your hair. Face, beard and body. One soap. Reactance.

LIA 0:27:39 
Well, Parmentier knew all about what reactants could do, and he was able to really trick these people into grabbing the potatoes, making their own cuttings, and planting them back in their own farms. He kinda got the French to start loving the potato again and understanding like, Oh, this could be a good thing, they're very tasty and edible. There is different ways to cook them, and now they started to be grown all over the place, so, merci, beaucoup Monsieur Parmentière. Yeah, And so during this time with the potato starting to take over, you know, the fields and the dishes in the foods, we start to see fries make an appearance. But, where did these delicious fried cuts of potato come from... Because we call them french fries. Were they really from France? Or were they actually from Belgium, because research and stories point to Belgium as the birthplace of these fries.

ANNA 0:28:30 
Dun Dun Dun! But in Belgium, in much of Belgium, what language do they speak?

LIA 0:28:35
They do speak French.

ANNA 0:28:36 
They speak French.

LIA 0:28:38
So that's one of the theories. Yeah, is that it was a misnomer that French fries were a result of American soldiers who were stationed in Belgium at the time, during WWI were eating fries there, but because the Belgian spoke French soldiers just referred to the potatoes as French fries. There's also another story that there was a little village in Belgium, where people used to fry any tiny fish from a nearby river, but when the river froze during a really harsh winter, they ended up taking potatoes, they cut them up into little fish shapes and fried them instead. 

ANNA 0:29:10
That's Ingenious. Way to adapt, way to improvise. I love it.

LIA 0:29:15 
Est Voila! I'll let people decide what they want to believe, but how did the french fry end up in the United States?

ANNA 0:29:23 

LIA 0:29:24 
That's the big question. We can thank James Hemings, one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves for the fries. Listeners, you might have heard us mention James Hemings before because we mentioned him really briefly in our bonus episode about Zephyr Wright and the Texas chili. And when Jefferson was still a diplomat to France. Jefferson actually took Hemings with him to Paris so that Hemings could study French cooking and then bring all of that knowledge back to the United States.

ANNA 0:29:47 
It should be noted also that Hemings was Thomas Jefferson's kind of brother-in-law and cousin. The Jefferson family tree is more like a wreath.

LIA 0:29:57 
Yeah. Jefferson enrolled his slave slash relative, Hemings, who was around 19 at the time, in a three-year apprenticeship to learn the art in a French cookery, and James Hemings was actually the first American to be trained as a french chef, and he did this training from 1784 to 1787. And it also happened to be the same time when potatoes were making their big comeback in France. So, after Hemings finished his apprenticeship, he became Jefferson's chef de cuisine. He did all the cooking at the embassy, the American Embassy there in Paris for Jefferson, which meant that he cooked for all the visiting diplomats in Paris, all of the royalty. It was 1789 when they returned to the US, and of course, that meant that Hemings took all of his years of French cooking skills now, plus they're saying like, 150 French recipes, a whole collection of recipes came back with him to the US.

ANNA 0:30:47 
Oh, wow.

LIA 0:30:50 
And when he started working for Jefferson in Monticello, he basically incorporated the French cooking and did a fusion with the Virginian cooking there. So while people credit Jefferson for being this foodie President and for introducing french fries to the United States, we probably really need to give that credit to James Hemings because it was Hemings who, well number one actually cooked it and took back all of the French food and French styles. And in addition to fries, he introduced things like creme brulee, meringues, French-style whipped creams, European-style macaroni and cheese, and even ice cream. He also introduced the modern stove to America, because in France they were using these bigger stew stoves, you know, multiple burners and everything, and it was the technology that he also brought back to America. And did you know in 1790, he also cooked one of the most famous dinners in American history? He cooked the dinner that was meant to be the reconciliation between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

ANNA 0:31:46

LIA 0:31:49 
/Yeah. Lin Manuel? Where was James Hemings?

ANNA 0:31:50 
 Hello? /Where was that scene?

LIA 0:31:54 
So Hemings continued to cook for Jefferson for a few years at Monticello, but Jefferson then agreed to free Hemings once he was able to train a replacement chef for him in French cooking, so Hemings ended up training his brother Peter, who then took over as chef. So his Brother Peter was probably also what, cousin, son.

ANNA 0:32:10 
Cousin, son, brother-in-law.

LIA 0:32:13
I don't know.

ANNA 0:32:14
Nephew? I can't keep track.

LIA 0:32:16 
So then Hemings ended up being freed and he left, so when Jefferson was elected President, it said that he had reached out to ask James Hemings to serve as chef at the White House, but when Hemings reached back out to ask about, well, what will be my wages and what are the working conditions gonna be like... Jefferson didn't reply. So Hemings did not go to the White House.

ANNA 0:32:36 
Maybe it got uhh, maybe it got lost in the mail. I mean, it's not like Jefferson would have expected somebody to work for free.

LIA 0:32:43 
Right, exactly. 

ANNA 0:32:44 
So before James Hemings, before Jefferson came back, obviously, we've been an English colony up until a few years before that, and so our cooking style was more in the English vein, right, a lot of boiling and things like that, rather than sauteing and using butter as we know from Julia, butter was clutch in French cooking. Right, and then because they were sort of high society that got emulated by the people and that's how it spread.

LIA 0:33:11 
Yeah, 'cause now you're doing all of these other things like the brazing and the sautees, even just technique, in general, is very different, then anything that we had here. So it was really Hemings who kind of inspired a new, you know, generation of professional Black chefs who are really key to establishing what we have here now in America, that's fine dining.

ANNA 0:33:30  

LIA 0:33:31 
So it's interesting if you just think about the French fry. How political it is and where it comes from. I mean, and it still is a political issue today, I mean, if you recall, Anna, not too long ago. Remember 2003?

ANNA 0:33:45 
Way back when?

LIA 0:33:47 
Remember 2003?

ANNA 0:33:50 
Way back when vintage times.

LIA 0:33:54 
Vintage times when George W was in office...

ANNA 0:33:57 
Aw man, remember when we thought he was the worst that we could do?

LIA 0:33:59 
Yeah, yeah when he was like, Hey guys, lets invade Iraq and start a war. 

ANNA 0:34:05 
Just cause. 

LIA 0:34:06 
And then remember how France was opposed to it?

ANNA 0:34:07 
Oh yeah.

LIA 0:34:07 
And they didn't want to join in. And that made a lot of people angry. So remember the response?

ANNA 0:34:13 
I remember something called Freedom fries.

LIA 0:34:17 
Yeah, so we made fries political again because at the Capitol Building there was a Republican representative at the house, who was also in charge of operations at the Capital so it meant that he like, that he managed the cafeteria. He decided that the word French needed to be removed from all of the menus, instead of calling things french fries, it needed to be freedom fries, and instead of French toast, the cafeteria had to serve freedom toast.

ANNA 0:34:44 
Because nothing celebrates freedom like invading a sovereign nation.

LIA 0:34:49

ANNA 0:34:50 
And also the fact that we're calling french fries, freedom fries when the person who brought French cooking and really the potato into our diet was not a free person, was an enslaved person. 

LIA 0:35:01 

ANNA 0:35:01  
Oh, sweet irony. I bet they all got it, I bet they all really understood, the many levels to what they were saying, and it wasn't just a weird empty gesture.

LIA 0:35:09 
Oh, of course. I loved that there was a spokesperson for the French embassy who was interviewed about this during that time, and her response was pretty great, 'cause she was just like, well, is it even worth a comment, first of all, as we're really working hard on more serious issues, you know, like peace, life, and we're not working on potatoes, and then she, of course, had to note that French fries are Belgian. So.

ANNA 0:35:32 
Good job, Republican Congressman. I bet that's his like one claim to fame, I bet that's the one thing he did his whole time. He's going around Iowa, or wherever the hell he was from. Remember freedom fries, that was me. All me.

LIA 0:35:46 
He probably has a framed photo of his cafeteria menu...

ANNA 0:35:49 
Yeah, the little menu that somebody put out on a f****** ditto machine that says “freedom fries”. He just went around with a sharpie.

LIA 0:35:55
That's probably it.

ANNA 0:35:57 
He's like Freedom Fries! I'm gonna do red, white and blue! That was great, Lia! Thank you for sharing your spud love with us.

LIA 0:36:10
Of course! Hashtag spud love.

ANNA 0:36:13 
Hashtag spud love! Get it trending. Coming up next, it’s time for the Deep Dish! Since this is the first episode of this season I wanted to quickly explain what the Deep Dish is all about. This is the part of the show where I go down a research rabbit hole related to the food we’ve chosen for the episode, and usually find some incredible story or person or theme that I get very excited about. I refer to myself as a “Foodlosopher” partially because it makes me feel better about not being able to cook. But also because one of the reasons that I’m passionate about food is, we’ve said that before, that it is a human constant, it runs through every part of our lives, cultures, economies, religions, traditions, relationships - everything. So looking deeply at food is a way to learn more about the world and each other. And I think is really cool. 

LIA 0:37:20 
Very cool. 

ANNA 0:37:21 
When we decided to talk about french fries for this episode. I immediately knew I wanted to talk about McDonald’s french fries, I mean they are the golden standard… But then when I started doing my research I was like, “Holy shit, this is the perfect example of what we’re talking about” because, the story of the McDonald’s french fries touches on all of those things: economics, religion, agriculture, even relationships. Believe me, when I say, there’s McDrama in this story. 

LIA 0:37:55 
Oh yeah? 

ANNA 0:37:56 
Get ready. 

LIA 0:37:57 
I’m ready. I wanna know. 

ANNA 0:37:58
McDonald’s itself we all know is just a behemoth, right? But it’s probably bigger than we probably realize. So, I’m gonna read you some data. 

LIA 0:38:07 
Oh, I like data.

ANNA 0:38:08 
Some data. McDonald’s feeds 1% of the entire world’s population every day. 

LIA 0:38:16
What? That is a lot of people to feed every day. 

ANNA 0:38:21 
That is a lot of people in a lot of places. And that includes 9 million pounds of french fries.

LIA 0:38:27 

ANNA 0:38:28 
They are the world's largest food seller, one of the world's largest employers, and get this because of Happy Meals, they are the world's largest toy distributor.

LIA 0:38:39
No way. 

ANNA 0:38:40 
Yes! In 2017 they distributed 1.5 billion toys in a year.

LIA 0:38:46 
Oh my god. Take that Santa Claus. 

ANNA 0:38:50 
So here is my question: Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald, have you ever seen them in the same room? 

LIA 0:38:57 
I think you’re onto something.

ANNA 0:38:59 
I think we’ve uncovered a McConspiracy. And yes, I’m loving this. Okay, I’ll take a pause. 

LIA 0:39:06 
Da, da, da, da, da. 

ANNA 0:39:07
Don’t sue us McDonald's. There are 39,000 McDonald's locations worldwide and it’s the world’s most valuable food company, racking up 130 billion dollars in 2019. Which is almost 3x as much as it’s nearest competitor, Starbucks, which brought in a mere 46 billion. 

LIA 0:39:31 
What? Starbucks, come on. I mean you gotta raise that PSL game if you wanna come close to McDonald's.  

ANNA 0:39:37
Right? Get in there. I’m trying to do my part with my iced coffees, Starbucks. Year-round. Even in winter. And McDonald’s french fries are the world’s most popular restaurant item of all time.

LIA 0:39:50
Alright. Well, there we go. I can’t think of a better place to start the season. 

ANNA 0:39:56 
I know. Alright, let's talk about it. So first, let's meet the McDonald's french fry because by the time it gets to your mouth, this little potato has been on a journey. It's been through some s***. Okay, so to start, McDonald's only uses whole non-GMO potatoes, baking potatoes like an Idaho Russet potato, although it could...

LIA 0:40:17 
It could be a Washington state potato!

ANNA 0:40:18 
It could be a Washington State Russet. We don't know. I didn't dig that deep. Okay, so those whole potatoes are harvested, then they get washed and peeled and sliced. To get the uniform shape of the McDonald's french fry, it is sliced by shooting the potatoes through a potato cannon...

LIA 0:40:34 

ANNA 0:40:35 
At 60 to 70 miles per hour where it goes through hundreds of high-pressure water knives. Water knives, so water that is so high-pressured and moving so fast that it acts like a knife. 

LIA 0:40:46 

ANNA 0:40:47 
So once it's been torn asunder, it is given what they call a chemical bath, which is not a great... That's not a great title.

LIA 0:40:55 

ANNA 0:40:55
But that is to give it a uniform color and taste, so there's 19 ingredients in it, and they're mostly things like a little bit salt, dextrose, which is just a sugar that's derived from corn, and something called sodium acid pyrophosphate, which sounds very terrifying.

LIA 0:41:12 

ANNA 0:41:14 
But, it's a good guy, because normally, when potatoes are fried, they develop something called acrylamide. Which is a carcinogen, the sodium acid pyrophosphate keeps that from growing. So they've been f****** wolverined into their slices, then they've had their chemical bath. And now, in order to prevent bacterial growth and to make it easier to cook when they get to the restaurants, they are partially fried.

LIA 0:41:39 
Oh, okay.

ANNA 0:41:40 
And then it goes through a 50-yard long flash-freezing tunnel.

LIA 0:41:45 

ANNA 0:41:46 
So, just to sum up, you've been through a cannon, water knives, a chemical bath, flash frying, and then a 50-yard long freezer tunnel.

LIA 0:41:57 
That sounds like a terrifying amusement park or something, like.

ANNA 0:42:00
I mean, those potatoes should have some superpower, right?

LIA 0:42:04 

ANNA 0:42:05  
So like I said, by the time it gets to the restaurant, it's been through some s***. They are deep-fried for three minutes, and then they're allowed to sit in the tray max, seven minutes, but they're usually sold and eaten before seven minutes. Someone who's obsessed with french fries, talk about drama, is Malcolm Gladwell, writer for the New Yorker, podcaster, revisionist history.

LIA 0:42:29 
Of course, that dude is obsessed.

ANNA 0:42:30 
He writes all those books that are with the white covers that are on the front table in Barnes and Noble. So he's obsessed with french fries and the McDonald's french fry. He had an episode of his podcast called “McDonald's broke my heart.” He explains why frying the potato creates this beautiful french fry. He says When a potato is deep-fried, the heat of the oil turns the water in the potato to steam, which causes the hard granules of starch inside the potato to swell and soften, that's why the inside of the potato is fluffy and light, but at the same time, the outward migration of the steam limits the amount of oil that can come into the fry, preventing the fry from getting greasy and concentrating the oil on the surface where it turns the outer layer brown, and crisp and delicious. 

LIA 0:43:25 

ANNA 0:43:25 
That was a very technical explanation though, so I think instead, I'm just gonna let this 1987 McDonald's commercial, sing the story to you...

CLIP 0:43:33
McDonald's French Fries Advertisement 1987
It starts with a potato. Our very best potato. It’s appealing peeling peeling. McDonald’s takes it. McDonald makes it. French fries. Fry them hot, turn them brown. Flip ‘em up, shake ‘em round. Soft and good. Put them hot. Nice and crisp. Look at this. Can't wait to try McDonald’s french fries. 

ANNA 0:44:03 
Now that we’ve met the french fry, let’s meet the man who brought them to those 39K stores worldwide: Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s franchises. Ray was a complicated character, one might argue he was a garbage person, we’ll let you decide. Actually, if you want to know more about Ray’s life we recommend you go watch a movie called The Founder. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc. Laura Dern is in it and she's amazing. Nick Offerman tries to be serious, it’s great. 

LIA 0:44:33 
Ron Swanson. 

ANNA 0:44:35 
Ron Swanson. 

LIA 0:44:37 
Our man of bacon. He is our man of bacon. 

ANNA 0:44:39 
He is a great man of bacon! In 1954, Ray was a 52-year-old, door-to-door salesman trying to sell milkshake multi-mixers to restaurants. And he heard one day that someone in San Bernardino, CA had ordered 8 at once. And he could barely sell one of these things, so he was like “I gotta check this out.” Turns out, the order came from 2 brothers named Dick and Mac McDonald. They ran a burger stand that was basically the culmination of their life’s work: a restaurant where every customer could have a fresh, hot, delicious meal of a burger, fries, and drink, in under a minute. And, when Ray got to the restaurant, he was blown away by two things: One: the efficiency of the systems the brothers had created. There were no servers, no silverware, no menus - but the food was consistent, delicious, and FAST. 

LIA 0:45:38  

ANNA 0:45:39 
And the second thing was: the fries. Fries are tricky, so he could not believe they were making perfect fries over and over again. In Ray's memoir, he wrote “The McDonald's french fry was in an entirely different league. They lavished attention on it, I didn't know it then, but one day I would too. The french fry would become almost sacrosanct to me. It's preparation, a ritual to be followed religiously.” 

LIA 0:46:07 
Wow. This is already like really intense. 

ANNA 0:46:11 
Do you already need a break? 

LIA 0:46:13 
Wow, like sacrosanct french fry. Geez. 

ANNA 0:46:16 
And you know why the fries were so delicious?

LIA 0:46:19 
I don't know.  

ANNA 0:46:20 
Because the McDonald’s brothers were cheap. They were cheap. That was it, guys. The most popular way to do this was hydrogenated vegetable oil, but that was expensive and spoiled easily, so instead they used a mixture that was only seven percent vegetable oil and 93% beef tallow.

LIA 0:46:45 
Well, no wonder it was so delicious. 

ANNA 0:46:49 
Lia, I would eat anything if you fried it in 93% beef fat. So the beef tallow was cheaper, it had a longer shelf life, and compared with oil, hard fat is much more stable like we said, and there's less of a risk of...

LIA 0:47:05 

ANNA 0:47:08 

“Thats a Callback” Jingle

Our favorite word!

ANNA 0:47:15
We couldn't start the season without a rancidification callback.

DJ Horn Sound Effect

Come on, guys. You knew it was gonna happen.

ANNA 0:47:24 
You knew it was coming. Say it with us. Use it in a sentence this week. Rancidification. The McDonald’s brothers’ food preparation systems meant that their whole operation could be replicated. In other words….

LIA 0:47:39
They could franchise, baby!

ANNA 0:47:41 
Franchise! The brothers were really skeptical about franchising, they’d had businesses fail that way in the past and this McDonald’s burger stand was their baby, but Ray convinced them. So in 1955 he went back to the Midwest, started opening up restaurants, and sure enough, the thing that proved the trickiest was nailing the uniformity of the fries. He had kept using the beef tallow mixture the brothers had been using because literally why would you change it?

LIA 0:48:11 

ANNA 0:48:12 
But, he renamed Formula 47, but french fries are more than oil. you've got that other delicate diva, the potato. 

LIA 0:48:21 
 That’s true. That’s true. 

ANNA 0:48:23 
The size, shape, starch content, water content all of that affects whether the potato has the potential to become a perfect McDonald’s fry or a limp, soggy mess. Ray was obsessed with getting these right. He had guys go out to supplier farms with Hydro-gauges and test the potatoes’ water content. He created a potato “curing process,” like, curing salami. 

LIA 0:48:48
But with potatoes. 

ANNA 0:48:49 
Yeah, but with potatoes. And it involved storing rows and rows of shelves of potatoes sitting under fans in a controlled temperature room. And he hired an engineer named Louis Martino to create what they would call the “potato computer.” This is what they thought a computer was back in 1955. They built the potato computers into the deep fryers to shut off at the perfect fry time. So they would get a consistent fry every time. 

LIA 0:49:22 
Wow, that is amazing. 

ANNA 0:49:24 
And, he nailed it and McD’s started to take off and a big part thanks to these fries. 

LIA 0:49:31 

ANNA 0:49:32 
But, like we said, Ray was NOT good at business. 

LIA 0:49:36 
Oh, Ray. 

ANNA 0:49:36 
He seemed to be good at convincing people of stuff, but not the best businessman. Even though by 1959 he’d opened 100 stores, he wasn’t making any money.

LIA 0:49:49 
No way. 

ANNA 0:49:51 
So he started making changes, bringing in outsiders and advisors. They shifted the business focus to real estate. They switched from using real ice cream to in their milkshakes to a powder mix to save refrigeration costs. Needless to say, the McDonald’s Brothers hated all of these changes and they had a real Beef with Ray. They protested, there was much McDrama. Ray really felt they were getting the way of greatness and he was like, “these guys are small potatoes.” Ray convinced them to let him buy them out. He was like, “look you're getting older, you are near retirement age anyway, you shouldn’t be working this hard, and had health issues yadda yadda yadda.” The three of them agreed the Brothers would get $1 million each upfront and then royalties on the McDonald’s name, and the recipes and systems in perpetuity. They all agreed on that. 

LIA 0:50:43 
Alright. Okay. I mean back then that's fine. 

ANNA 0:50:45
A million dollars goes a long way in 1950. 

LIA 0:50:48 
And then royalty. 

ANNA 0:50:50 
And royalties, you are covered. But on the day of the contract signing, Ray told them that because of business reasons they could only do royalties by a handshake deal. Not in the actual legal binding contract. And for some reason, the brothers agreed.

LIA 0:51:07 
No. Oh. Ouch. 

ANNA 0:51:10 
Never saw a dime. 

LIA 0:51:12 
This hurts. That’s so awful. 

ANNA 0:51:14
Isn’t that terrible? 

LIA 0:51:15 

ANNA 0:51:17 
This goes beyond McDrama. This is a McTragedy. 

LIA 0:51:19 
It is! 

ANNA 0:51:20 
So remember when we said, you can say Ray was a garbage person, this is kinda what we were talking about. So things grew, and everyone and that began the official journey of McDonald's turning into what it is today. And the fries have stayed a focal point throughout. You know, Ray was a staunch Republican, he was anti-regulation, he was anti-living wage, anti-good working conditions, all that fun stuff. In 1977, he published his autobiography that I quoted earlier, which was called  “Grinding It Out.”

LIA 0:51:55
Oh my God. Wow.

ANNA 0:51:58 
How many people do you think got that book and just thought it was gonna be something totally different.

LIA 0:52:03 
They were like, “I finished 50 shades. What's this one?” What a bummer.

ANNA 0:52:08 
“Milkshakes? Ah, we’re grilling meat, we are getting somewhere…” 

LIA 0:52:12 
Yeah, come on.

ANNA 0:52:14
Grinding it out, the making of McDonald's. You know, I read a bunch of quotes from it, and it just seems like one of those CEO self-mythologizing stories, where they're, you know, like, just bootstraps, bootstrapped it. It was just hard work. And sweat, you gotta be the earliest one in the morning and the last one to leave, all that bullshit CEO stuff that we hear constantly when really he just stole from people, guys. He just stole other people's ideas. But he's one of the titans of industry, the capitalist heroes of the 20th century, and I can't help but think that he contributed partially the CEO worship that we have of, you know, CEOS are inherently genius bootstraps, it's just their smarts and their wits, and not that they rose to where they were on the backs of a lot of other people's work and ideas, and smarts. He died at the age of 81 in 1984 and was worth 8 billion dollars.

LIA 0:53:17 

ANNA 0:53:18
That's a lot of fries.

LIA 0:53:18 
That's a lot of fries.

ANNA 0:53:21 
But, the redeemer in all of this was, Joan Kroc. Ray's wife when he passed away. She was his third wife, and she was a franchise owner. That's how they met. And when he died, I love this. When he died, she gave away most of their fortune to all kinds of liberal commie pinko bleeding heart s*** and I f****** love it. I love it.

LIA 0:53:47 
Oh my gosh.

ANNA 0:53:48
She gave it to organizations fighting substance abuse, mental health support, public artworks, the Salvation Army, and a massive donation to NPR, and she is credited with being one of the people that helped NPR get on its feet with that cash infusion.

LIA 0:54:06 
Really? That's amazing.

ANNA 0:54:08 
I just love that. All Ray's work for decades went to NPR.

LIA 0:54:13 
I think she was just waiting. She already had it lined up.

ANNA 0:54:17 
She's like, you know what's coming? Parking lot sculptures.

LIA 0:54:18 
 Public art works.

ANNA 0:54:19
Come at me, Terry Gross, I got something for you.

Music Sting

ANNA 0:54:26 
Now all is going along well and good. Everyone's obsessed with these French fries. And then another big character comes into play. This is a guy named Phil Sokoloff. Phil was a self-made millionaire. He worked in the drywall business. At the age of 43, he had a heart attack, and it really shook him up. I think having a hard attack a 43 would freak anybody out, right?

LIA 0:54:48 
That would scare me, yeah.

ANNA 0:54:50 
So he founded the American Heart Savers Association. They did free cholesterol screenings, they encouraged lower fat diets, more activity, things like that. Then one day Phil decided, if I have to change my diet, everyone's gonna change their diet, and he decided that fat was the enemy. This is gonna start sounding a little familiar, Lia.

LIA 0:55:10
Yeah, this does sound familiar. This is bringing me back to bacon times.

ANNA 0:55:15 
So in the late 1980s, he starts lobbying for low-fat milk in school lunches, he takes out these huge anti-fat ads in newspapers and billboards, during the Super Bowl, he goes on TV and argues with people he retired so that he could focus on this... cause of his, right.

LIA 0:55:35  

ANNA 0:55:36 
His daughter, Karen Javich, estimated that he spent 14 to 15 million on those ads. 

LIA 0:55:43 
He really wants to save our hearts.

ANNA 0:55:45 
He was getting a lot of attention, food companies started getting scared and he started threatening individual food companies like Kellogg, Pillsbury to change the recipes, or he was gonna start calling them out in their ads. And then again, it's gonna sound familiar. He decided he was gonna go after fast-food restaurants, which to me is a weird target because I don't think anybody is rolling up to McD's is thinking about getting a low-cal meal.

LIA 0:56:09
Yeah, no.

ANNA 0:56:10 
Like that's the point. On April 4th, 1990, he got a full-page ad in The New York Times with the headline, “The Poisoning of America.” 

Dun Dun DUN Sound Effect


ANNA 0:56:29 
The McDrama. So this very dramatic ad that says stuff like “high cholesterol kills” and “the American people will be heard!!” and specifically name-checks McDonald's in a big way. At the bottom in huge letters, it says McDonald's, your hamburgers have too much fat. And his daughter said that he really revelled in the quote, David and Goliath dynamic. When I think of an underdog Lia, what I first think of is a well-connected white man with millions of dollars.

LIA 0:56:58 
Yeah, he is the little guy. He only got one Super Bowl ad in.

ANNA 0:57:02 
I mean, he had to wait on hold to speak to the CEO of Pillsbury. I bet. But he stuck it out.

LIA 0:57:08 
He did.

ANNA 0:57:09
So McDonald's caved.

LIA 0:57:11 

ANNA 0:57:12 
Bowing to pressure from Phil and some other health organizations, McDonald's caved, and in July 1990, they announced that they were retiring formula 47. The day that they announced this, McDonald's stock fell 8.3%. Those poor stockholders. They also announced that they would be introducing the low fat, low cholesterol burger. In our bacon episode last season, we talked specifically about how the bacon craze of the early 2000s came out of exactly this, that in the 1980s, there was this huge rush of fatphobia and diet culture. Everything started to become a low-fat diet specifically fast-food restaurants started changing their menus to have all this lower fat, lower calorie stuff, except it tasted like s***. It tasted like s*** so no one was buying it. And also, no one was buying bacon because it was so fatty, so the Pork Board.

LIA 0:58:14 
Pork Board.

ANNA 0:58:15 
Pork Board got together. Well, it was Hardees. The head of Hardies to start putting bacon on stuff to give it some flavor and some fat back, right? It's all connected.

LIA 0:58:23
It is.

ANNA 0:58:25 
It's all connected. It totally blew my mind when I started reading this being like all the pegs in the light bright. They are just lighting up. You know what I'm talking about?

LIA 0:58:33 

ANNA 0:58:34 
A picture coming. I mean, this is a fucking murder board if I've ever heard one. The red Yarn, go straight from Phil to the Pork Board.

LIA 0:58:43 
The Pork Board. The hotel in Miami.

ANNA 0:58:47 
The hotel in Miami all the way to McDonald's headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. Dun dun dun. Lia and I watch a lot of murder and cult shows.

LIA 0:58:54 
Yeah, we do. Like all of them.

ANNA 0:58:56
A lot. Listeners, you are not aware of how many references we have to cut out of our takes. Of this 

LIA 0:59:02 
There are so many.

ANNA 0:59:02 
There are so many.

LIA 0:59:04 
All from Murder and cult shows.

ANAN 0:59:08 
Look, we could talk about Wild Wild Country all day. The Jinx, all day. If there were more about food, actually, we are gonna talk about Wild Wild Country.

LIA 0:59:14 
We are gonna talk about Wild Wild Country.

ANNA 0:59:16 
Stay tuned. Okay. So now they have two issues. One is replacing the fat. People, fat is tricky. You can't just swap in one for the other. It's where a significant amount of the taste and the mouthfeel comes from, and it's the straight-up chemistry of it.

LIA 0:59:34 

ANNA 0:59:35 
Hard fat, animal fat, dairy fat is stable, which means that it's solid at room temperature, but you can melt it, you can freeze it, you can cook with it, and it doesn't change its chemical components, but liquid fat is volatile. It's messy, it goes bad, and when you heat up liquid fat, it goes through chemical changes and just spits all kinds of toxins out into the air. So you actually don't want your employees standing over the cancer mushroom cloud coming off of a lot of these oils, right? So remember from our peanut butter episode where we spread it on thick, the whole controversy, the whole peanut butter wars started over the fat in the peanut butter because they wanted to find a way to keep the fat in solid form, so it could be spreadable and pliable, right?

LIA 1:00:19 

ANNA 1:00:20 
So they replaced formula 47, with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which would be zero cholesterol and 35% less fat. 

LIA 1:00:29 

ANNA 1:00:30 
Except now they had problem number two.

LIA 1:00:33 
It tastes like s***.

ANNA 1:00:36 
Hey guys, shocking revelation when you fry something in all beef fat, it tastes good. When you fry something in chemically altered vegetable oil, it no good. 

LIA 1:00:49
It would put a grimace on my face.

ANNA 1:00:56 
And we're back.

LIA 1:00:57 

ANNA 1:00:58 
So they created something called “natural beef flavor.” Except, “natural beef flavor” wasn't listed as an ingredient. Because they didn't actually have to. According to Eater magazine, companies are not required to disclose the ingredients of flavor additives if all the components are considered Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA, except if it's an allergen.

LIA 1:01:23 

ANNA 1:01:24  
So flavoring is made up of dozens of components, so listing them wouldn’t mean anything, and disclosing the components of the flavoring is literally giving away the secret sauce.

LIA 1:01:37 

ANNA 1:01:38 
You know, You would be literally handing over your recipe.

LIA 1:01:39 

ANNA 1:01:40 
Can you imagine if Coca-Cola just printed?

LIA 1:01:43 
Like, okay guys, here.

ANNA 1:01:46 
Oreos were just like, “Here's how you make the white stuff.” So that's why they don't actually have to list those ingredients and why you'll see a package that has three inches of crazy, unpronounceable names of ingredients, and then at the bottom, it'll just say “natural flavors.”

LIA 1:02:02  
Natural. Yeah.

ANNA 1:02:03 
But this had consequences. And girl, there's more drama. There's beef drama. In February 2001, McDonald was sued by two Hindus living in Seattle, and their complaint was that McDonald's had been advertising since 1990 that they used 100% vegetable oil without disclosing the natural beef flavor. Remember, they just had to put “natural flavoring.”

LIA 1:02:27 

ANNA 1:02:29 
And Hindus don't eat beef, most Hindus are vegetarians, but they especially don't eat beef. Now, they don't worship cows. Some people think they worship cows. But cows are considered a sacred animal in the Hindu faith, so the fact that people thought they may have been eating beef or consuming something that had beef as an ingredient was a big deal. This came to their attention, the two Hindu plaintiffs because of the book of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

LIA 1:02:56 

ANNA 1:02:57 
It claimed McDonald's was still using beef tallow and the plaintiffs somehow had gotten a hold of an internal email at McDonald's saying that there were trace amounts of beef flavoring in the fries, and they were not cool with this. They got a lot of press. Their lawyer came out and said, “McDonald says, billions served. But I say billions deceived.”

LIA 1:03:22 

ANNA 1:03:23 
Girl, take out your earrings. And instead of just those two plaintiffs suing McDonald's, they tried to start a class action suit covering any vegetarians who had eaten at McDonald's since 1990 in 11 years.

LIA 1:03:36 
Wow. Oh my god.

ANNA 1:03:38 
McDonald's came out and said that they had never claimed the French fries were vegetarian and that they freely provide lists of ingredients and information, dietary information to anyone who requests it, but again, it just said natural flavors.

LIA 1:03:53

ANNA 1:03:54 
Didn't say natural beef flavors. McDonald's was adamant that it had never used animal flavoring in meatless menu items in India or in any country where the majority religion means that you can't eat pork or beef.

LIA 1:04:05 

ANNA 1:04:07 
But people in India got upset.

LIA 1:04:08 

ANNA 1:04:09 
So groups in India protested at the corporate headquarters in India, McDonald's, even though McDonald said that India never had by flavoring, those groups said that McDonald's had lost their trust, they had violated the agreement with the customers and they could not be trusted. And according to an AP article in April 2001, a group of fundamentalist Hindus in India protested the use of beef flavoring in the US by attacking a McDonald's location in Bombay.

LIA 1:04:37

ANNA 1:04:39 
Vandalizing the restaurant and smearing cow dung on their statue of mascot, Ronald McDonald. 

LIA 1:04:43 
Oh my God.

ANNA 1:04:46 
They rubbed s*** all over Ronald McDonald.

LIA 1:04:48 
Oh my goodness.

ANNA 1:04:49 
So how did this resolve, it was good timing to sue McDonald's honestly because they were already hurting and they didn't need any more bad press? So, Lia, do you remember way back at the end of the 90s, beginning of the 2000 mad cow disease.

LIA 1:05:07

ANNA 1:05:08 
There were like two instances of Mad Cow Disease or something like that.

LI A1:05:11 
But then it was like, Oh my God, oh shit, guys.

ANNA 1:05:13 
Yeah, it was like throw out your beef.

LIA 1:05:14
Oh, yeah. Throw it all out.

ANNA 1:05:16 
All this bad press, everyone was obsessed. We're getting it to our 24-hour news cycles. Mad cow disease. So McDonald's was coming off a quarter where their profits had fallen 16%.

LIA 1:05:28 

ANNA 1:05:29 
Poor shareholders. 

LIA 1:05:30 
Double Digit Decline. 

ANNA 1:05:32 
McDonald's paid the two plaintiffs, they didn't go through the whole class action thing, they paid the two plaintiffs 10 million dollars, which for McDonald's was like, it's probably at the bottom of the fryer.

LIA 1:05:44
It's with the ketchup packets. They just dug around in there.

ANNA 1:05:49 
So McDonalds paid them 10 million dollars. And they said they created a vegan and vegetarian commission to advise them on what could be considered vegan or vegetarian. So they switched to the current version, which is made out of hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk, so hydrolyze just means that it's broken down by water. So it's vegetarian, but it's definitely not vegan.

LIA 1:06:10 
Not vegan.

ANNA 1:06:11 
'cause it's got milk in it. Okay. So that's fries 2.1.

LIA 1:06:14 

ANNA 1:06:15 
And now, fries version 3, current fry status because it did end. Right. So Phil.

BOTH 1:06:24 

ANNA 1:06:26
Phil? Is that you? Phil Sokoloff, who ripped the beef tallow from our very fingers and gave us the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, because then they discovered vegetable oil isn't any healthier, it's filled with trans-fats.

LIA 1:06:38 
 Its trans fats.

ANNA 1:06:40 
So it didn't have the same amount of saturated fat or cholesterol, but it was filled with trans-fats that your body can't process the saturated fat, your body can break down it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but the trans fats live in you forever. In the early 2000s, they decided that they wanted to switch to completely eliminate trans-fats, and they looked for seven years and tried out 18 different types of oil, so as of 2008, they use Clear Valley high oleic canola oil, which has no trans-fats, low cholesterol and the lowest saturated fat of any of the oils.

LIA 1:07:16 

ANNA 1:07:17 
So, like I said, this is... It's a great journey. There's a lot of crazy characters in here, but you got religion, you got diet, you got economy, you got government, like, the culture. It really just touches on all those things, which is what we try to talk about at Every Day is a Food Day is food is bigger than food.


It's way bigger.

ANNA 1:07:35 
And even the number one... Even the number one most popular food of a ll time, people's stories, man, food stories are people stories. It's about Phil, it's about Ray, it's about Joan.

LIA 1:07:38 
All of the people.

ANNA 1:07:41
The drama.

LIA 1:07:42 
The drama. That is incredible.

ANNA 1:07:59 
Thank you for joining us today for the second season of Every Day is a Food Day! 

LIA 1:08:03 
We have some incredible things in store for you, so be sure to subscribe, and please rate and review the show to help other listeners find it. Connect with us on Instagram and Twitter @FoodDayPod and join our Facebook group. We want to hear from you! EDFD is a production of Van Valin Productions and YumDay. It was created by Lia Ballentine and Anna Van Valin. Our production intern is Emma Massey and our Marketing intern is Elaine Oh.

ANNA 1:08:31
See you next time…