Monthly Archives: January 2012

THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE: bottled water, cultural phenomena and two million tons of landfill waste

I’ve never been accused of being overly trendy or hip, and I always seem to be somewhat behind my friends and colleagues when it comes to the latest developments in pop culture and society.  I missed out on Snuggies, never heard of Shake Weights until the videos went viral and completely overlooked Big Mouth Billy Bass.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, honestly, because folks who mounted the singing plastic fish really embarrassed their children and were secretly ridiculed by their guests.

Well, I was also late to the proverbial party when everyone else in the world starting drinking water from a bottle.  I still think that’s a pretty unique phenomenon: even in a recessed economy, people are still paying fairly considerable amounts for something may be necessary to sustain life but typically available for free.  I guess, in the end, we really should never underestimate the influential power of corporate marketing and advertising.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s a few early morning facts about good ‘ol H2O:

  • According to the United States Geological Survey, up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water and the lungs are nearly 90% water. Lean muscle tissue contains about 75% water, body fat contains 10% water, bone is composed of 22% water and about 83% of our blood is water.  That’s a heck of a lot of water.
  • Dehydration is the excessive loss of bodily fluid, and commonly refers to the extreme loss of water.  Dehydration is associated with a variety of dangerous conditions, including heat exhaustion, heatstroke, cerebral edema or the swelling of the brain, seizures and loss of consciousness, hypovolemic shock, kidney failure or even death.
  • Bottled water may not be healthier or purer than tap water.  According to the Environmental Working Group, its recent study found contaminants in every brand of bottled water that it tested.  These contaminants included fertilizer residue and pain medication.

That’s it for now.  Be sure to tune in next week, when I’ll draft an entry about the increasing market for pre-packaged air, or something else equally ridiculous.

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RUTHLESS RECIPES: an updated list of the top five worst fast food breakfasts

In 1973, McDonald’s first introduced its Egg McMuffin.  The sandwich consisted of an egg, a slice of ham and cheese served on a toasted english muffin.  The company later added a full slate of breakfast foods to its growing menu.  As early as 1987, the red-headed clown served nearly one-fourth of all breakfasts ordered from restaurants in the United States.

Now, over forty years later, Taco Bell is rolling out its new First Meal line of early-morning offerings and Wendy’s will soon be expanding its breakfast menu.  Other fast food chains are also beginning to place a similar emphasis on the market for breakfast.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but that doesn’t mean that the fast food chains are exclusively offering decent, healthy foods.  Shocker, eh?  Well, the following meals are particularly atrocious:

SUBWAY’S FOOTLONG MEGA BREAKFAST SANDWICHJared Fogle tipped the scales at 425 pounds, but lost over half of his weight by eating nothing but Subway sandwiches for a little less than a year.  The fast food chain capitalized on his weight loss by hiring him as a spokesman for the company, and Jared has now appeared in around twenty commercials touting the healthy benefits of Subway’s offerings.  You won’t hear him say a word about Subway’s Footlong Mega Breakfast Sandwich.  The freakish combination of eggs, bacon and sausage weighs in at 1,310 calories and contains 79 grams of fat, 31 grams of saturated fat, 550 milligrams of cholesterol and an absurd 3,190 milligrams of sodium.  It’s closely followed by the Footlong Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich, which lightens the load by around 100 calories and 370 milligrams of sodium.  Jared is ashamed.

MCDONALD’S BIG BREAKFAST WITH HOT CAKES.  Eating McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Hot Cakes will lead to a big belly, the need for big clothes and big risks to your health.  The offering is a dangerous combination of two pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage… and a buttermilk biscuit… and hash browns.  The company has somehow managed to pack 1,090 calories into the meal, which fittingly compliments its 56 grams of fat, 19 grams of saturated fat, 575 milligrams of cholesterol and 2,150 milligrams of sodium.  Do yourself a favor and eat scrap metal instead – the hardware may not be as flavorful, but it should prove to be a much healthier alternative.

BURGER KING’S BK ULTIMATE BREAKFAST PLATTERBurger King‘s sales have been slipping.  It’s same-store sales are down nearly 4%, and analysts predict that it will now trail both McDonald’s and Wendy’s in gross sales.  It gets an “A” for effort, though, as its BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter somehow manages to dwarf McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Hotcakes.  The chain is almost inexplicably able to fill a plate with scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, a biscuit and three pancakes.   The resulting mess contains over 1300 calories, 72 grams of fat, 26 grams of saturated fat, 455 milligrams or cholesterol and 2,490 milligrams of sodium.  The chain was even thoughtful enough to include a bit of trans fat in the mix.

CINNABON’S CARAMEL PECANBON.   I feel a little guilty about including this entry, because any franchise that believes that Life Needs Frosting probably isn’t the mecca of health.   This is almost like shooting fish in a barrel, except that one of the fish is really a Caramel Pecanbon that somehow packs in nearly 1,000 calories and almost a full day’s worth of total fatOkay, I don’t feel guilty anymore.

HARDEE’S COUNTRY FRIED STEAK ‘N’ GRAVY BREAKFAST PLATTER.  Earlier this month, Hardee’s proudly announced that it would begin offering its Country Fried Steak ‘N’ Gravy Breakfast Platter, a four piece meal includes a breaded beefsteak smothered in sausage gravy, hash rounds, eggs and a buttermilk biscuit.  The combination isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, but still provides a hefty 660 calories, derives nearly three-fourths of its calories from 42 grams of fat and 13 grams of saturated fat and includes nearly a full day’s worth of sodium.  The company accurately describes the assemblage as a “stick-to-your-ribs breakfast staple,” that also  continues the franchise’s “fine tradition at breakfast.”  The second quote may be spot-on, but only if that tradition includes its Big Country Breakfast Platter with Bacon, Syrup, Jam and Butter and the gut bomb that it refers to as its Loaded Breakfast Burrito.

On a somewhat related note, yesterday was National Blueberry Pancake Day and tomorrow marks the celebration of National Croissant Day.  Read into that whatever you will…

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UNHAPPY MEALS: fast food franchise’s processed chicken leads to addiction, prostitution

Some folks suffer from addictions to crack cocaine, black tar heroin or other illegal substances.  Others develop dependencies on caffeine, tobacco, alcohol or prescription medications.

Stacey Irvine found herself addicted to McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

The seventeen-year-old factory worker from Birmingham in the West Midlands of England was first introduced to the bite-sized chunks of processed meat when she was only two years old.  She developed an insatiable appetite for the food and ate virtually nothing but Chicken McNuggets during the ensuing fifteen years.  During that time, Stacey never once tasted fresh fruit or vegetables.

Unfortunately, Stacey has now learned that Chicken McNuggets are nearly the nutritional equivalent of dishwasher detergent.  She recently collapsed after struggling to breathe and was rushed to the hospital.  Doctors thereafter demanded that she change her diet or die.

This situation’s a bit extreme, but the concerns associated with the processed fast food are well-known, and even McDonald’s has published an exhaustive list of the ingredients used in the preparation of Chicken McNuggets.  At one time, chicken only accounted for about half of a Chicken McNugget, while the remaining ingredients consisted largely of sugar, corn syrup, synthetic components and stuff that may have been engineered in a petroleum plant.  United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet once considered a lawsuit involving the food and accurately summarized the dangers of the product:

Chicken McNuggets, rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan, are a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook. A Chicken McNugget is comprised of, in addition to chicken: water, salt, modified corn starch, sodium phosphates, chicken broth powder (chicken broth, salt and natural flavoring (chicken source) ), seasoning (vegetable oil, extracts of rosemary, mono, di- and triglycerides, lecithin). Battered and breaded with water, enriched bleached wheat flour (niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, modified corn starch, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dried whey, corn starch. Batter set in vegetable shortening. Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or corn oil). TBHQ and citric acid added to help preserve freshness. Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an anti-foaming agent.

Of course, we’ve always been told that pictures are worth a thousand words.  Well, this image of a pink intestinal-shaped substance used in the preparation of the food has gone viral.  And it scares me.

Thankfully, McDonald’s is now pushing a new and improved form of processed chicken.  The company refers to its latest discovery as Chicken McBites, and it describes the product as “poppable pieces of premium chicken breast seasoned to homestyle perfection.  Tiny in size, huge in taste, they’ll bring a little joy to your day.”

At least one food critic is not impressed.  Yesterday, Carey Polis, the Associate Food Editor at the Huffington Post, published her review of the new offering.  She summarized the nutritional qualities of the product by writing:

Perhaps McBites were introduced just to be snacked on, as a “light” version of McNuggets if you just want a quick salty fix, however, the regular sized box of McBites are about as filling as a 6-piece McNuggets. And when you compare the calorie counts — 470 vs. 280 — you’ll see that McBites have about 68% more calories than their predecessor, a result of the starchy, oil-collecting batter outweighing its chicken counterpart.

This unflattering review likely won’t deter Khadijah Baseer.  The thirty-one year old resident of Los Angeles, California, stands accused of approaching vehicles at a McDonald’s drive-thru and offering to perform oral sex on the passengers in exchange for Chicken McNuggets Khadijah has yet to publicly offer her opinion about the new Chicken McBites, but her alleged actions suggest that she’ll almost definitely agree with McDonald’s that they’re “tiny in size, huge in taste, [and] they’ll bring a little joy to your day.”

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TACOS, BELLS, BEANS AND BREAKFAST: fast food chain proves that the early bird gets the… burrito?

Wake up, sleepyhead.  The alarm clock is screaming, which can only mean that it’s time to stumble out of bed, grab a pot of caffeine, throw on those clothes and head out into the great unknown.

Unfortunately, your stomach’s grumbling, your mouth is parched, and last night’s happy hour has devolved into this morning’s awful headache.  You need food.  Pronto.

The first few minutes of the morning can seem like a painstaking journey through purgatory, but eating at least some type of breakfast can ensure that the remainder of the day is a much more pleasant experience.  Breakfast is, after all, the most important meal because it ignites the metabolism, serves as an excellent source of sustained energy and allows us to operate with heightened efficiency throughout the morning and the remainder of the day.  It’s also critical component of a healthy diet, at least in part because eating breakfast leads to the production of enzymes that metabolize fat and help control weight.

Taco Bell agrees.  

That’s why the fast food chain plans to serve breakfast at around eight hundred locations. Find your keys and grab the antacids, pal – it’s time to make an early morning run to the border.

Unfortunately, these retail locations won’t be serving breakfast from the chain’s traditional menu.  For better or worse, the early birds will need to wait until later in the day to fuel their bodies with a thousand fun-filled calories of Volcano Nachos.  They’ll also have to pass the time before they can consume nearly a full day’s worth of sodium in the 980 calorie XXLGrilled Beef Stuft Burrito.  And, trust me, your co-workers, colleagues and the janitorial staff will be thankful that you didn’t start the day with a hearty helping of Pintos-n-Cheese or a handful of infamous Bean Burritos or Cheesy Bean and Rice Burritos.  Seriously.  

Instead, the chain plans to offer a new line of breakfast dishes under its “First Meal” moniker.  Customers will still be able to think outside the bun, except they’ll now be able to chose from breakfast burritos, hash browns, sausage and egg wraps, hot or iced coffee, and Cinnabon delights.  The food will still be cheap, with items ranging in price from a couple of quarters to around three bucks.  Not bad, and incredibly efficient, considering that customers will likely be getting somewhere around four hundred calories for every dollar spent.      

Still, the offering is sure to leave a few folks scratching their head.  The First Meal menu doesn’t come close to resembling anything that we’ve come to expect from the franchise.  It looks, almost inexplicably, like a slacker simply copied the breakfast menu from McDonald’s, Burger King or some other trans fat franchise.  The chihuahua is definitely disappointed. 

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A COMMUNICABLE COMPROMISE: scientists reluctantly agree to delay Armageddon for sixty days

Whew.  We’ve been granted a respite.

On Friday, researchers from Erasmus Medical College in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison agreed to a sixty day moratorium on research involving a highly contagious strain of bird flu.  The voluntary agreement was published in Nature and Science, two prominent scientific journals.

The research involved earlier experimentation that created a new, fatal strain of the H5N1 bird flu.  The critical component of the new strain is its communicability: research has shown that is capable of being transmitted from one ferret to another ferret.  The animals are considered fairly reliable indicators of the behavior of influenza viruses in human communities, which means that this newly engineered strain of H5N1 may be capable of being transmitted from one human to another human.

The experimentation sparked immediate concern among the scientific community and world governments.  Many responses focused on the possibility that the new strain could escape from the confines of the laboratory, spread among the world’s population and kill upwards of tens of millions of people.  At least a handful of prominent scientists claimed that the research should never have been conducted and that the risks outweighed any potential benefit that could be derived from the work.

In an uncanny coincidence, two days after researchers declared the moratorium, China announced that a 39-year old man who had no contact with poultry died from the bird flu.  The report of the death came just one week after separate deaths from bird flu were reported in Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Pretty eerie timing… almost too eerie.  It’s really hard to pass up this opportunity to try to make a tongue-in-cheek comment about coincidences, conspiracy theories and the frightening possibility that the influenza virus has already escaped the laboratories.

But I won’t.  Not this time.  Not ever again.  I promise.

Instead, I’ll simply close by very, very, very carefully noting that the media is now reporting that the Department of Homeland Security is actively monitoring blogs that  cover the avian flu.

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