Hamburger Series, Part 1: What should go into our food?

Pursuing the “Good” Ingredient?

In a regular hamburger (sans sauce) many of the ingredients are more or less ‘normal’ and don’t have a ton of chemicals. In the bun there are the most amounts of weird sounding chemicals. So this post will focus on a standard McDonald’s hamburger bun. (listed below)

When looked at closely it becomes apparent that many of the ‘weird chemicals’ are naturally derived things. All McDonald’s did was take the original ingredient and then only used the key acting agent instead of using the whole compound.

Example: Lecithin can be used as an emulsifier and prevents sticking. It is found naturally in egg yolk. Scientists just figured out what in egg yolk was responsible for its solidifying properties, and labeled it “lecithin.”

So the problem arose that in order to make good buns, McDonald’s needed lecithin-like properties, but didn’t want to use egg yolk. So they decided to use soy lecithin instead.

However! The issue with soy lecithin as opposed to egg lecithin is that that soy lecithin is an incredibly processed item. (It takes a lot of work to get lecithin from soy beans). But, it is a chemical found in nature and isn’t totally artificial. (As one could argue for high fructose corn syrup).

So the question is. If it takes us a lot of work to get the chemical compound, is it bad?

It takes a lot of steps to create a cake, we add many different ingredients, such as vanilla liquid, butter, egg and so on. Not many people have an issue with adding different ingredients to create something better.

If all McDonald’s does is combine the best ingredients to make the best possible bun… is that a problem?

Perhaps the issue is the ingredients they use. Perhaps they are too far from nature, but isn’t a cake quite removed from nature? It seems acceptable to use natural ingredients to create something non-natural. Why should we avoid non-natural ingredients from the outset?

There are definitely ingredients in the regular bun that can be questioned, such as azodicarbonamide, a synthetic chemical which is banned for food use in places such as Australia. [But I should note that Subway, Wendy’s and Dunkin Donuts also use this chemical.]

Yet there seems to be another question… why are some synthetic chemicals allowed in America and not allowed elsewhere?

Just because one country says no and another says yes, does not mean the chemical is good or bad. Rather, it just proves that there is a lack of consensus on what is a ‘healthy synthetic chemical.’

It seems when the subject of hamburger bun ingredients comes up the issue should be split into two categories. The first being naturally derived compounds and the second being totally synthetic chemicals. Then progress can be made to answer the real questions: What is a good ingredient, and why is it good? Please share your comments below.

Joseph Gilbert, Ethics Design Team

Ingredients in a “Regular Bun”

Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.

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3 Responses to Hamburger Series, Part 1: What should go into our food?

  1. Quinn, Rebecca Claire says:

    Even if processed ingredients such as “soy liechtin” are not bad for one’s health, it is still ethically important to examine the environmental impact of deriving such an ingredient and harvesting the soy that goes into it. I would love to see a follow-up post on comparative government regulation of synthetic chemical ingredients.

  2. Jordan Wondrack says:

    I agree with and enjoy your analysis on the fact that this may not, in fact, be an issue of morality. Instead, it is an issue of definition. How does the government, the regulatory machine, if you will, define processed? It seems like that definition could be extremely telling. I would be interested to find out what the bright line is between what is and is not deemed “processed” by the government.

  3. Michael Wilburn says:

    Ingredients are what make our meals, our fuel so to speak. In today’s society it is easy just to grab one of the seemingly endless choices and be content. It may make our lives easier, but it may not be worth it. The saying that our body is a temple has some merit. It is one thing that we may be able to change through our actions, yet we must always deal with it. This fact should inspire us to make the choices that will enhance our well-being. We should pick the food that will benefit our bodies the most. When you make a dinner for friends, you choose the best ingredients to make a great meal. You strive for fresh, colorful, and tasty options. You probably would not knowingly serve chemicals if you knew there harmful effects. Processed foods contain many questionable ingredients. If people would just read them, they probably would think twice before eating. Even if an ingredient is not necessarily bad for you, yet unnatural, it still should not be acceptable. A metaphor is a toddler who eats paper. The paper is not that harmful, yet parents still discourage the toddler from eating because it does not carry any benefits. We should treat all people that way. If there is an odd ingredient with no value, do without it. Only then will we actually have what should be called food.

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