Decompose This: Happy Meal Vs. Killer Christmas Cookie

happy meal decomposingMcDonald's is about to find an unlikely champion: reality. And a vegetarian carrying it to the world. Your stomach probably did a loopty-loop this week over artist Sally Davies' experiment that she says proves a Happy Meal from Mickey D's can be left out for six months and won't decompose.

The Happy Meal Project is fascinating.

But it's incredibly misleading.


Food doesn't have to be loaded with mystery toxins and preservatives to stick around. Take the case of the Christmas cookie discovered in December 2009 in the Sager household in upstate New York.

The last of the tins used every Christmas to hold sugar cookies were put up in the top of the cabinets in late December 2008, just before the turn of the year. They were not pulled back out until mid-December 2009, opened up to be washed and readied for the 2009 batches of cookies.

And then came the miracle of Christmas.

One basic sugar cookie remained in the tins. It was a creamy yellow with a few flecks of green and red sugar, just as it had been fresh out of the oven in 2008. It was a full year later, and it was hard as a rock. But little else had changed.

So what was in this miracle cookie? Nothing secretive or scary at all:

Sugar. Homogenized/pasteurized 1 percent milk. Butter. Local eggs. Vanilla. Salt. Flour. Baking powder.

The exact same ingredients used in December 2009 to make a whole new batch of the cookies for the holiday season. Nothing was going to stop Christmas from coming.

It's the body that breaks down the food we eat and turns it into energy. If anything will make your stomach roil, it's a description of what happens with your food inside you, not out.

Bite into a hamburger, and as your teeth mash it up, it will mix with saliva -- which starts the decomposition process. It's not simply clear liquid in your mouth -- saliva is full of enzymes made to break down starches in your food. Think of that next time you spit on a napkin and use it to wash your kid's face.

Now follow that all up with a trip down the esophagus, which is lined with a mucousy membrane, which mixes with the food and helps it travel stomachward. Mmmmm, mmmm, mucous!

From there, food drops into the stomach to get mixed up with your "digestive juices" and prepare for getting down with your body's needs.

Getting grossed out yet? Or just getting the picture of why food not breaking down in the fresh air isn't exactly revelatory?

It's fair to point out that proteins stay in the stomach longer than carbs, and fats the longest of all (hence nutritionists' suggestion that you eat protein rather than carbs to retain that feeling of fullness) -- so that Happy Meal Hamburger is the stuff that would stick around for quite awhile inside the belly.

This is also just half of the process. There's the trip through the intestines, the weeding out of the stuff that's headed for your toilet from the stuff used to power the body, the process of you getting off your butt and using that new energy.

And the fact that we can only get so close to the earth with our food choices. A banana will break down in a few days. And we can only eat bananas so quickly in our individual households -- sometimes it's necessary to dry them out for banana chips or mash them up and bake a banana bread  (or a banana cupcake -- come on, live a little people).

McDonald's is by no means perfect, but neither is the body.


Image via jasonippolito/Flickr

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