When McDonald's Kept Us Thin
I recently found myself on the quiet side of the glass partition from the McDonald's Playland at the new Ella location, in what I like to call the Old-Timers section, the place in just about every small-town McDonald's where retirees congregate.
Photo by John Kiely
Oak Forest is like a small town, just outside the Loop. I'd rather not call guys Old-Timers, but the man at the next table was dressed in a jumpsuit and a trucker hat, and started talking to me of old times. He'd just moved out of his house, which might explain the Humble Oil receipt he produced, from his Chevy pickup's first tank of gas, way back when.
"The price of a tank was the same as a gallon of gas today," he showed me. As I sidled toward the relative comfort of a roomful of screaming kids, O-T mentioned that original McDonald's adult meals are now Happy Meals. He didn't have a receipt for that, so I Googled it later.
He was correct. The original cheeseburger had 1.6 ounces of beef (a tenth-pounder!), the French fry bag looked like today's small size, and the Coke was actually smaller--7 ounces, compared to today's 12 ounces of Happy Meal Coke. There were no Big Macs (which now seem small) or Angus burgers on the menu.
Days later, I ordered a Happy Meal, at 5 p.m. The cheeseburger had that same familiar taste, with mushy-mealy beef, pickles, mustard, ketchup, and onions. McDonald's has changed something lately with the fries, because they're delicious again, instead of tasting like warmed-up leftover fries. The 12-ounce cup was not enough Dr Pepper.
Two hours later I was hungry, so I drank water, snatched a remainder Halloween Kit Kat, and rode it out. Why is the adult meal of the past insufficient today? The calorie math provides one of the clues. Men need 12 times their body weight in calories, and women 11 times that, just to maintain. To lose weight, neither sex can go below 10 times weight in calories per day, or our hunger response goes on blast.
At 190 pounds x 10, I need 1,900 calories to lose weight. The Happy Meal had 640 calories, which, at three meals per day, is the precise amount of food to steadily lose weight, without turning into a voracious Pig Shark.
The other clue for my hunger was the bun, made from modern wheat, which is completely different from the wheat used in an original McDonald's cheeseburger.
I've seen adults eating Happy Meals before. They didn't look poor or particularly odd or childish. Now I know why.
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