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French Fried
 Kids

Ross Hume Hall, Ph.D.
biochemistry, nutrition,  food technology.

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BIOGRAPHY


 

The fry's potato is a means of  delivering a chemically altered, artificially flavored soy oil. The fry fry is tasty and addicting. The fast food industry and its chemical allies copy the cigarette companies. "Hook your customers on the french fry as a child." We tour a french-fry production line with Wizard Grufflestomp.

  
"Golden arches, golden arches," screamed all three kids from the back seat. We were driving west on I-70 from Denver towards Winter Park and a week of skiing. I was riding with a young family, twin four-year old girls and a three-year old boy, Tommy. We were hungry. The kids were whimpering. Dad kept saying, "look for the golden arches." The children spotted the archesĺ a full mile off the interstate, huge on a towering pylon.

Mom ordered a big carton of french fries for each child, plus chicken McNuggets and coke. The childís packages came with trinkets which she tossed into the waste can. When the twins complained, mom said, "weíve got a closet full of these trinkets back home."

The McDonaldís supper that evening and the remark about a closet full of trinkets got me to wondering about the eating style of the modern family.

Iím not talking about the pleasure of eating french fries, which obviously the kidsĺ all ages in factĺ enjoy. Iím talking biology, the gap between what a childís body needs and what the body gets from a carton of french fries. Letís find out.

Weíll tour a french-fry factory with three-year old Tommy. His guide, wizard Grufflestomp.

We begin here," said Grufflestomp, " the farmerís field where french fries get their start."

"Youíre not such a smart Wizard," said Tommy  "Those donít look like potato plants to me."

"Youíre not such a smart Wizard," said Tommy scrutinizing the geometric rows of plants stretching beyond sight. "Those donít look like potato plants to me."

"Youíre right. Theyíre soybeans." Then seeing the puzzled look on Tommyís face the wizard added. " Think of the name, french fry, my little friend. Do you see the word, potato, in that name?"

"Er, no."

"Of course you donít, because the french fry is half fat. Youíre eating soybean oil when you eat a fry, my boy." Grufflestompís chest expanded. "Fat calories galore. Thatís why I begin the fry tour here in a soybean field, the main ingredient in the fry. More to the point that oil carries a lot of baggage."

"What do you mean?" said Tommy, wondering what baggage had to do with french fries.

"Here comes some now," said the tall Grufflestomp ducking. An airplane roared in just above their heads and zoomed over the soybean field spraying a dense fog that settled heavily into the plants

"Urghhh." They both choked on the acrid smell.

"Whatís the fog, Grufflestomp?" Tommy asked when he got his breath.

"Pesticides, poisons to kill insects and weeds."

"If these chemicals kill insects, what about me?"

Not answering, the wizard pointed to a stack of five-gallon cans on the side of the field. They looked at the cans, the pesticides containers. On the side of each was a frightening-looking human skull and crossed bones. In huge letters, the word, TOXIC.

"Yikes," yelled Tommy. "Does any of this stuff get into the soybeans?"

"Well," said Grufflestomp, stroking his white beard, "some of that poison indeed gets inside the soybeans and accumulates in the oil." He paused and thought for a moment. "For sure, soybean oil carries a baggage of pesticides residues which wind up in the fries."

"Enough to harm little boys who eat french fries?

"Hate to tell you,: said Grufflestomp, "the government has never studied the toxic effects of those residues on little boys."

"Hate to tell you,: said Grufflestomp, "the government has never studied the toxic effects of those residues on little boys."

Tommy thought the grownups who ran the government didnít have much regard for the safety of kids.

"Better move on," said Grufflestomp feeling awkward at his inability to reassure Tommy. He removed his right arm from under his cloak and waved his hand, thumb closed, four fingers straight up. In an instant they were standing in the middle of a factory with tall towers, flaming stacks, and a nightmare of pipes.

Very strange, thought Tommy. Is this a tour of how they make french fries? First a soybean field and now weíre standing in the middle of what looks to me like an oil refinery.

Reading Tommyís mind, as any good wizard can, Grufflestomp said, "Yep, itís an oil refinery all right. Not that they make gasoline here. They make soybean oil. They do, however, use gasoline."

Tommy couldnít believe his ears. Gasoline? Whatís that got to do with food?

They entered a steel building. Inside was an enormous tank that made a swish swish sound, just like the washing machine at home. "The machine is washing the soybeans with gasoline to extract the oil," said Grufflestomp.

"The same gasoline you put in a carís gas tank?

"Yes, the same but without additives."

The wizard went on to explain to the dumbfounded Tommy that after the gasoline extracts the oil from the soybeans, they evaporate the gasoline leaving behind the oil.

Listening to the swish swish of the gasoline and soybeans, Tommy wondered if gasoline residues remain in the oil. More baggage, I guess. Then he brightened. Looking up, he said, "well at least soy oil has good things in it like vitamin E and omega-3 fats. Especially those omega-3 fats Theyíre major building blocks for the young brain."

"Hate to disappoint you my young friend," said Grufflestomp pointing to a furnace that was heating the oil. "They heat the oil to the boiling point. to drive off various odors. The high temperature destroys the vitamin E. And thatís not all."

What now? thought Tommy. I hadnít realized that making a french fry was so complicated.

They went outside. Grufflestomp pointed to a huge tower. "Thatís the hydrogenation tower."

Tommy thought he was going to learn how to cook a food his mom gave him and instead he was getting a chemistry lesson.

Tommy was becoming ever more bewildered. He thought he was going to learn how to cook a food his mom gave him and instead he was getting a chemistry lesson.

"Hydrog---, I cant even pronounce the word. Donít tell me, but I bet this chemical process adds nothing to the nutrition of soy oil."

"Bang on Tommy. Hydrogenation destroys the omega-3 fats your brain needs and at the same time creates a horribly unnatural fat, called trans."

"What happens when I eat trans fats?" Asked Tommy

"Some of those trans fats go straight to the brain. Lousy things to have there, like soft spots in fruit."

Tommy groaned. "Are the food companies aware what they selling?

"Let me answer it this way," said Grufflestomp with a curious smirk. "They donít put hydrogenated oils in pet food. Too risky for the health of the pets."

"I canít believe this. Hydrogenated oil banned for animals but O.K. for kids who eat fries.." Tommy was beginning to wonder about the saneness of the adult world.

"The smells from this chemical factory are making me woozy," said Tommy. "Canít we go to the actual place where they make french fries?"

With a four-finger wave of Grufflestompís hand, they found themselves staring down at a huge cauldron the size of a high school gymnasium. "Whatís this? said Tommy, drawing back as a blast of superheated air from the cauldron hit him in the face.

"Itís that hydrogenated soy oil we saw back in the chemical factory, heated to furnace temperature," said Grufflestomp. "Itís where they cook the french fries. Look over there."

A stainless steel conveyor belt snaked over the edge of the cauldron and down into the hot oil. The belt carried potato strips, gleaming white, all the same size and length. The belt emerged from the oil bath carrying the potato strips, now turned into golden, crispy fries.

A pipe in the one corner of the superheated oil caught Tommyís attention. It gushed fresh oil into the cauldron. It seemed to Tommy that, if they kept adding more oil, the cauldron would soon overflow. But it didnít.

"Must be magic," he said, looking the wizard in the eye.

"Itís magic in a way Tommy. They add fresh oil to make up for the oil each fry sucks up. Thatís the magic, the trick that gives the fry its taste. Itís all in the oil."

"What do you mean the magic is in the oil?"

"I mean chemical magic," said Grufflestomp with a grin. "The potatoes by the time they are steamed cleaned, sliced, and trimmed into strips have lost their natural taste. About as tasty as wet cardboard Well, chemists created the french fry taste by mixing together a bunch of pure chemicals. They add the mixture to the fresh oil you see pouring into the cauldron."

"You mean to say that when I eat a french fry the taste comes from that bunch of chemicals and not from the potato."

"You got it my friend."

"Ugh, more chemical baggage my body has to deal with." Tommy looked up at Grufflestomp. "Listen, I hate to pester you, but what do all those chemicals do in my body?"

"Sorry you asked," said Grufflestomp, "because I donít know, but I do know this much. The phony taste does nothing positive for you. The government doesnít require french fry companies to check and find out if the mixed chemicals harm little kidsĺ or big kids for that matter."

"If I ran a french fry company, Iíd want to know about any harm my product did to its little customers," Tommy said, starring at the endless stream of freshly oiled fries. "But then three-year olds donít run food companies."

They walked into the next room big enough to accommodate a commercial airliner. Whereas in the previous room Tommy recoiled from the heat, in this room he hunched his shoulders. His teeth began to chatter.

The conveyor belt loaded with the freshly cooked fries from the cauldron entered the room. A huge fan blew arctic- temperature air over them. The fries stiffened, frozen solid.

"The frozen fries," explained Grufflestomp, "are now packaged and shipped to restaurants."

"You mean to say that when mom buys me an order of fries in a fast food restaurant theyíre not cooked there?"

"Thatís right, replied Grufflestomp . "The cook, if you can call the person that, takes the frozen fries out of a bag and dumps them into hot oil. Simply to reheat them. Customers think theyíre getting freshly cooked fries."

"I suppose they use the same artificially flavored and sanitized oil for reheating as they use here in the fry factory," said Tommy with another groan. "No omega-3 fats, plenty of brain-softening trans acids."

"Yeah"

"Let me get this straight, Mr. Wizard," said Tommy straightening up. "This hydrogenated soy oil soaked into the fries has nothing going for it except fat calories. And it carries a baggage of no-good chemicals."

"Unfortunately, all too true."

"Hey what about the potatoes?" said Tommy. "You hardly said a word about them.í

"Nothing much to say, Tommy," said Grufflestomp, shrinking into his cloak. "The potatoís nutrition is either destroyed during processing or smothered by the oil."

"Hmmph, well, Iíve at least learned something," said Tommy.

"Whatís that?" said Grufflestomp, brightening at the thought his little guest got some benefit from the tour.

"The potato serves as a delivery system for hydrogenated soy oil."

"I now understand the secret behind the french fry," said Tommy, grinding his teeth. "The potato serves as a delivery system for hydrogenated soy oil. The oil with its phony taste makes the fry so addictive. Once a little kid like me gets hooked, the french fry industry and its ally the chemical industry have caught an oil customer for life."

Epilogue:

French fries lead the fast-food parade. Are these foods linked to the fattening of American kids? Fat kids, fat adults. Fast foods are based on three items: sugar, salt, and fatóthe wrong kind of fat. Whether or not a child becomes overweight, long-term damage to the body is a real risk. Diet-related diseases previously unknown in children, like adult-onset diabetes, are becoming common in children.

Nutrition experts have long pointed out a link between fast foods and health problems. Fast food executives, not surprisingly, deny any link.

But then the tobacco industry has always protested: "Chronic health problems and cigarettes? Absolutely no link."

The End

2002 Ross Hume Hall. All rights Reserved.

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