It’s 11 am in Manhattan and I’ve flown from London to do an interview with Dr Atkins,guru of the low-carb diet. Ahead of me i can see the golden arches of of a McDonald’s ,flashing into my field of vision like a warning sign. Fries!!!
I’d only eat them and fel empy afterward. I know carbohydarte snacks make you hungry. Eat one and you want another. Succesful products are the one that do no satisfy. Fries have a glycaemic index of 75-few foods could raise your blood sugar so fast.
Besudes, I’m on Day One of a diet and this the loe-carb way of life will make me slim again.
And now I’m walking under the golden arches. A large man, obese, angles towards me and we collide, two big trucks touching bumpers. I move towards the counter with an automatic, jerky gait.
I look at the guy behind in a cheerful apron and I say “fries”, and he say “large.” I know I shouldn’t, but it’s suddenly too late. The smiling young man takes my money and hands me my order.
The box of fries is in my hand. The air is filled with static. I am huge; the fries look tiny. And i think;who did this ti me? Who can I blame?
I could blame the unnamed French, or possibly Belgian, chef who first discovered the process of double-frying potatoes in the 1890s;that’s what makes fries crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. I could blame the American soldier who returned from the treches of World War One and asked their wives to cook French fries, thus creating a market for deep-fat fryers.
I could blame the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, who reopened their fast-food dinner in San Bernardino, California, with a brilliant idea: get rid of everything on the menu that requires the use of a knife and fork. The business boomed. People drove a long way for their hamburgers and fries and milkshakes. The brothers sold so many milkshakes that by 1954 they had ordered ten Prince Castle Multi-Mixer simultaneously.
I think I definitely should blame Ray Kroc. He was a 52-year-old salesman for the Prince Castle Company. When he heard about the restaurant that had ordered ten milkshake machines, he went to investigate. Watching from his car, he saw people driving to the original McDonald’s restaurant, then queue up. The queues were long and stay long all day.Kroc went to work with teh McDonalds and went on to buy out their name methods. And Kroc built an empire. Fries were among the best profitable items. It was Kroc and his team who perfected the method of curing potatoes in a warehouse, so that some of the starch in the tubers would turn into sugar. This is why, when fried, they turn a lovely golden brown.
I think I also can blame J. R. Simplot of Idaho, the greatest potatobaron in history. After World War Two, Simplot hired a team of chemist to research the concept of frozen potatoes. The big discovery was the French fries, which need to be cooked twich, could be frozen between the first cooking and second. This, Simplot realised, meant that fries no longer needed to be fully prepared on site. In 1965 Ray Kroc agreed to let him provide McDonald’s with frozen French fries.
Is there anyone else to blame? Perharps David Wallerstein, the greatest mastermind of supersizing. Wallerstein, a McDonald’s executive in the 1970s, had managed cinemas in 1960s and found he could increase profits by offering bigger servings of popcorn.
At first, Ray Kroc was not convinced. “If people want more fries,” he would say, “they can buy two bags.”
“But, Ray,” Wallerstein said, “they don’t want to eat two bags-they don’t want to look like a glutton.”
In the end, Kroc capitulated. Portions grew and grew. In 1960 a regular serving of McDonald’s fries weighed 68 grams and contained 200 calories. Now a large portion weighs 160 grams and contains 450 calories.
Imagine yourself taking a box of fries in your left hand and picking out two or three or four, with the thumb and index and middle fingers of your right. How long before they’re in your mouth? Two seconds? You don’t spend much time thinking about where they come from, do you? But these fries come a long way. Chances are they have been processed by McCain,the world largest fries producer of fries-one out of every three fries worldwide has been through a McCain factory.
In Scarborough, UK, there’s a vast building bedecked with turrest and chimneys. It steams. On an averange day, 1.2 million kilograms of potatoes-those with a high starch content, such as Maris Pipers or Pentland Dells or Russet Burbanks-arrive at one end of the factory and emerge, as bagged and boxed frozen fries, at the other.
I’ve seen how it happens. A river of potatoes flows into shiny cylindrical tanks that rotate while the skins are blasted off with steam. Then they are shot through “hydro-guns,” forced by pressurised water through metal pipes at a speed of over 30 metres per second.
At the end of each pipe is a grid of blades. This is the point where one potato becomes ten or more fries. Next, the river of potatoes becomes a water-fall of fries, a Niagara of what potato men call “strips.” It is awesome. The strips are whizzed along on a holed conveyor, to ensure that small ones fall through, into the vast nether world below, the Hades of failed fries. Consistency is all.
The fries flow past nounted cameras which look out for any blemishes that might remain; in a breathtaking feat of technology, blades are programmed to pop up and slice off blemishes. Just like cosmetic surgery.
These strips of starchy tuber are then fried in a swimming-pool-sized vat of boiling fat. They’re cooled and frozen and packed.
Later, selected fries are given their second frying and tasted by a panel, some of whom are thin and some of whom are not. One taster stands still, pushing golden fries into his mouth. He is concentrating. He nods, satisfied, and picks up the next batch. I don’t think I can blame him.
With the box of fries in my hand I exit the restaurant. I push the fries into my mouth. They taste of salt and fat and starch: I could eat three or four boxes.
In what feels like a moment of madness I walk three metres and dump the fries in a bin. Iwalk on. Before long, the mouthful of fries is gone, and I am left with nothing.
Nothing, that is, except the prospect of being slim.