These pictures of a gracefully aging McDonald’s Happy Meal created a minor internet buzz. The reaction in blogs and on twitter amongst critics of our industrialized system was that McDonald’s must be doing something to make it resist the natural processes of decay.
As a food scientist it seemed pretty obvious. Mold is the main reason for bread spoilage and mold doesn’t grow below a critical minimum water activity. The bread and other ingredients were stored presumably in a cool, air conditioned studio and quickly dried below that minimum.
OK – if you don’t know about water activity and that sort of thing the fact the food doesn’t rot seems profoundly unnatural and is grounds for suspicion. There is nothing wrong with ignorance; the problem here is a lack of critical thinking. There are lots of reasons to disapprove of the actions of McDonald’s, all of which are beyond my expertise and interest to critique here. What I object to is in translating that disapproval of action to a categorization of the actor (McDonald’s is evil), you have give up your capacity and responsibility to think. An evil corporation or individual does evil things. If they do something, anything, then it’s evil. If they justify it - they’re lying.
Real life is complicated. Actions have benefits and costs that deserve to be weighted on a case-by-case basis. We make better judgments if we avoid the moral labels that short-circuit this process. Sometimes food doesn’t rot.