The Experience

My name is John Buono, and I am one of the five producers of Project Happy Meal. I am here today to tell the story of how one little idea turned into what is now Project Happy Meal. It all started back in the early weeks of the semester when my group and I were brainstorming ideas for a group project. We were going back and forth and we began to mention the food industry...and then it hit me: McDonalds.

My father, John Buono Sr, is an owner operator of a McDonalds restaurant as well as the Co-op president for McDonalds in Rochester. My whole family is in the McDonalds business and it occurred to me that they would serve as a gold mine of information for our project; so we decided on McDonalds as the basis for it.

Once we had the foundation, the fun part was put into action: research. Usually when you think about research you think of just reading through books or browsing the web for information, but, having the family connections that I have, I was able to travel back to Rochester to interview my father. In doing this I was able to stock pile vital information for our project. I was also able to take a tour of the distribution center in Rochester and interview one of the supervisors there as well.

This was most definitely my favorite part because I was able to witness and be a part of the earlier processes that McDonalds goes through. Over all I enjoyed the project very much I hope for the next year of students who go through this project to put as much effort into it as you can because there is much you can learn from it.

Let's add it all up!!

In each video we looked at the nutrition, transportation, and waste produced of each component of the Happy Meal. Let's add it all up and take a look into how much goes into making one McDonald's Happy Meal.

               Hamburger:          250 calories
               French Fries:        230 calories
               Drink (coke):    + 140 calories
                                            620 calories

Miles Traveled:
                       Hamburger:           330 miles
               French Fries        2,891 miles
                      Drink (coke):   + 1,143 miles
                                                                4,364 miles



Do you have a memorable childhood experience of a McDonald's Happy Meal?

What goes into creating the Happy Meal from farm to plate?

Project Happy Meal: the life of a McDonald's Happy Meal
Check out our video trailer introducing our four part series!!!

After watching, join our Twitter Chat Wednesday March 27th from 9-10 pm EST. Use #nifkin in all of your tweets to join the conversation!!

TwitterChat from Wednesday

Did you miss our TwitterChat on McDonald's Happy Meals? 

Check out the STORIFY of the conversation and find out what people thought of Happy Meals, fast food, and processed food in general. 

Some of the questions posed included:  
What are some misconceptions about fast food and the processed food industry? 
What are some of the regulations involving fast food waste?
What do you think of when you hear processed food?

How far does your McDonald's Hamburger travel?

The ingredients travel from farms to processing plants to distribution centers to individual McDonalds restaurants. This map shows only one leg of the total journey each component of the Hamburger travels, from the processing plant to the Rochester, NY distribution center.

The Myths De-mythed!

  Some interesting questions were raised in the Happy Meal TwitterChat last week about processed foods, and McDonald's foods specifically (if you haven't had a chance to view the chat, a Storify compilation is here. We decided to lay all these misconceptions to rest by researching these myths, and finding truth. Here are some common issues that came up on the TwitterChat:

Pink Slime

In response to the Chicken McNugget Photo Hoax, which was a photo that was released "exposing" the mechanically separated chicken that is found in Chicken Nuggets (later known as Pink Slime, see picture above).
Although this 'pink slime' does exist, McDonald's chicken nuggets, nor any of their other foods contain mechanically separated chicken. 
Mcdonald's Official Statement

Hoax- Slayer, a website deticated to providing people with the full truth on internet hoaxes and spam, has a lot of reliable information to give us a full truth on Pink Slime, and what foods it may be in:
Pink Slime

Processed foods = lots of preservatives

While you have to be sure to check the ingredients list in foods you consider buying everywhere, McDonald's only puts in salt and seasonings into their beef patties for preservation and taste, and then flash frozen to keep them preserved.
McDonald's keeps their ingredients public here.

There have been many 'experiments' done on McDonald's food in which they've been left out to 'rot' and have not in fact rotted. Usually, conclusions are drawn that there must be so many chemicals have been put into the foods. But the truth is, most processed foods in the grocery store that contain the same amount of salt, or low moisture content will take a very long time to decompose as well.

This article had lots of information on the everlasting ingredients of processed foods in general.

The French Fries

How much do you know about McDonald's French Fries?
Check out our video!!

How far do your McDonald's French Fries travel?

The ingredients travel from farms to processing plants to distribution centers to individual McDonalds restaurants. This map shows only one leg of the total journey each component of the French Fries travels, from the processing plant to the Rochester, NY distribution center.

“Would you like to Supersize?”

You don’t hear McDonald’s employees asking this question anymore. That is because McDonalds discontinued the Supersize portion six years ago. Lately they have been under great pressure from health and children’s advocacy groups to alter the contents of their Happy Meals to reduce the overall calories and fat content of the meal. This started with the fries. They originally tried to remove the fries from the meal altogether; however, this led to major disappointment because people expect to get the McDonald’s fries when they go to McDonalds. In response to this, McDonalds began serving a smaller serving of fries in their Happy Meals. Starting in 2012, the portion of fries was reduced from 2.4 oz to 1.1 oz. Parents and children now also have the option of other healthy sides like apple slices, carrots, raisins, or oranges (depending on season and location).

The calories in the new Happy Meal are compared in this video from ABC News.

For more information on the next steps that McDonalds is taking to address nutrition, check out the 2012 McDonald's Progress Report.

What are these ingredients?

The unknown ingredients: exposed!

The problem, unfortunately with having large amounts of food that are grown, processed and prepared in different places, is that there are certain chemicals added to the ingredients of these products that make us question the quality of the food.

Fortunately, the McDonald's corporation is very helpful in that they list everything that is added to their foods, even the things mere humans can't possibley know..

For example Mcdonald's french fries contain the following unknown chemicals:

TBHQ (a form of butane):

 This compound has gotten a particularly bad rep because of the fact is is derived from butane (a combustion fuel), but for those who know a bit of chemistry, once you change a compound, it changes all aspects and properties- like the fact that you cannot light this molecule on fire.

This compound is used as a preservative for chicken nuggets, french fries and all sorts of other foods in the processed food world. It has potentially harmful side effects (nausea, vomiting, collapse) when taken in high doses ( up to 5 grams) but the FDA had posed strict limits on the concentration of TBHQ in foods, like for example, the maximum amount that can be in one nugget is .02%, therefore you must consume 5kg of nuggets in one digestion to get 1 gram of TBHQ (which is about 312.5 nuggets!!). In other words, to even become potentially harmful to ones' health, you'd have to REALLY like chicken nuggets (or french fries).

For more information about TBHQ, or to see where these numbers/facts came from, check out this.

Dimethylpolysiloxane (used as an anti-foaming agent):

This compoud, as stated above is used as a antifoaming agent in french fry oil to prevent the oils from degrading due to the high temperatures. This compound accomplishes this by forming a layer over the oil to prevent it from making contact with the air and oxidizing. Cool huh?

Therefore this chemical is not actually found in the french fries, but McDonalds lists it in the ingredients to make up for error.

If you want to read more about the properties of this compound check out this article !

AND for the Sodas:

Dimethylpolysiloxane are also found in some sodas (see description above)!!


This compound is an artificial sweetener that is used in all diet sodas to limit the amount of calories. It was invented by James Schlatter who mixed aspartic acid and phenylalanine to create this sweet substance. You may recognise the popular brand of this substance in retail, as Equal (the blue packets of sugar)

The only problem with this substance is that it doesnt necesarily satisfy cravings for sweetness, despite the taste. This may lead to other consumption of sweets to satisfy the craving which cancels out the diet part of the soda! Also, this substance destablizes under low pH's, therefore all diet sodas have about a month expiration date due to sodas lower pH.
So word to the wise, be sure to check your expiration dates on your sodas, ESPECIALLY diet!

For more on Aspartame check out the site I used here!

Sodium benzoate:

Sodium benzoate is a sodium salt used in many processed foods as a preservative. It is found most frequently in sodas, vinegar, fruit juices and wine. The FDA states its is not harmful by itself, but paried with ascorbic acid in high levels, it is a suspected carcinogen.

Most people can taste this compound as salty and slightly sour, which give most soft drinks their "edge"

For more on Sodium benzoate check out this webpage!

The Drink

The McDonald's Happy Meal does not automatically include milk. Want to learn more about your options?
Check out our video!!

Chocolate or Strawberry? - Flavored Milk

There is no such thing as a chocolate or strawberry cow; however, most kids rarely drink plain white milk. Although milk is a great nutritional source, flavored milk contains extra calories from added sugar and additives. The argument is that kids will drink more milk if it is flavored; however, is this an equal trade-off to ensure that children get these essential vitamins and minerals? Flavored chocolate milk at McDonalds contains nonfat milk, sugar, fructose, cocoa, cocoa (processed with alkali), natural flavor, salt, carrageenan, vitamin A palmitate, and vitamin D3.

From Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: check out the site.