How McDonald’s Ruined Oatmeal

Oh McDonald’s. Is there no food out there that you won’t turn to shit?

Mark Bittman explains:

The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including “natural flavor”).

A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

Here’s what I take from this story. Typically with products from McDonald’s, there’s an argument to be made that they are making a cheaper product, and thus making it more accessible to those who frequent McDonald’s due to financial constraints. “Quality isn’t the issue”, the proponents for McDonald’s state. “It’s calories available for the cheap and convenient.”

Okay, that’s fine for what it’s worth. But as Bittman points out, such an argument can’t be made with oatmeal. It is already a cheap product starting out. No process out there makes it cheaper. With the ingredients added to the McDonald’s product, it makes it more expensive. So that rules out the “cheap calories” argument.

As for the convenience argument? It’s instant oatmeal for god’s sake. You have a packet, you add hot water, you wait a minute, you have breakfast. Outside of toast, it’s one of the easiest meals you can make.

Of course, McDonald’s is not saying that their food is cheap or convenient, at least not in regard to their oatmeal. What they are implying is that it is nutritious. (What they actually say is that it is “Wholesome“, which is little more than marketing speak to which we are to infer it’s nutritious nature).

The problem, as Bittman points out, is that their version has nutrition issues.

Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. McDonald’s? If your listening, please take note. Stop. Just stop. Stop trying to pretend that you sell nutritious products. Embrace your fat filled pies and your calorie laden-burgers. Put the onus of healthy choice upon your customers. Because every time you try to sell a “healthy” product, it comes across as, at best, as lazy and hypocritical, and at worst, cynical manipulation to get people into your stores. As Bittman again notes “…if you buy oatmeal, they’re o.k. with that. But they know that, once inside, you’ll probably opt for a sausage biscuit anyway”.

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