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Samantha Ferchaw

Dr. Lieske

College Writing II- 701

1 December 2009

The French fry: Staple of American Fast Food

In the United States, fast food has become the number one convenient source of

food for many people. Not only do many people eat this food, but people eat this food

excessively, sometimes twice or three times a day. Back in the early 1900s, restaurants that

sold hamburgers did not have anything to go along with it. Men and women in their homes

used potatoes as their main side dish in their dinners. Nowadays, not only will we eat a

hamburger, we need to have a side to go along with that: French fries! This has forever

changed the way people eat. Instead of eating baked or mashed potatoes, salads, or cooked

vegetables, we are eating French fries with our meals. With the rising number of obese

individuals, we have tried to incorporate new ways to make our side items healthier.

Companies have tried to promote side salads and fruit cups with little success. The French

fry still prevails. Since we cannot let go of the French fry now that we know its delicious

taste, companies have tried to make the fries healthier by trying to new oils to fry them in,

or finding new ways to cook them. Still the French fry cannot be changed successfully.

Society has gone through many ups and downs in its relationship with the French fry. One

minute we eat one and we love it, the next minute we are upset at the fry for being so

unhealthy AND delicious. Over the years, the French fry has gotten much scrutiny and has
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gone through much development, but even with the United States attempting to become

more health conscious, the fry still remains and will continue to remain the staple of

American fast food.

Legend has it that Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing over the secret of

French fries from Paris in 1802, but French fries didn’t become a popular tasty treat until

the mid 20s (Schlosser and Wilson 93). World War I veterans helped make fries popular

because they had eaten them while overseas in Europe and they helped spread the world

once they got back to the United States (Schlosser and Wilson 94). Drive-ins, which were

the hip spot to go in the 30s and 40s, began serving fries with their hamburgers (Schlosser

and Wilson 94). The traditional way to eat potatoes back then was baked in the oven or

boiled and mashed. New-age frying was very exotic for people living in the American

suburbs.

Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, a great idea was brewing. J.R. Simplot was a potato-

farming mogul in the mid 1900s; he devoted much of his career to creating the frozen

French fry (Schlosser and Wilson 95). Simplot’s food chemists tried for years to develop

the frozen fry without ruining the taste or the crispness (Schlosser and Wilson 95). The

team had minor issues, namely burning the fries by trying to fry them in the wrong kinds

of oil, so they would just sink to the bottom (Schlosser and Wilson 94). Finally one day,

the recipe seemed to be perfected, and the first products were targeted for home use

(Schlosser and Wilson 94). The fries were to be baked in the oven. Unfortunately, the

frozen fries were not that successful, so Simplot found a new buyer who could employ

workers to be frying all day, and that buyer was Ray Kroc.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s restaurants, said “The French Fry [was]
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almost sacrosanct for me, its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously” (Schlosser and

Wilson 92). In the beginning, French fries were not at all what they are today. Employees

did not simply dump a bag of fries into a basket and put them down into the fryer. No,

things were different before frozen French fries were invented. Fresh russet Burbank

potatoes were prepared every morning, instead of coming into a package (Schlosser and

Wilson 93). This took a lot of valuable time from the crew members. Each McDonald’s

fryer had to be formulated to keep a temperature stabilized above 325 degrees at all times

(Schlosser and Wilson 93). Because the fries were prepared fresh every morning, there was

a different tasting fry at each individual restaurant. To Ray Kroc this was an outrage, and

something had to be done.

1966 was the first year of selling Simplot’s fries in McDonalds, and they were an

instant success (Schlosser and Wilson 95). Because of the new cheaper frozen fries,

McDonald’s was able to increase its number of stores from 175 to over 3000 in ten years

(Schlosser and Wilson 95). The instant success of the fries at McDonald’s encouraged

many other restaurant chains to purchase Simplot’s fries. Simplot’s company is the third

largest fry-producing company in the United States, and J.R. Simplot is now probably one

of the richest men in Idaho, if not the richest. Because of his success with the frozen

French fry, he now owns over 250,000 acres of farmland for potato farming and ranching

(Schlosser and Wilson 96). He also owns almost of his hometown of Boise, Idaho.

Altogether, Simplot owns the equivalent of a small New-England-size state in farmland. In

short, J.R. Simplot is a very successful man because he cracked the frozen fry code.

J.R. Simplot paved the way for frozen fry producers, but now there are two

companies that are ahead of his (Schlosser and Wilson 98). The second most successful fry
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company is the Canadian company McCain, which was founded in 1956 by two brothers in

New Brunswick. Lamb Weston, McCain, and J.R. Simplot’s company control a vast

majority of the frozen fry market in the United States (Schlosser and Wilson 97). While

this is good for the major companies, smaller farmers are suffering. The bigger companies

are pushing smaller farmers out of the picture, making everything corporate-run. The fast

food chains are benefiting as well. The restaurants are buying the frozen fries at a little

over a quarter per pound, they are frying them in oil and reselling them for around six

dollars per pound, which is over 25 times the original buying price (Schlosser and Wilson

97). Fast food chains might be making a fortune off of their fries, but they are ripping off

other small-business farmers.

The largest French fry-producing company, Lamb Weston, produces French fries

for many fast food restaurants such as McDonalds (Schlosser and Wilson 98). It not only

produces skinny French fries, but over 125 different kinds of fries, such as steakhouse-cut

fries and curly fries, like the ones at Arby’s (Schlosser and Wilson 99). The success of

Lamb Weston Company can be best attributed to the invention of the Lamb Water Gun

Knife. This piece of technology “uses a high-pressured hose to shoot potatoes at a speed of

117 feet per second through a grid of sharpened steel blades, thereby creating perfectly

sliced French fries “ created by F. Gilbert Lamb in 1950 (Schlosser and Wilson 99).

However, using this machine is not just a simple cutting process. It is a complicated

practice through this assembly-line production of frozen fries.

The first step into creating frozen French fries is cleaning them. Giant tractors bring

the potatoes to the factory, and once they are unloaded, they are dumped into a river-like

cleansing system to capture all of the dirt clumps that are attached to the potatoes
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(Schlosser and Wilson 100). Once the potatoes are clean, the hot air is blown on them and

the skins are blown off completely (Schlosser and Wilson 100). This is only for French

cuts, since many other fries have skins on the ends. This is where the Lamb Water Gun

Knife comes in! The potatoes are shot through at 117 feet per second, and they come out

looking like short shoestrings (Schlosser and Wilson 100). The freshly cut French fries are

fried in over 20000 pounds of oil, and then frozen by compressed ammonia (Schlosser and

Wilson 101). Because of this quick mass production of frozen fries, Lamb Weston cuts,

fries and freezes over 4 million potatoes every day (Schlosser and Wilson 99). It is

apparent why Lamb Weston can remain the largest frozen fry company in the continent.

Frozen French fry producers make fries for all kinds of different fast food chains,

but the way they make McDonalds fries is special. There is undoubtedly something

different about McDonald’s French fries. Once you order one, you can practically smell

them before they even reach your hands. You take one out of the box and you can just feel

how crisp they are and you cannot wait to eat one. Once you bite into one you probably

think it’s the best tasting fry in the world. And you may be right. McDonalds has a secret

that they did not share up until recently and it has gotten a lot of disapproval from

nutritionists and doctors all over the world. The secret to the McDonalds French fry is

beef. Yes, that’s right; McDonalds used a small amount of soybean oil and a majority of

beef fat to fry their French fries for years (Schlosser 120). It hasn’t been until the past few

years that they have switched to different oil. In 1990, McDonalds got so much criticism

from thousands of health officials that they decided to switch to using a vegetable oil. The

dilemma was, however, that changing the recipe of the oil could be fatal to the French fry.

This unhealthy beef fat is the secret to McDonalds fry success. Changing the way or
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formula that fries are made could be compared to the “New Coke” formula (Deliso). Coke

tried changing their product and putting out a “New Coke” and it was a disaster. A

consumer does not want a product to be changed because they become nostalgic for the

way things used to be, and it makes the consumer hesitant to buy the product. Many

consumers might be left with a bad taste in their mouths; they might wonder “Why bother?

They might not taste as good” (Deliso).

The term trans-fat free is defined as having 0.5 grams of fat or less, so the product

is not technically free of all trans fats (“Trans fat-free?”). The most common fast food

restaurants claim to have fries that are trans fat free. Consumer Reports did a study in

December of 2007 on the actual amount of trans fats in the fast food fries, and what the

restaurants claim to contain (“Trans fat-free?”). The study was done with fries from

Arby’s, Burger King, KFC, McDonalds, and Wendy’s; the restaurants were located in five

different states (“Trans fat-free?”). Places like Wendy’s and Burger King claimed to have a

lesser amount of trans fat content than the reality, which was more than double at Wendy’s

(“Trans fat-free?”). McDonalds, Arby’s, and KFC were the restaurants who did not lie

about the trans fat content (“Trans fat-free?”). Arby’s and McDonalds claims were actually

higher than the actual content of their fries (“Trans fat-free?”). Arby’s and KFC were the

only fast food places to be “free” of trans fats, while McDonalds had the highest fat

content at a whopping 6.9 grams per medium-sized serving(“Trans fat-free?”). This is an

alarming rate of trans fats for French fries, so this is why nutritionists urged McDonalds to

change their oils like Arby’s, Burger King, and KFC did years ago. Advertising Age did a

study for its readers on whether or not McDonalds should follow the same path as many

other fast food restaurants and change the trans fats in its fries (Deliso). Over 50 percent
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said that getting rid of the trans fats in their fries could be bad for McDonalds (Deliso). In

my opinion, McDonalds is right to be concerned about their product. French fries are

second in importance right behind their hamburgers. If consumers stop eating their fries

because they taste weird, McDonalds could lose millions of dollars. There has to be some

other way to promote healthier eating habits in these fast food restaurants.

In the past ten years, fast food chains have been trying to incorporate healthier

foods. Every place you go now, you see new salads being promoted. Arby’s has baked

potatoes. McDonalds and Burger King have added salads and more grilled items. Even

KFC has created new “Kentucky Grilled Chicken” for a low price. These places are trying

hard to reduce scrutiny and attract more health-conscious customers, but who knows if it is

really working. Personally, I would rather get a salad instead of getting fries, but I do not

know many people who would do that. Since these salads have come out, many of the

more unsuccessful ones have dwindled away, such as the Asian chicken salad from

McDonalds or the Mandarin Orange Chicken salad from Wendy’s. People are just not

buying them as much as they are fries. Even if they are, fast food chains are obviously not

worried about the future of their French fries.

The Journal of Consumer Research has done a study on the “presence of healthy

options on a menu” and how this presence can actually make consumers choose the fries

instead of the healthier option (Mindlin). There were two menus: One menu had fries,

chicken nuggets, and baked potatoes; the other menu had all of the same choices plus a

side salad. According to the study, even though French fries are generally perceived as a

bad choice, the students chose them three times more than the group without the salad on

the menu. Keith Wilcox, a doctor at Baruch College and the head of the research team who
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did this study stated “When you consider the healthy option, you say, well I could have

that option. That lowers your guard, leading to self indulgent behavior” (Mindlin). This

study could possibly prove to be true. Many consumers who go to fast food restaurants are

glad about seeing a healthy option on the menu such as a salad. Once they have these

happy feelings, they might just subconsciously think that because there are salads on the

menu, that maybe the fries are healthy too. Though the salads are on the menu, customers

barely consider them. They don’t realize what kind of calories they are consuming, and

how few calories they would be consuming if they chose a vegetable instead of fries.

The CDC states that fries are not counted as vegetables even though they come

from potatoes (Linn 20). However, many consumers believe that fires are considered

vegetables, which leads them to believe that fries are healthy (Linn 20). While potatoes

alone are not fatty or extremely unhealthy, when deep frying is involved they become very

fatty (Linn 20). Oil makes up about one-fifth of a French fry, making the fry stuffed with

fat and cholesterol (Linn 20). The CDC also states that it is okay to consume French fries,

but one should only do so in moderation (Linn 20). The suggested serving is about a

handful of fries, which is less than a small-sized fry from most fast food chains (Linn 20).

Places like Arby’s don’t even offer a small fry; the smallest they offer is a medium fry.

Dietician Ruth Frenchman states “French fries are fried and therefore contain a lot of

unhealthy saturated and trans fats, which lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, and

obesity. Americans are becoming more and more aware of the effects of a poor diet and are

therefore beginning to make smart choices about what they eat” (Linn 20). Could she be

correct? Fries are still way more popular than vegetables, even if vegetables are healthier.

But who in the American public wants to eat something healthy at a greasy burger joint?
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The average small order of French fries from McDonalds restaurants is 250 calories

and 13 grams of fat. Those numbers are nearly doubled and tripled in a medium and large

sized fry. This number is outrageous, but it does not phase most of the American public.

However, the public does not realize that getting a side salad at that very same restaurant

instead of getting fries is only 80 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Even if a person ordered

three side salads, he or she would not match the calorie and fat content of a small fry.

People should really start thinking about choosing healthier foods; cutting calories would

really help our society as a whole. While saving calories is (as it should be) a rising

concern for everyone, people cannot give up their French fries. If you are like many of the

United States today, you are probably unaware that there are other ways to eat French fries

besides deep fried at your favorite fast food chain. Maybe you can try simple alternatives

to eating your potatoes.

First try buying them frozen and skipping the extra costs at places like McDonalds

and Arby’s. A medium-sized fry costs around two or three dollars per order, while a frozen

bag of fries with quadruple that amount is near the same price. The fries are already

cooked; all you have to do is pop them in the oven. Prevention magazine’s Rachel Meltzer

Warren recommends Alexia Olive Oil and Sea Salt Oven Fries, Ian’s Sweet Potato Fries,

and Cascadian Farm Organic Wedge Cut Oven Fries (Warren). Most of these bags of fries

have around a hundred calories per serving and three grams of fat, so they are more filling

and have less calories. They aren’t vegetables, but it is a start.


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