McDonald's wants you to know it is on "a journey," the purpose of which is to "ensure the food you love is food you feel good about."
But if your childhood was fueled by Happy Meals and shoddy toy tie-ins likes ours were, this particular quest might have you looking back on your childhood in total and abject horror.
You don't need to bring up the phrase "pink slime" to suggest that McDonald's and its offerings have long been the target of advocates, nutritionists, and just general detractors. Whether we're talking about the high fructose corn syrup in the sandwich buns we grew up eating, the countless preservatives in the McNuggets we pounded with abandon, and antibiotics and rbST in the milk we washed our apple pie down with, the longstanding McDonald's menu is full of things most are finding increasingly hard to simply ignore.
Thankfully, all of those nasty ingredients are finally getting the heave-ho, along with lots of other stuff we all happily and ignorantly ingested while playing with the Teenie Beanie Baby or Miniature Barbie toys that came with our Happy Meals.
Many fast-food chains are getting the message—thanks to depressed sales—that no one wants to eat that stuff anymore. So rather than go on the defensive, McDonald's has decided to take the high road. According to the Associated Press, Mike Andres, president of McDonald's US, told reporters at an event in the company's Illinois headquarters this week that the company has made a strategic decision: "Why go to the position of trying to defend [these ingredients], if the consumer is saying, I prefer not to have that particular ingredient in my food?"
The concerted campaign by McDonald's to clean up its act began over a year ago, when it replaced margarine with butter in its Egg McMuffins and added kale and spinach to the iceberg lettuce in its salads. In 2014, Andres told investors that the chain would try to make its long and arcane ingredient lists shorter and cleaner.
Now, the company is reporting that it is ahead of schedule with respect to some of these commitments, including phasing out chicken raised with "antibiotics important to human medicine." That doesn't mean antibiotic-free chicken, though. According to a McDonald's report, the chickens in their nuggets will still be treated with ionophores, which the company says is a class of antibiotics not prescribed to humans. The implication, presumably, is that antibiotic tolerance will not result from eating those nuggets.
MUNCHIES reached out to McDonald's to find out more about the removal of preservatives in its McNuggets. A representative told us that McNuggets never had artificial colors or flavors, but said "Our former Chicken McNuggets were cooked in oil that contained an artificial preservative that is no longer added to the restaurant cooking oil." They say they've also cleaned up the artificial preservatives across the breakfast menu.
Reporters at the media event in Illinois also got a glimpse of new items like "breakfast bowls" and—most shocking of all, perhaps, this: A McDonald's chef actually made an Egg McMuffin with—yes, it's hard to believe—a freshly cracked egg.
But don't get too excited. As Michael Jacobson, the executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Associated Press, the biggest problem with McDonald's food—that it contains a shitload of calories—is not being addressed by this "journey."
Progress may come slowly, but an excursion in the direction of healthier ingredients is something the next generation of Happy Meal-gobbling children can only benefit from. And if anyone wants to trade their Ronald McDonald See Behind Glass for a couple of McNugget Buddies, hit us up.