8 nasty fast-food ingredients and how you can avoid them

My Fellow Inebriates,

‘Tis the season for resolutions. (Nope…no announcements here.) Whether our body-obsessed culture rubricates them, or whether they simply represent a failure of imagination, most resolutions fall under the health-and-fitness banner. You can’t swing a cat in the gym after January 1, unless of course you go early (that the Resolute go at all is a triumph; don’t ask them to show up at 5:00 a.m.) nor can you switch on any media channel without receiving advice on achieving svelteness, buffness, hotness, or whateverthehellyouwantness. Yes, New Year’s resolutions combine all the frenzy of want-it-now binge/purge behavior PLUS a dose of moralizing condescension. Fuck up your resolution in the first week and people will laugh forgivingly. Fuck it up in February and they’ll pat you on the back for trying, all the while happily welcoming your failure as proof your goal was too epic and that an intelligent person wouldn’t have bothered in the first place, except to garner attention, you douche.

cats on treadmill

Yeah, so I bloody love New Year. It’s sort of like being in a global room with a bunch of bulimics trying figuratively to barf up the entire last year while praying to Jesus or whoever wrote The Secret. Advice comes fast and fastidious (ha!)—no more wheat, no more bacon, no more eating after 7:00 pm…if it was fun, say good-bye to it, at least until next week (or February, douchebags).

None of which I have any right to say. The only thing I ever gave up was Bejeweled, because it was hurting my paw. Truly, more power to anyone who decides to ring in a life change with the New Year—you’re stronger than the average bear. (And yes! You can do it. If you put up with reading about LBHQ, you can do anything.)

The LBHQ resolutions…

No one in the house had any intention of making a resolution, so my mum assigned us all one:

  • P: Stop putting/leaving things on the floor.
  • V: Go to the bathroom alone; really, there is nothing scary in there, unless you count the toilet. (OMG, my fellow inebriates, I definitely count the toilet.)
  • Dad: Be on time. (Meaning: be early.)
  • LB: Stop coming up with reasons to drink.
  • Herself: Stop wasting time typing for that bear. (OMG!!)

Those resolutions all suck.

  • Putting things on the floor is the best way to thwart a vacuuming effort. If Mum has to move a whole bunch of toys and clothes, she’ll consider her work done and not make the additional effort of vacuuming. None of us wants to hear that machine. Miss P is smart.
  • The toilet is legitimately terrifying. Who knows—maybe Glen Bear went down the toilet, which would explain its reluctance to swallow big things lately.
  • My dad lives for the adrenalin rush of making a 35-minute drive in 25 minutes. Take that away and there’ll be nothing left but porn.
  • Yeah, right. My parents love my justifications for drinking.
  • OMG!!

Those resolutions make me want to reflect on some typical ones. For instance: “Eat better.” Marvelously vague, not to mention qualified in relation to whatever gluttony 2012 featured, “eat better” is nevertheless one of the most popular goals for January. But “eat better” than what? What the hell does it mean?

cat resolution*

You should see the stuff my mother cooks. You’d count me fortunate to be a bear and therefore banned from the dinner table. Broccoli, corn chowder, zucchini, stew—you’d wish you could have some astronaut pellets instead, or even some rabbit pellets. Nobody at LBHQ needs to worry about pushing away from a table laden with delicious foods. Mum’s got that covered without even trying.

But what about fast food?

P and V would love some fast food. Like any kid who’s been to McDonald’s once, their blood forever courses with its secret addictive ingredient. They can spot the Golden Arches from an inhuman distance, even while claiming they can’t spell because the blackboard is too far away. They don’t get fast food very often, but when they do, they pine for it long after the fact. What freaky things are in fast food? And should we resolve to cut them out for 2013?

1. Duck feathers and human hair

l-cysteineYum! That’s where food scientists get L-cysteine, a semi-essential amino acid used in bread products to make the dough more workable. Although it can be synthesized, most is obtained from duck feathers and a small percentage comes from Chinese women who sell their hair to chemical-processing plants—you won’t find that on any product label. McDonald’s hot apple pie? Duck feathers. Mmmmmm. L-cysteine is actually pretty normal and non-scary, and it can even fight hangovers by counteracting the aldehydes produced during alcohol metabolism—you just might want to know the source.

2. Sand

This doesn’t freak me out too much, people. Food chains like Wendy’s and Taco Bell use it as an anti-clumping agent. But I mean…it’s just sand. If my parents would only save up and take us on a tropical vacation, we’d accidentally consume a ton of sand—in our margaritas, etc. All good.

3. Wood

Plant-derived cellulose thickens, stabilizes, and otherwise bolsters the texture of all kinds of fast food. Not scary at all. Aren’t we supposed to eat a plant-based diet?

4. Dimethylpolysiloxane

Eight little syllables and you’ve got a silicone that prevents fry-cook oil from foaming. Good, right?


5. Tertiary butylhydroquinone

mcnuggetNot to be confused with LBHQ, TBHQ is a petroleum-derived preservative found in 18 McDonald’s products. The FDA limit is 0.02 percent of a food’s oil and fat content. Be careful not to eat more than 5 kg of McNuggets, though—you’ll hit the threshold for symptoms such as delirium, nausea, vomiting, and suffocation. Eat a 25-kg McNuggets serving and you’ll die (well, presumably you would anyway).

6. Ammonium sulfate

It’s a soil fertilizer and a yeast feeder…without this additive, those yummy fast-food breads would cost a fraction of a penny more. Mmmmm!

7. Insect-derived dyes and shellacs

Just when you thought fast food couldn’t get any more appealing, consider the special beetle secretions and excretions that give candy and baked goods their high shine and vivid colors. Crushed female cochineal insects impart a ravishing red to meats, sausages, marinades, dressings, jams, pie fillings—you name it. Not that eating bugs is such a big deal—we ingest bugs all the time. Think of all the aphids that come in a bag of frozen broccoli. Think of bugs so small you can’t see them. No biggie, right? Right!

8. Pink slime

Mechanically separated meat paste—which McDonald’s disavowed in 2011—is a meat-and-bone slurry treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria, then loaded with artificial flavor to mask the additive’s taste. Salami, bologna, hotdogs usually feature a generous pumping of pink gloop. Who wouldn’t want that? And it’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe).

As impossibly yummy as all this sounds, it hasn’t inspired a new resolution to start eating solid food, my fellow inebriates. Clearly, the best way to avoid (at least mostly avoid) these eight weird food additives is to eschew solids and stick to alcohol.

*Resolve to include more pictures of cats?

BIG ROCK DUNKELWEIZEN—Drink it quickly, even if the ball won’t drop again

Score another point for the Mayan calendar: With the End of Days imminent and presumably no more Times Square big-ball drops remaining, there was no longer any earthly use for the famously well-preserved Dick Clark. Dead of a heart attack at 82, Clark leaves our little blue planet hurtling toward the apocalypse without his squeaky-clean morals to guide us.

Even though Dick Clark mainstreamed the devil’s music, he drew the line at Elvis’s public thrusts, requiring the King to be filmed from the waist up during his American Bandstand gig, and thus rescuing American teenagers from thinking about bumping, grinding, or sex. Clark’s death is a sad blow for the American right wing with which he was so proudly aligned.

James Brown is dead.
He looks happy, though. —AP Photo

Celebrity open-casket shots are rare, and if the news is correct, Clark has already been cremated, leaving the world to wonder what he must have looked like in repose. Doubtless he looked charmingly waxen, if not happy, the way James Brown did.

Caskets really creep me out. After searching in vain for a picture of Dick Clark dead or in a coffin and finding all kinds of other freaky things instead (a child’s Hello Kitty coffin, OMG), I needed a drink. Lucky for me there was one beer left: BIG ROCK DUNKELWEIZEN DARK WHEAT ALE.

As you know, my fellow inebriates, if a beer is the last beer in the house I am absolutely going to drink it, and this was the case with DUNKELWEIZEN, even if I wasn’t crazy about it being a wheat ale. I’ve never found a hefeweizen I loved, mainly because of their light citrusiness, but I thought a dark wheat beer might be different. And it was.

DUNKELWEIZEN is a lovely dark color with a garnet tinge and a fizzy white head. Billed as a blend of five distinctive malts, its aroma is rich and toffee-like with espresso predominating. Malty sweetness hits the tongue first, then unmistakable coffee, chocolate, and vanilla notes. These flavors are none too subtle, mind you; they tend to redouble with each sip and stick to the palate, making the beer less refreshing than it could be.

That having been said, DUNKELWEIZEN is drinkable. I could pound six of them if I needed to—say, if the Canucks were getting reamed and I felt sad. The mouthfeel isn’t terribly heavy, the alcohol percentage is an acceptable 5%, and the flavors are harmonious, even if they do suggest a Big Rock–Starbucks collaboration.

Like a lot of beers that aren’t perfectly right, low temperature is essential to enjoyment of DUNKELWEISEN. Give it ten minutes in the freezer prior to opening, drink it quickly, and you’ll probably love it—the deeper flavors won’t have a fighting chance to punch through the icy cold. But if this beer is allowed to sit, those heavy flavors get a bit rowdy and start behaving like coffee instead of beer.

A beer that needs to be slammed back quickly is not a bad thing. I feel a bit guilty pounding a really sublime beer fast so I can get loaded, but DUNKELWEIZEN lends itself to chugging. So I did pound the bottle, forgetting that it was the last beer in the house, which made me melancholy and prompted me to look at coffin pictures again.

Check it out, it's Elvis.

This one doesn't have anybody in it, but it is decorated with a bacon motif.

This one has Kim Jong-Il in it.

A wine-themed casket. Way to show people you loved life.

There goes Whitney Houston.

Would Dick Clark have liked this gay-themed coffin?

Going out in style, Michael Jackson.

How to keep those New Year’s resolutions—even if you’re an alcoholic

So how are we doing on our New Year’s resolutions, my fellow inebriates?

Apologies for the royal “we.” There are certainly no LB resolutions, unless you count the ongoing goal of opening bottles without benefit of thumbs.

Is it even particularly good for us to make New Year’s resolutions?

Psychologists say no, it isn’t. Fully three-quarters of the resolved fail in their pursuits, ending up more dispirited than before. Even simple resolutions—such as going to Walmart without exposing a private orifice—elude some people year after year.

The problem with resolutions is that by definition they focus on negative behaviors. Even when they’re couched in positive language, they tend to have an obvious dark side that starts beckoning after a few days or hours of the new year. Focusing on quitting drinking, as an obvious example, leads to obsessive thinking about alcohol. It’s true!

So how do people succeed at keeping resolutions?

  • They develop their own plans rather than heeding specious advice from self-help books and motivational gurus.
  • They make their resolutions long before the ball begins its New Year’s descent.
  • Their resolutions are realistic and well-considered, not whimsical.
  • Their resolutions are specific, unlike my friend Scarybear’s (“get more snacks in 2012”).
  • They make one resolution at a time.
  • They make their resolutions official by telling people about them, or at least journaling them.
  • They break the mountain up into small hills, so the journey isn’t overwhelming, and they get satisfaction in periodic increments.
  • They forgive themselves when they lapse. They understand it’s part of the process.
  • When they do slip, they don’t let all-or-nothing thinking negate the resolution entirely. They just continue.
  • They reward themselves for incremental successes.

But how do we apply all this shit now that it’s already 2012? Isn’t it too late to make resolutions?

Well, no…there’s nothing magical about New Year at all. In fact, New Year is one of the worst times to resolve to do anything. It’s winter, there’s food and drink everywhere, people are visiting, the mood is celebratory, the gym is crowded, and if you’re a bear you should really be hibernating.

Why not resolve to wait for the optimal time to do something? Then do it.

For me, that thing is discovering how to open wine bottles with my paws. Now that I know the year isn’t lost, I can still make it happen.