Ryan Petersen, the CEO of a logistics tech company called Flexport, tweeted out a photo that went viral Monday, purporting to show a time when McDonald’s used supposedly healthier cooking methods. Petersen suggested the people from this allegedly ancient photo were much healthier than the people of 2022, insinuating it’s because they weren’t consuming seed oils, a current boogeyman in the diet world. But just about everything in Petersen’s tweet is wrong or misleading.
“This picture of McDonalds employees from the era when they cooked in beef tallow instead of canola oil is haunting me. They look so healthy,” Petersen tweeted.
For one thing, the photo isn’t from a time when McDonald’s was using beef tallow. The photo was taken on September 2, 2000, and shows a newly built McDonald’s inside the Athlete’s Village constructed for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. McDonald’s stopped using beef tallow to cook things like its fries in the year 1990, a decade earlier.
What might account for why the people look “healthier” than people of today? Well, assuming you agree with that assessment, we’ve already established the photo shows McDonald’s workers in Australia. And one thing Australia has had since 1984 is a Medicare-for-all universal health care system. Australia currently has one of the best ranked health systems in the world, along with Norway and the Netherlands, which also have universal health care.
Australia also has incredibly high life expectancy, thanks in large part to its health care system. Australians currently have a life expectancy of 83.1 years, the sixth highest in the world. Whereas U.S. life expectancy is at 76.6 years, roughly five years less than the average life expectancy for other wealthy countries.
Does any of the change in life expectancy have to do with seed oils? Almost certainly not. But if you want to make the argument that people were healthier back when McDonald’s was using beef tallow instead of vegetable oil on its fries, you’re going to want to find a different picture. Because all of the people in this photo were eating McDonald’s with seed oils for at least a decade, assuming they were eating McDonald’s at all. And don’t even get us started on the health benefits of being highly paid. Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world, thanks to a strong labour movement built on the power of unions.
And none of this is even to mention how ridiculous it is to look at McDonald’s for a picture of good health, no matter what era or country you’re examining. The company makes fast food — burgers, fries, shakes, things of that nature.
Maybe start with a given society’s wages and health care system before you start worrying that vegetable oil has made everyone sick. Life expectancy went backwards in the U.S. during the height of the covid-19 pandemic and by all accounts it had nothing to do with seed oils.