Joann Bruso's Happy Meal at the start of her experiment.
Joann Bruso's Happy Meal at the start of her experiment.

Happy Meals do not decompose, and McDonald's not lovin' it

What happens when you put a McDonald's Happy Meal on hold? Two very different women in two very different towns decided to find out.

Coloradan Joann Bruso, author of the blog Baby Bites, which is designed to help parents transform picky eaters into healthy eaters, came up with an experiment that would do Von Frankenstein proud: She bought a Happy Meal and watched it for a year. Sally Davies, a photographer in Manhattan, just completed a similar mission, which she calls "The Happy Meal Project." She photographed a Happy Meal over six months.

Both women came up with remarkably similar results. What happened to their happy meals? Not much. As Bruso wrote last March, at the end of her experiment:

I know it's hard to believe. Time flies, doesn't it? My eyes tear when I think today, March 3, is my Happy Meal's first birthday. They grow up so fast, don't they?

I purchased a Happy Meal, not to eat, but to observe and blog about. Yes, I bought a Happy Meal and then placed it on my office shelf, right behind me and my computer. It sat on my shelf for a year as a silent witness to our fast food industry.

It smelled delicious for a few days. I'd get a whiff of those yummy French fries every time I walked into my office. After a week or so, you could hardly smell it. My husband worried that when the food began to decompose, there would be a terrible odor in our home. He also worried the food would attract ants and mice. He questioned my sanity.

NOPE, no worries at all. My Happy Meal is one year old today and it looks pretty good. It NEVER smelled bad. The food did NOT decompose. It did NOT get moldy, at all.

This morning, I took it off my shelf to take a birthday photo. The first year is always a milestone. I gave it one of my world famous nonna hugs as we've been office mates for a year now! (Okay, maybe my sanity is in question.)

Davies started her project in April, shortly after Bruso was ending hers. She bought a Happy Meal, then put the burger and fries on a white plate so that she could photograph the items. For six months, she faithfully snapped pictures of the plate. "The fries shriveled slightly as did the burger patty, but the overall appearance of the food did not change as the weeks turned to months," she told a reporter. "And now, at six months old, the food is plastic to the touch and has an acrylic sheen to it. The only change that I can see is that it has become hard as a rock."

Davies, a vegan, did not try to take a bite of the burger.

The two experiments would seem to indicate that a McDonald's Happy Meal is not biodegradable. But when a reporter asked Danya Proud, McDonald's spokeswomen, about that, she replied curtly: "This is nothing more than an outlandish claim and is completely false."

Happy now?

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