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Fast food breakfasts and local ingredients

Published: Saturday, May 31, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Two seemingly unrelated activities are happening around Illinois. First, there is a new food fight underway, as fast food chains battle over who will serve the best, newest and most unusual breakfast.

The opening salvo was initiated by Taco Bell when it rolled out its Waffle Taco.  McDonald’s responded with a renewed emphasis on its McGriddle breakfast headliner. Simultaneously, and no surprise to anyone driving around the state, is the very active pace of corn planting and field preparation for soybean planting that is currently underway. If we blend the ongoing battle for breakfasts with planting activity around the state, the success of these breakfast offerings could have an effect on corn and soybean farmers.

Fast food operators, as they offer up breakfasts, are a market for Illinois soybeans. McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle contains ingredients from soybeans – not a lot, but some. For example, according to the website Foodfacts.com, the McGriddle uses soybean oil, soy flour and soybean lecithin. The Taco Bell Waffle Taco with sausage includes both soybean oil and soy flour.

Illinois soybeans can enter the food chain in a variety of ways, in addition to fast food breakfasts. Soybean oil is used for cooking and baking, in margarine and in a wide variety of breads, crackers, cakes and cookies. For example, again citing information from Foodfacts.com, many cookies contain soy oil or soy lecithin, or both. In a more direct manner, soybeans may enter the food chain as soy grits, soy waffles, in a variety of dairy related products such as soy milk and soy ice cream, soy burgers, and of course, tofu and soy cooking oil.

Local corn farmers are also helped by fast food operators using a variety of different corn based ingredients in their offerings. The McGriddle uses corn oil. Several additional breakfast items at McDonald’s use corn based ingredients, including the Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit containing corn syrup, corn protein and corn starch. For Taco Bell, to get corn ingredients, you will need to order up a Grilled Taco, which contains corn syrup.   

So keep in mind, when you bite into that fast food breakfast, that you could easily be enjoying some locally produced Illinois ingredients, grown and harvested by a farmer you may know. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of local foods and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Know your farmer, know your food” initiative. 

Professor William Bailey formerly was the chief economist for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition. He also has served as Deputy-Under Secretary of Agriculture. He is currently affiliated with Western Illinois University School of Agriculture.

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