What popular snack is bland, unimaginative and yet ridiculously addictive? Pringles, of course! They’re one of the most successful chips in America’s supermarkets today. The conflicting attributes of this peculiar foodstuff have inspired countless urban legends, but the truth is even more fascinating. The fact that these chips are made from recycled McDonalds french fries is merely the tip of the iceberg in this incredible story.
Rumors have long circulated about a high-level partnership between Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Pringles, and the McDonalds Corporation. Both are board members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various other trade groups that lobby Congress on behalf of the food industry. Both see themselves as patriotic American institutions fighting for dominance in a competitive global marketplace. As a result, they enjoy unique protections and carve-outs granted to them by the political establishment.
This special relationship was underscored by a private meeting held in Overland Park, Kansas, in 2005. Documents leaked exclusively to this journalist reveal that A.G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter and Jim Skinner, the newly chosen head of McDonalds, met for a highly sensitive discussion. The result would dramatically alter the fortunes of these two titans of the consumer industry. The agenda in Kansas that day was a simple one: to maximize the profitability of the potato.
The potato has long been a staple of the American diet. Traditionally, potatoes have been inexpensive to grow and process. However, a new strain of bacterial pathogens, notably Candidatus Liberibacter, was causing serious worries. Coupled with rising transportation costs brought on by the Gulf War, the issue was on the verge of becoming a full-blown crisis.
A third attendee at that secret Kansas meeting had an extraordinary solution. That man was Lt. General Keith B. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA). Alexander had recently been appointed by President Bush and one of his first mandates was to pursue an unusual experiment: the introduction of nanotechnology into an everyday food item.
Much of the nanotechnology produced today is rather mundane. It has been used, with only minor success, to combat disease and innovate computer chips. The Defense Department has also explored the possibility of this technology in biological warfare. But Alexander saw nanotechnology as a new frontier in NSA data collection. He envisioned a type of “smartdust” technology comprised of tiny microelectromechanical systems that could store electromagnetic pulses. When integrated into a complete digestive network in a human body, this smartdust could be tracked through radio frequencies. When disposed of as human waste, refuse potato chip nanotechnology could be evaluated for data about our physical routines, our dietary habits, even what prescription drugs we take. In other words, when these microelectromechanical elements are added to our foods, they become intimate data collection centers. It was even hoped that when networked correctly, these integrated monitoring systems could map out one’s brain activities, including memories and beliefs.
As the meeting progressed and potential costs grew exponentially, NSA head Alexander recommended that Procter & Gamble and McDonalds team up on their potato processing. CEO Skinner proposed something even more fascinating: that leftover McDonalds french fries should be recycled into Pringles chips. This would maximize the use of these nanotechnologically enhanced potato foods and save the NSA billions. It was a brilliant solution and a strategic partnership was born.
Thus, all Pringles chips produced today originally began as McDonalds french fries, saving both corporations hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Because this element of food processing is essentially funded by the NSA, it would by considered by any contemporary economic standard as a government subsidy, although both companies would be loath to admit it.
Codenamed “The Chip Chip,” the budget for this joint NSA/McDonalds/Pringles project is estimated at $12.7 billion, per an addendum to a CBO report from 2011. The figure includes a $380 million “courtesy fee” paid to McDonalds and Procter for each year of participation. The money also pays for their silence.
The key breakthrough in potato nanotechnology came when scientists focused on the chemical compound acrylamide. Acrylamide, which is also known as prop-2-enamide, is prepared by the hydrolysis of acrylonitrile by nitrile hydratase, making it particularly durable. It is also surprisingly suitable for the NSA’s specific type of data storage. It can be chewed into a glutinous paste, washed down with beer and even fermented in a pool of the worst stomach acids without deteriorating. The entire process may well have been inspired by a paper in the February, 2005, issue of Nanotechnology by fast food aficionado, Dr. F. Di Benedetto entitled, “Patterning polyacrylamide hydrogels by soft lithography.”
In 2009, one scientist openly bragged of the success of the Pringles/McDonalds/NSA partnership in a volume entitled Microfluidic Devices in Nanotechnology by stating that:
“The use of acrylamide gels [in a McDonalds french fry] is almost synonymous with enzyme immobilization through entrapment. Polyacrylamide is hydrophilic in a Pringles chip, that is, protein-friendly; it is cross-linking density is readily controlled through the percentage of bisacrylamide cross-linker and redox-initiated polymerization proceeds at room temperature.”
According to several firsthand accounts that have surfaced, managers at McDonalds franchises were told as early as 2006 to collect any unused french fries found about their premises. The parent corporation provided special brown barrels for their storage, and today after-hours pickups of these containers is viewed as a routine part of the company’s disposal and recycling policy.
For Pringles consumers, the taste difference was not at all noticeable when the change occurred. The chips have always had a mundane, almost antiseptic flavor that discourages personal introspection. Interestingly enough, when Pringles was sued in the United Kingdom in 2010 over its status as a snack food, sealed documents presented at court regarding the acrylamide nanotechnology helped convince the judge to rule in their favor that Pringles are not a “foodstuff” by any traditional measure whatsoever.
Today, Pringles is a subsidiary of the Kellogg Corporation and its relationship with the National Security Agency is as solid as ever. McDonalds remains on board and is even looking to expand their participation in the NSA program through the Egg McMuffin, due to that sandwich’s popularity with computer hackers and anarchist protestors. Scientists speculate that one day Americans will consume so much nanotechnologically-enhanced junk food that the combination of gut fat and a WIFI connection will allow technicians to remotely hijack the bodily function of any person at any time.
If there ever was a time that we move back to the farm and grow our own food again, my fellow citizens, it’s now…