It started when Sally Davies bought a McDonald's Happy Meal in April and photographed it for six months, posting the photos on Flickr. What's special about the photos? Well, the food in them isn't decomposing. There's no mold, and not much shrinkage, either. When the project got picked up by Good Morning America (and, of course, the one-and-only Internet) it attracted the attention of the McDonald's PR folks. What follows is the summary of a truly weird debate over whether a Happy Meal can, in fact, grow mold.

  • 'Anyone Can Repeat This Simple Experiment,' marvels Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz at the photos, which he turns into a video. "She says there were no worms, mold, smell, or visible decomposition of any kind." His reaction is pretty typical:

What I want to know now is what kind of technology does McDonald's use to create these things. Is a Happy Meal scientifically considered inert matter? Is it made of carbon-based polymers? Can it be recycled into jet fuel? They taste marginally better than asbestos, so it must be okay to use them to build houses.
  • Our Hamburgers Can, Too, Grow Mold  "Bacteria and mold," explains the McDonald's Media Statement, "only grow under certain conditions." It implicitly blames the lack of mold in the photos on insufficient "moisture," and "strongly caution anyone from jumping to conclusions ... If food is/or becomes dry enough, it won’t grow mold or bacteria. In fact, any food purchased from a restaurant or grocery store or prepared at home that lacks moisture would also dehydrate and see similar results if left in the same environment." For good measure, the statement adds that McDonald's hamburgers "are made with 100% USDA-inspected beef," and don't include preservatives or "fillers."
  • Are You Saying This is a Mummy Burger?  "It's hard to believe that a burger sitting on a living room in New York for six months can get mummified, like McDonald's is implying," responds Diaz. "Even with the A/C unit on, the humidity in NYC is extremely high, especially during the summer months." The inclusion of a control group--he suggests a steak--might be more scientific, he admits.
  • 'Arguments That Would've Confused Our Ancestors'  Ezra Klein's headline says it all. A food chain is actually trying to convince customers that its food can spoil, he points out. "This considered a selling point, at least in the modern world."
  • 'Yeah, But Is It Art?' asks Landon Hall at The Orange County Register (the photographer Sally Davies is, apparently, an artist). Explains Hall:
When I lived in Manhattan, I'd try to take visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see Damien Hirst’s pickled Great White shark, called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living." First unveiled in 1992, the shark is now showing signs of wear, which means … something.

Maybe Davies' work, too, will take on greater significance as her Happy Meal ages, and we along with it. Check back in 10 years.