by josh orter
New York's a town where the specter of a portion and sodium-controlling mayor still looms large. That's probably what made it impossible to miss the splendid symmetry of a mechanical salt-spreader idling just in front of a culinary one during this week's snowstorm. And when nature throws fortune in one's face, who can resist the post that nearly writes itself?
My immediate thought was as obvious as it was profound: how many thousands of pounds are in the back of that truck...and how many orders of Mickey D's fries could it salt up?
A couple of official McDonald's websites as well as that of the The NYC Department of Sanitation's make quick work of this, and it should not go unnoticed the wonderful coincidence that both of these organizations deal with junk. One sells it, one picks it up. In any case, the vehicle in question is capable of holding up to 16 tons of rock salt no different in chemical composition than the one seasoning your food. Just a different grind of plain ol' NaCl.
Now, in a twist sure to please foreign readers, we'll switch into one of the few instances of the metric system in everyday American life: milligrams. Never mind that few of us could visualize what a milligram actually looks like. But a teaspoon? Yeah, we've got that down. Anyway, nutritional information on McDonalds.com reveals that a medium-sized fries contains 270 mg of sodium. At more than 907 million milligrams per ton, a 16-ton spreader carries up to 14.5 billion mg worth of salty potential; enough to season 53.7 million orders. Just one truck.
Super, but we're clearly going to take this to the next logical step. What then of the DSNY's entire salt supply, what could that savorize?
NYC residents will be proud and assured to know that our intrepid sanitation department sits on a massive stockpile of 235,000 tons of rock salt; 470,000,000 pounds. I for one will sleep far more soundly knowing that 56 pounds of this is mine (470 million / 8.337 million residents).
235,000 tons multiplied by 907,184,740 mg per ton equals 2.2679619e+14. Which is, well, I’m not quite sure, confused as I am by the whole exponent thing. Good thing Wolfram Alpha knows: 213 trillion, 188 billion, 413 million, 900 thousand milligrams.
So 213,188,413,900,000 milligrams of salt.
213,188,413,900,000/ 270 mg = 789,586,718,148
Ladies and gentleman, it's my pleasure to conclude that the NYC Department of Sanitation could, should it choose, salt 789.5 billion orders of medium-sized McDonald's french fries.
At 4.1 oz. each, that's 3.2349 trillion-with-a-t ounces. The less gaudy conversion is 202.18 billion pounds. At McDonald's worldwide sales rate of 3.285 billion pounds a year, we've got enough salt for 61 years worth of fries.