Thinly sliced: McDonald’s Monopoly was a McScam, community gardens make people happier, and more

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

The game was rigged. Back in the 1980s, McDonald’s launched a wildly successful Monopoly promotion that doled out $1-million prizes to lucky customers. There was just one problem: Loyal Big Mac eaters started to suspect the game may be impossible to win. Turns out, it was. The company’s most successful marketing campaign since the Happy Meal fell victim to its own head of security, who orchestrated a vast conspiracy to steal winning game pieces and redistribute them where he pleased—thousands of dollars to his own butcher, a strip-club owner, and a one-time, million-dollar anonymous donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That’s according to this excellent story from The Daily Beast, which paints a picture of a power-hungry anti-hero who used to order everything on the menu at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on his expense account just because he could.

Trump’s clean diet. When President Trump held a press conference days before his inauguration—and soon after the publication of a now-infamous dossier that included unsubstantiated allegations that the Russian government possessed “pee tapes” recorded during his 2013 visit to Moscow—the incoming Commander-in-Chief dismissed the story by invoking his fear of pathogens: “I’m also very much of a germophobe, by the way, believe me,” he said. The audience laughed.

As Politico reported in October of 2016, the president’s germophobia is well-served by his affinity for mass-produced and processed food. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski revealed in a book last year that then-candidate Trump made a habit of eating food from McDonald’s and KFC because, he said, it was safer. A single meal often included two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and a chocolate milkshake.

In reality, the connection Trump makes between fast food and cleanliness may not be that far off the mark. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 8 percent of outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred between 2009 and 2015 could be traced to fast food restaurants. By contrast, sit-down restaurants were responsible for 48 percent of outbreaks with identified sources.

When broken out by food group, the president’s diet stacks up pretty well: Beef was implicated in just 8 percent of outbreaks—lower than rates for dairy, chicken, and fish.

As for the president’s reported habit of throwing back a dozen Diet Cokes a day, there’s likely no risk of contamination in those cans. No outbreaks of foodborne illness have been linked to soda in recent years. (Coke has long been rumored to help prevent upset stomachs, though The New York Times debunked that myth in 2008.)

Green thumbs up. We know that community gardens can contribute to the overall health of neighboring residents. But as CityLab reports, they can make residents happier, too. According to the story, a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that Philadelphians reported fewer feelings of anxiety and hopelessness after their neighborhoods had been “greened up.” To be clear, interviewees were not told that they were being surveyed about new community gardens. Scientists simply asked a randomized group to rate their moods at two separate periods of time. Those close to newly revitalized plots of land were happier than those whose environments hadn’t changed. You can read our reporting on efforts in Philadelphia to turn abandoned lots into urban orchards here.

What’s your brand? From IHOP to Godiva to Chipotle, restaurants and food companies are trying to sneak their way past mealtimes and into the rest of our lives. The latest marketing strategy? Become a “lifestyle brand,” and show eaters that these companies can mean far more to our lives than sustenance, according to a New York Times report. Is it a ploy to appeal to the identity politics of the moment? Should we expect to see folks sporting “I’m with burrito” buttons during the mid-terms? Maybe not. But—and don’t hold us to this—betcha we’re not too far out from Godiva-branded guest towels.

The Counter Stories by our editors.