Big Mac on the attackBig Mac on the attack

We deserve a break today, McDonald’s tells health minister

Our meat is healthy, and kosher (as long as there’s no cheese on top), hamburger chain insists after bashing

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

A customer walking into one of the kosher Israeli McDonald's outlets in downtown Jerusalem, on April 13, 2016. (Nati Shochat/Flash90)
A customer walking into one of the kosher Israeli McDonald's outlets in downtown Jerusalem, on April 13, 2016. (Nati Shochat/Flash90)

Looks like McDonald’s Israel got some free advertising for its kosher meat — which, yes, can be topped with a slice of cheese in most branches — following an “unprovoked attack” by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

It was at the April 12 Israel Heart Society’s recent annual conference that Litzman called out McDonald’s during a tirade against junk food.

“There’s no need to eat junk food, there’s no need to eat McDonald’s,” said Litzman to the crowd of cardiologists.

The Big Mac chain reacted immediately, launching a media ad campaign — “Junk food? Not at McDonald’s!”

McDonald’s also stated that its meat is healthy, and, by the way, kosher.

When viewers reacted to the misleading kosher description, the fast food franchise changed the commercial’s wording to “And by the way, we buy only kosher meat.”

Back when the popular American fast food chain opened in Israel in 1993, it came under attack from ultra-Orthodox elements in the government who didn’t want any cheeseburgers in their territory.

At the time, owner Omri Padan, a former designer jeans importer, conducted surveys showing that 80% of Israelis would prefer to eat kosher beef even with cheese, making him the first McDonald’s franchiser to serve kosher meat.

“The meat is kosher to fit Israeli tastes,” said Padan to UPI in 1993. “We have milk here and will be open on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), so it won’t be considered kosher.”

The hamburger meat served in every one of the chain’s meals is still kosher, provided by OFF Tov Shean Ltd., a private company based in Beit She’an.

It’s healthier than it used to be, too, said McDonald’s.

With 182 branches, 55 of them kosher, McDonald’s revamped its menu to offer healthier foods in 2004. According to the company, it uses a high-quality canola oil for frying, cutting out most of the trans fats associated with its iconic fries.

It also lowered sugar and sodium in the menu, from 300 to 100 grams, as recommended by Israel’s Health Ministry and doctors, and lowered the fats in the sauces, according to a recent video.

There are 100 grams of vegetables available in most McDonald’s meals, matching the amount of red meat used in the hamburgers, and the fat in the hamburger meat was lowered to 9% to 11% from 18% to 20%, according to a company PowerPoint presentation.

The beloved fast food chain, Israel’s largest, doesn’t recommend sugared drinks but rather Coke Zero for adults and bottled water for kids, who also can choose applesauce as one of their dessert options.

Given its emphasis on healthier options, the Big Mac attack was unprovoked, the fast food chain said in response to Litzman’s comments.

“It’s unfortunate that the health minister chose to express his opinion in a non-scientific manner, with a message meant to make headlines but which didn’t actually show what’s been done in our restaurant chain,” said McDonald’s.

The company added that it hoped that its operation on the Sabbath wasn’t the reason for the “irresponsible attack” by Litzman, who is one of the heads of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party.

“If the health minister would engage in scientific material, he would understand that McDonald’s has already created a healthful revolution, and it’s the solution, not the problem,” said a McDonald’s spokesperson.

McDonald’s and ultra-Orthodox elements in the government have long butted heads over other elements of the fast food chain’s operations, including its Sabbath hours.

In the past, the hamburger franchise has been fined for employing Jews to work in its branches on the Sabbath, a penalization it calls religious coercion.

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