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Post-midnight visitors to the McDonald’s on 40th and Walnut streets are not there for the free Wi-Fi. There is no late-night snack more tantalizing than those hidden behind the fluorescent glow of golden arches, visible to the high rises’ rooftop loungers, the nocturnal Fresh Grocers, the Walnut-residing walkers and the home-bound Blarney Stone-ers. Starved for late-night dining options, Penn students are drawn to a Big Mac like mosquitoes to an electric lamp. And like our creepy-crawling counterparts, we too are zapped — in this case, by prices on the late night menu.

Past 12 a.m., McDonald’s shuts down its Dollar Menu, teasing us with the super-saver options that still glow on overhanging offerings. Although apple pies, sundaes and milkshakes remain available, all other single-items are banned. We are cornered into the extra-value combo meals, options 1-14, costing up to seven times as much as their Dollar Menu components. Likewise, small drinks and small fries are rendered unobtainable, although their pricier medium and large sizes remain.

It seems Penn students have fallen victim to a savvy staff with a scheming knowledge of their irresistible inventory. Surely McDonald’s must be taking advantage here. Our late-night dining options are limited, and McDonald’s is located conveniently within a block of two campus bars — both of which let loose hoards of hungry students whose fiscal sensibilities are impaired.

Similarly, the $2.89 iced lattes and $2.19 McCafé shakes serve as motivators and/or rewards for midterm-ridden Penn students.

Aside from its pricing, McDonald’s late-night menu may be affecting our wellbeing — and the wellbeing of our West Philadelphia neighbors.

Instead of walking away with a small soda, we are forced to go larger, and a Dollar Menu cheeseburger must be replaced with a Big Mac Meal. Philly had the highest obesity rate of America’s ten largest cities in 2010, according to NBC Philadelphia.

The larger portions of the late-night menu cannot be helping this statistic. Extra value menu options contain anywhere from 510-790 calories (excluding fries and a drink). McDonald’s post-midnight options are hard on the heart as well as the wallet.

The current late-night menu was instated within the past year in order to cater to a later night crowd, General Manager Liz Mason said. Mason claimed the change was inspired by Philadelphia’s curfew laws, which require minors under the age of 18 to be off the streets by midnight on weekends (and 10:30 p.m. on weekdays) during the academic year. The ordinance summary states that businesses “cannot knowingly permit a minor to remain on their premises” after curfew.

“It’s basically because the older people … don’t mind buying the medium size,” Mason said. “The neighborhood children will buy a small drink, a small hamburger.”

It may be presumptuous to think that McDonald’s late-night menu was created solely for the exploitation of Penn students. But if McDonald’s did change its options to “make sure we’re complying with all the rules” — according to Mason — why did it take the restaurant so long? Philadelphia curfew laws have been in existence for a while and were updated in February 2007 — four years ago.

Whatever the motivation, there is still some hope for Penn’s late-night McMuncher. We can still order 50 chicken nuggets for under ten dollars. And unbeknownst to most students, a PennCard procures a 10-percent discount on our orders. Coupons at the counter also offer a buy one get one free deal on value breakfast meals and sandwich meals. The health effects, however, remain dire.

But don’t they for most late nights?

Emily Orrson is a College sophomore from Baltimore, Md. Her e-mail address is The Half of It appears every other Wednesday.

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