The American fast food industry is the largest in the world, and American fast food outlets exist in over 100 countries across the globe. Fast food has become a part of American culture, as well as Western culture as a whole. Fast food used to consist of local produce being sold in markets or at stalls, but when cars became popular, drive-in restaurants were established, along with the idea of having a combination of high volume production, low costs, and speedy preparation. With today’s busy lifestyles and convenience surrounding us, the fast food industry fits in nicely. Usually, fast food can be eaten on the go and without even using cutlery. A fast food nation is not without drawbacks though.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem, and fast food advertising and campaigns aimed at children don’t help this problem. Children are targeted through various media outlets, companies like McDonald’s join forces with seemingly unconnected companies like Disney, and children are offered toys by various fast food restaurants. It’s not just children though; the convenience, cheapness, and wide availability of fast food can contribute to general health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Beyond the consequences to health, is the fact that it takes accountability and knowledge away from the consumer, since we often don’t know what’s really in the food we’re eating or how it’s prepared.
So what’s in fast food? While healthy and organic fast food restaurants do exist, they are largely the exception rather than the rule. Most fast food burgers are made using low quality meat taken from low quality animals, in a nutshell. They usually contain a multitude of parts that are mashed together to form one burger. The fact that the meat comes from various animals and animal parts means that disease can be more widespread. On top of this, the way the animals are treated when they’re alive also causes concerns, not just with animal rights groups, but also with cautious consumers.
Cows, by nature, are herbivores, but are often fed things like the remains of other animals, so you never really know exactly what you’re eating. The same is true of chicken products, with chemicals, preservatives and sugars often accounting for half the product, and the chicken half is usually less than appetizing reclaimed meat. So why does the food end up tasting so nice? The simple answer is that distinctive flavors are created using complex chemicals that can’t be replicated at home.
Apart from the actual food they serve, fast food chains are also criticized for worker exploitation, and many workers have gone on strike in recent years, demanding better pay and better treatment and shining a spotlight on the life of fast food workers. A higher proportion of fast food workers earn minimum wage than in any other American industry, and there is a very high turnover. There is little focus on individual appreciation and advancement, the focus is on mass production. Having said all that, approximately 4 million people are employed in the food service industry, which includes fast food, so it does provide job opportunities, both short-term and long-term.
Of course, these are all generalizations about the fast food industry, and there are restaurants and chains that break the mold, offering more natural foods and supportive work environments. It doesn’t hurt to be educated as a consumer though, and many restaurants offer nutritional information for their menu on their websites or in their stores.
What will be the next creation of the fast food nation?