Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not Lovin' It

Anyone who knows me well has to be utterly shocked that I have waited this long to post about fast food. With the other blogs that I read are currently filled with heavy (and quality) discussions on church and faith, I figure it might be a good time for me to indulge in one of my far-too-frequent tirades against those who would control our taste buds, wallets, wastelines, and children if at all possible.

What triggered this was an event in my office yesterday. I dropped by to do a little work with my 5-month-old son in tow. I happened to mention that we were going to a birthday party tonight for a little friend who is turning one year old. The first question from our departmental office associate: "Are you going to McDonald's?" This is not solely about how bad the food is for us. It touches many parts of our lives and serves as an indicator of larger cultural trends.

The long arm of fast food extends FAR past the drive-thru window. Unlike other aspects of popular culture like music, fashion, film, or sports, food culture becomes a part of us physically. We ingest it and it goes into our bloodstream and organs. Listening to Flock of Seagulls in the 1980s may have prompted you to get a weird hair cut and now serve as the butt of jokes at current family reunions or when old pictures are reviewed, but it did not affect your cholesterol, clog your arteries, or make you obese. Overindulgence in fast food culture may have done (and may do) just that.

So, here are some reasons to limit your trips to the drive-thru.

1. It's bad for you. Have you ever cooked a hamburger at home on a grill? Does it look, taste, or feel like a McDonald's hamburger? How does Mickey D's get their burgers to taste the same in Miami, Florida, as in Seattle, Washington? How come they do not shrink when cooked? It is mainly because what you are tasting is not a hamburger at all. What you are tasting are chemicals. Leftover meatish parts from hundreds of slaughtered cattle thrown into a hopper, ground up, and fashioned into a uniform, bun-sized patty. The flavor largely comes from IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances). Eric Schlosser has this to say in his 2002 book Fast Food Nation:


In addition to being the world's largest flavor company, IFF manufactures
the smells of six of the ten best-selling fine perfumes in the United States,
including Estée Lauder's Beautiful, Clinique's Happy, Lancôme's Trésor, and
Calvin Klein's Eternity. It also makes the smells of household products such as
deodorant, dishwashing detergent, bath soap, shampoo, furniture polish, and
floor wax. All these aromas are made through essentially the same process: the
manipulation of volatile chemicals. The basic science behind the scent of your shaving cream is the same as that governing the flavor of your TV dinner.

The taste does not come from just the food. So, not only is it high in calories, fat, trans fat (in some cases), salt, and mostly devoid of nutrition, but the taste comes from the same folks who give Pert Plus it's smell.

2. It hurts local businesses. It's tough enough for small sandwich and coffee shop owners to make it. It's nigh impossible when a fast food restaurant sets up shop across the street or next door. Is Subway cheaper than Bread and Bagels (a local sandwich shop in Bowling Green, KY)? Yes, it is. Which one has higher quality food with better ingredients, an infinitely better atmosphere, works with local farmers, and has a vested interest in Bowling Green? B&B. All that for a dollar more at lunch time! What a bargain!

Do you enjoy drinking coffee and seeing bands at Spencer's? Do you like the excellent sandwiches at B&B? Support them.

Some argue that dollar menus appeal to those with little money. I would argue that they should not be eating at a restaurant at all, and even if they do...

3. It is expensive. One of the greatest tricks of the fast food industry is proclaiming it's economic value, especially through "value menus" or "dollar menus." A sandwich, fries and a drink from the dollar menu will still cost you $3.15 in Kentucky. That works out to a cost of $9.45 per day or roughly $70 per week. I can buy high-quality, organic food for two people with $70 per week. Further, a pound of turkey ($5), 1/2 pound of cheese ($2.50), a loaf of bread ($2), six or seven bananas ($2) and drinking water costs about $11.50--and I'm talking about the good stuff here. One could make at least six meals from these groceries. That's less than $2 per meal.

Fast food is not cheap. I understand that some folks in dire financial straits without a stove at home can enjoy a hot meal at a fast food restaurant for $3-4, and that is understandable. But, if you are reading this blog, this probably does not apply to you.

4. It is not faster. Time yourself. Make a sandwich at home and eat it. Then, one day, drive to a fast food restaurant at lunch time, order, get the food, and eat it. I'll go 10-1 that the homemade lunch is faster. If you have leftovers from dinner the night before, that's even better!
5. It is aimed at kids. "Brand imprinting for later actuation in life." That is what McDonald's brass calls it according to Morgan Spurlock's documentary, Supersize Me. In other words, a seven-year-old has more lifelong buying power than a 70-year-old. So, it's clowns, playgrounds, birthday parties, coloring and legos. It's happy meals gift-wrapped in colorful boxes and pseudo-hamburgers wrapped in fun paper, and it all comes with the latest California Raisin figurine (1980s), beanie baby (1990s), Incredibles (2000s), or (insert new Disney movie here) toy. The nation decried Joe Camel and had him axed, yet Ronald McDonald is something of a hero and more first-graders can correctly identify Ronald than they can common portrayals of Jesus in a picture lineup. To me, Joe Camel and Ronald are two sides of the same coin; they get the hooks of addiction in into kids at an early age. That may sound strong, but no six-year-old brain is a match for the salty, cheesy, sugary, caffeine-laced concoction of the standard McDonald's meal. Heck, it hooks adults fairly easily. Couple that with the toys, parties, playgrounds, and general good-feelings, and the psychological impact is massive.

6. It reduces small-town character. Most people probably care less about this than I do, but it pains me to drive through the South and see that the interstate exits at all of the small towns look the same: Cracker Barrel, McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Subway. Lather, rinse, repeat. I enjoy an occasional blueberry pancake overload at Cracker Barrel as much as the next guy, but basically what CB has done is taken the idea of the hometown country store/restaurant and replicated it on a massive scale. The irony would be funny if not so sad. It is an imitation of the real thing (like say, Teresa's or Judy's Castle or Murray's...).

And that is ultimately the crux of the matter. The continuing explosion of fast food serves as an indicator of a larger trend. It's megachurch for our diets. It's Duke and North Carolina on ESPN, replacing attendance at a local, real, live college basketball game with a slick, marketed product of hype. It's Wal-Mart for our restaurants, enormous and replicating at an alarming rate...actually McDonald's IS inside many Wal-Marts. It's "convenient" and "time-saving" so that we can get on to more important things like hurrying home to watch hours of television so that they can market more fast food to us during the commercial breaks. Eating meals is what sustains our physical body. I think that is pretty important stuff.

The worst of it is that we say that we value education in this country, but the food that is available in schools is some of the worst out there. We spend resources on education and preach the value of it to kids while sending them to a lunchroom filled with low-grade food. Many college campuses' food courts are dominated by fast-food chains. Why are we not educating students on the value of taking care of their bodies? Our intellectual capacity and knowledge suffer if the body that houses them is compromised.

We often cannot see the cumulative effects of what we do to our bodies during our youth until a little later in life. Before we get older or get sick, our time, convenience, and tastes drive our actions. Eventually, when we get sick or break down, THEN we make changes to control our cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, weight, etc. How about a little preventative maintenance? Do we want to reform health care in this country? Start at the front end and taking care of ourselves by eating well and exercising. Of course, all of us are going to break down and need medicine at some point and some of us are predisposed to certain ailments, but Americans as a whole can certainly do more on the front end.

We marvel at the soul and human mind that God created in His image. What about the human body that is also made in his image? Why do our bodies look the way that they do? We hear lots about being good stewards with what we are given. Does this not apply to our physical body as well? Or maybe it's more what kinds of abuses we will tolerate. For many Christians, drinking alcohol, even an amount that might be physically beneficial, is frowned upon, but gorging on fried foods, ice cream, or pies on a regular basis is perfectly acceptable. Why?

I am not advocating a workout regimen in order to be a "better Christian." But, maybe we should examine the motivations and reasons for the status of our health both individually and collectively in this country.

I am also not trying to suck the fun out of eating. But, do we think of food as fuel or as fun? Hopefully, it can be a bit of both, but when food becomes a hobby it also becomes a danger.

16 comments:

Jeff said...

Nice post. You made some very good points. I have noticed how much better my blood pressure and weight has been after walking more, eating less fried food, and drinking more water in the last several months. I think you would agree that Fazoli's is much healthier than McD or Wendy's and is a nice option for healthier "fast food". Now the hard part will be to convince our kids that McD isn't a great place to eat with the mass marketing that is done by the Giant and their peers. It will always be much easier to have a person eat healthy by start them early.
We all end up paying for the bad eating habits of others by higher insurance costs. Here is a real good research report on the impact of obesity in TN that was put out by a division of the Comptroller Dept of TN. http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/FinalObesityReport.pdf

Here are few real interesting points.
--Over the same approximate time frame (1970-2000), spending on fast food, which is generally higher in fat, sugar, salt, and caloric content than home-cooked meals,
increased eighteenfold
--Compared with the consumption patterns of 20 years ago, the average American now consumes 30 more pounds of sugar on an annual basis.
--In addition, because overweight children are more likely to become obese adults, the cumulative
lifetime health impact can be substantial, especially if one or both parents are obese. Overweight
adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. If one or both
parents are obese, this rises to 80 percent.72 One University of Alabama Birmingham study found a very overweight 20-year-old may expect to live 13 fewer years than a comparable 20-year-old
at a normal weight.
--Obesity is a major risk factor for the chronic diseases topping the list of the leading causes of
death in the United States - heart disease (1st), cancer (2nd), stroke (3rd), and diabetes (6th).
--Adult obesity rates have doubled over the past three decades, with more than 60 million, or about
30 percent of, adults aged 20 and over now classified as obese.9 Conservative estimates place
the number of adults that are either overweight or obese at 65 percent.10 Historical trend data show obesity rates between 1960 and 1980 increased only slightly, followed by a marked rise
over the subsequent three decades up to today.

R. Justin said...

The fries taste really good though.

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

They don't tatse as good as Teresa's home fries.

R. Justin said...

Let's see...

Ronald's fries aka freedom fries: Piping hot (if you get there at lunchtime), crispy, delicious.

Teresa's home fries: Lukewarm at best, floppy, no salt.

I'll take the Mickey Dee's, please!

Other good fries: Burger King (new crispier recipe, circa 1997), Arby's curly fries, Rally's seasoned fries, Baker Boys' ripple fries (now deceased).

And do you wanna talk potato chips? I can go toe to toe with anyone on that one, boyz.

Kevin Burt said...

Cort,

Good post. Wow, Jeff, thanks for the stats, also.

Another good place to eat, guys, if you're down on Scottsville Rd. ever, is "Anka's Secrets" next to Subway and the Bowling Lanes (across from the Mall area). It's run by a Bosnian (?) woman and is primarily a small bakery, but she also makes some yummy lunch menus.

Jeff said...

When you combine the unhealthy eating habits with the lack of excercise by most of the youth, we are going to have a high obesity rate. So many kids today would rather play XBox than play outside.

Here is an intresting quote from the report from my office's report that I posted a link to.
--“Like most kids growing up in the
South, I was raised to believe that the preferred way of cooking anything is to first batter it in cornmeal or flour and then fry the ever-loving nutrition
out of it in a pan of gurgling hot
grease.”
- Governor Mike Huckabee, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork, Center Street, New York, 2005

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

Anka's Secrets is one of my favorite places for lunch actually! Unfortunately, she is shutting down that location. She now owns a spot in the Mall's food court. It still has all her yummy cakes and stuff, but no pizza or calzones (because of a deal with the mall to protect Subway and Sbarro... as if they would need it!) and instead there is some mexican type food. I still plan to support the new location as much as I can, though the food is not as good. Also, short of expensive places like You and Me or Brickyard,s he was the only place in town that cooked their pizza and sandwhices in a stone oven instead of a conveyer belt style cooker. Bummer.

BTW... I cannot count the times when I used to go to Mcdonald's that I would get cold fries. Or super-sized fries only to get a half full "super-sized" box. Teresa's fries have always been hot, and made to order. Crispy, yet potato-y, cut slices of potato... and like a pound of them on your plate, ready to dip in gravy and egg. MMMmmm.

Mai said...

Wow, good stuff Courtney! I am addicted to reading your blog. Bet you didn't know I read your blog.

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

I just made a post to supplement yours called The Hidden Dangers of Salad. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Cort said...

Thanks for all of the great follow-up here.

Justin and Brandon,

The fact that the discussion of fry supremacy went directly to "taste" and "amount" sort of proves the need for my original point. :)

Bite off some of Cort's Baked Home Fries and I'll make you a believer.

Yes, you will have to wait approximately 49 mins for me to prep and cook them. But, if I know you are coming, I'll have them just out of the oven as you walk in the door to give you that "fast food" feeling. :)

R. Justin said...

As if we shouldn't discuss the taste? Taste is king!

Brandon is the one mentioning the amount. Me, I'll take a few tasty, hot, crispy fries over a boatload of Teresa's floppy sloppy second-rate potatoes!

Kevin Burt said...

Is there really an argument going on here over the relative benefits of various fried potato pieces? This is great. :-D

I think you're comparing apples to oranges, though. Teresa's larger and flatter fried potatoes are intended to be slightly "floppy" (there is probably a more correct culinary term, but alas I do not know it) than the longer and skinner and (sometimes) crispier McD's "French Fries."

You're also comparing something "French" with something "rural American." And I'm pretty sure that this is now illegal, so I may have to report you to Homeland Security if you keep it up.

But there is one thing that both Teresa's home fries and McD's French fries are equally proficient at accomplishing: atherosclerosis.

In that regard, we are no longer comparing apples and oranges. It's more like 2 slightly different time bombs. ;-)

Cort said...

Justin,

You will not get an argument from me about McD's fries tasting great. They do. The question is WHY do they taste great?

I bet heroin would make me feel great, too. But there is a major risk there. OK, maybe I can't compare fries and heroin, but if taste or enjoyment is king...

Of course, fries are not illegal. Yet. :)

And, let me say that an OCCASIONAL indulgence in fries is likely no worse than the occasional indulgence in a lot of other foods or activities. But, that's precisely the point: our "treats" or "occasional indulgences" (Coke, fries, ice cream, etc) have become a lifestyle.

This goes back to the American way of "more is better." When it comes to our diet, more is NOT better. Full is good. Over-full is not better...it's just over-full, and many times it's miserable and leads to all kinds of other problems.

James Miller said...

AMEN...

Anonymous said...

Why is "Mr. Independant business owner" advocating McD's over Theresa's--heck, let's all go to Starbux then...

Travis said...

Quick correction,
"French Fries" aren't French at all. The potatoes are "frenched" as in cut in long, thin pieces. (Who DOESN'T love Alton Brown's Good Eats on the Food Network?!?)

There are a lot of great local places to eat in Bowling Green. And you can guarantee that next year half of them will be closed because they don't have a drive thru and a dollar menu.

I hate it, but it's truth.

And I'm very hypocritical about this because I love a lot of fast food items. I even like some McDonald's once in a while. Rally's is my weakness. Please don't ever tell me what makes them taste so good.

Some of my recent favorites for BG fare include BBQ Junction on Rville Road, Kyoto on Scottsville Road, the now deceased Aspen (I'll miss you my petite steakhouse), and Bread & Bagle which has the best sandwiches in town always.

I, like Cortney, prefer things that are local. There's a fella on Plano Road that builds picnic tables and chairs that I'd like to stop by to buy some chairs soon for the front porch. I told the wife my primary motivation is that they look nice, but I really like the idea of owning something handmade from a local man. It makes me feel part of the community.