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.