Fast food is a mass-produced food product designed for quick and efficient preparation and distribution and sold through certain restaurants, concession stands, and convenience stores. Fast food is perhaps most closely associated with chain restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell which typically offer takeout and drive-thru services, as convenience and speed are preferred.
Common fast foods include
- Hot dogs
- French fries
Critics argue that fast food production often subordinates quality to efficiency, affordability, and profitability. Fast food products are often highly processed and pre-cooked or frozen and may contain sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, high levels of refined grains and sugars, and artificial preservatives. Thus, the term fast food has come to have negative health connotations, and it raises ethical issues in agriculture and labor. However polarizing, fast food is trendy internationally for its convenience and taste.
Fast Food History
The concept of ready-to-eat foods is centuries old. Evidence of people eating on the move can be found as far back as Pompeii before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. During the early 20th century, automats and self-service food establishments known as “smash and grabs” gained popularity among busy customers who wanted a quick meal. In 1921 the first White Castle—often considered the original American fast food chain—opened in Wichita, Kansas. Known for its five-cent burger, it paved the way for future fast-food chains with an assembly line that allowed for efficient service and consistent production.
The fast food industry flourished after World War II with the rise of suburbs, interstate highways, and other infrastructure that drove cars. The drive-thru model was a natural successor to the drive-in restaurants that had sprung up across the United States in the prewar decades. Drive-throughs, which required fewer employees than drive-ins, were more financially profitable for fast food businesses and for customers on the go and those who didn’t want to stop for a bite to eat.
The California-based chain In-N-Out Burger is generally credited with being the first to implement the modern drive-thru — featuring two-way speakers — in 1948. The fast food industry expanded rapidly in the latter half of the 20th century. . In the early 21st century there were approximately 200,000 fast food restaurants in the United States alone, and corporations such as McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks had thousands of international locations. In 2021, US fast-food restaurants will generate total revenue of more than $250 billion.
As the technology evolved, so did the convenience and efficiency of the fast food experience. Implementation of self-order kiosks in various restaurants allows customers to order and pay for their food on screen while increasing sales and reducing labor. The rise of third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash offer even more convenience than the drive-thru.
Criticism and response
The growth of the industry has seen a boom in other sectors as well. McDonald’s became one of the world’s largest buyers of beef and potatoes, and KFC is often cited as the world’s largest buyer of chicken. High demand for such products has driven a large share of industrial livestock production. Critics call it “factory farming” and consider it an inhumane and environmentally unsustainable way of producing food. The fast food industry, in turn, is often cited for its large carbon footprint. Some companies have responded by taking steps to reduce emissions in their restaurants and their suppliers’ beef production.
As fast food chains spread across suburban America, corporations turned their attention to urban areas. Today, fast food restaurants dot cities and are known to play a role in the “food desert” phenomenon of low-income urban neighborhoods with little or no access to nutritious food. Convenience stores that carry prepared fast foods such as sandwiches, pizza, and hot dogs are also common in food deserts. Because reliance on fast food as a primary source of sustenance is linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems, people living in food deserts are disproportionately affected.
Fast food is particularly associated with an increase in obesity in the United States. American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, is perhaps the best-known work for its close examination of fast food and its effects on the human body. Spurlock documented a month in his life in which he ate only McDonald’s.
By the end of the experiment, he had gained more than 20 pounds (9 kg) and experienced health problems that shocked even his doctors. The film was a wake-up call to the general population and health experts alike on the negative physical effects of fast food. As a result of this and other efforts, many fast food chains began eliminating trans fat from their meals, and they changed their menus to include healthier choices, such as salads, low-fat milk, and fresh fruit. Started to increase.
Fast-food corporations have also been criticized for their labor practices. Many fast-food workers earn low wages and are given limited benefits, including health insurance. Employees thus often receive assistance from public assistance programs, leading to accusations that taxpayers are essentially subsidizing fast food chains. In addition, some cite hazardous work conditions that can lead to injuries. Efforts to unionize the industry have met with stiff opposition.
Aware of the negative connotations of the term fast food, various chains have changed the language of their service models. For example, American sandwich chain Arby’s adopted the descriptor “Fast crafted” in the mid-2010s, and ice cream chain Dairy Queen revealed the slogan “Fan food, not fast food” around the same time. The industry itself largely uses the term quick service restaurant or QSR.