Fast food- food of today

Table of Content

Since the America became an Independent Sovereign society, it has cultivated in its soils diverse cultures inherited from British due to its colonial ties and later from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Italy, Africans, Indians etc., and notwithstanding, The Native American People. They brought their cultures along with their own cuisines which resulted in the creation of what is known as Americanized versions of foods, such as American Chinese cuisine or Italian-American cuisine, German cuisine especially the mid-western cuisine, with potatoes and meat as their iconic ingredients in both cuisines. Along with this, they also cherish New England cuisine, Mid-western cuisine, Southern cuisine, Tex-Mex cuisine, and Californian cuisine. None of the Food that Americans eat today was originated in the American soil. Though the cheeseburger and cola were purchased locally, but the vegetables and animals that were used in preparing them were imported.

The preparation of three quarter of it was carried out at home as Americans used to cherish home cooked food but slowly and slowly the trend among the American population started shifting towards the food prepared outside. The sudden spurt of the Fast Food Industry not only changed the eating habits of the Americans but the way their meals are prepared at every step-from the farm to the ovens in commercial kitchens.

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This essay will delve on the factors responsible for the popularity of this sudden change in the trend and how the Fast Food became so trendy and popular from the historical context and what were the factors that led to the sudden spurt of the Fast Food restaurants and how the Fast Food became so imbibed in the American culture?

The beginning of this Food culture owes to some extent to the concept of Dinner started by the Americans. The person to start this trend of Dinner was Walter Scott who was a part-time pressman and type compositor in Providence, Rhode Island. Walter Scott’s used to sell coffee and sandwiches, and when he found this work very lucrative, he left his work of printing and started the work of selling food at night in a horse-drawn covered express wagon parked outside the Providence Journal newspaper office. With this he unknowingly gave the birth to America’s rendezvous with the dinner. (American Dinner Museum, online, Para 2.).

In this fast paced world it is the rabbit only who wins therefore we need everything fast- fast transport, fast communication, fast photos, music and exclusively Food also fast and this need of the today’s world is being fulfilled by Fast Food? Thus, there was the beginning of the trend of the Fast Food and it started be seen in every nook and corner of the American Streets. The technology and the scientific development also played its part in the popularity of the Fast Food.

Some of the most prominent factors that led to its growth were the love of automobiles by the Americans, construction of new highways, emerging of suburban communities; and last not the least the “baby boom”. During the period between the World War I and II and the period of depression that America saw, Americans hardly were able to buy automobiles, but during late1940s and early 1950s the American economy got a push and many middle class families were able to fulfill their desire for buying cars. Secondly with the coming up of the suburbs and highways led number of families to leave the inner cities to settle in suburbs and work. Thus Drive-in-fast food started making their appearance around these areas to fulfill the needs of these suburban people.

 Like automobiles, television sets, and other consumer goods started getting manufactured by highly computerized and automated machines, in the same way Fast Food also started being prepared by the high technology machines thus giving us the Fast and cheap food

The Fast Food is cooked with standardized ingredients, cooking and production methods. Menu items are also prepared with the help of fresh ingredients and with the standard method of cooking and production. It is served in cartons, bags or in a plastic wrapping minimizing its cost. In many of the Fast Food restaurants, menu items are prepared by processing at a central supply facility and then shipped to individual outlets where they are reheated and cooked. With this process, the quality of the Food remains consistent and  maintained, and is able to provide quick services to the customers.

Though we think Fast Food as a modern concept which was started with McDonalds and characterized it as “McDonaldization” of America, but the Fast food of today evoluated from the hunter gatherers of our generation past and slowly and slowly with the globalization and regionalization, and the need for the women to work, the trend of the ready to food and Fast Food began to take shape.

The Fast Food was cherished equally by our ancestors as we cherish them today, and from generation to generation people are enjoying the fast food though in modify form. The fast food in the form of bread, noodle shops and typical Indian stuffs like Vada Pao, Papari Chaat, Bhel Puri etc. was equally seen in the streets of the Ancient Roman cities and in the Eastern Asian and Middle East cultures, as they are seen today.

But trend of actually the Fast Food in America started on 7th July 1912, when the first Fast food restaurant known as Automat opened in New York by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart. Though it was a small cafeteria but it created sensation. They held the taste buds of the people by capturing the ladies with their message slogan “Less work for Mothers”.  And why not? As The Industrialization and Technology started making the lives at ease and Feminism started digging roots, there was little time left to stand whole day in the kitchen to cook food.  With the increase in demand, Automat opened its branches at several places of America and became quite popular among young and old alike. (Wikipedia, encyclopedia online).

Many food historians claim that  Harvey Houses were the first fast food chains in the United States. These Harvey Houses were set up by the Englishman Fred Harvey, who opened these along key points of Santa Fe Railroad in 1879. These restaurants were very popular for high quality food served in fastest possible time. An entire train full of people was served in less than 20 minutes and it had varieties of items in its menu to serve. Then in 1900, Louis Lunch sold the first bun, in 1905 Gennaro Lombardi opened his first pizzeria in New York City and in 1916 Nathan Famous Hot Dog became popular at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Coney Island New York and lots more. (Wikipedia, encyclopedia online).

 The second fast food restaurant was opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1912 by the company White Castle who was selling hamburgers for five cents a piece. White Castle pricked five holes on each beef patty. White Castle was so successful that it invited several competitors.  (Wikipedia, encyclopedia online)

J.G. Kirby, a Dallas tobacco and candy notion, visualized that “People with cars are so lazy that they do not want to get out of them and eat.”  With this thought in mind, Kirby with the help of Dr. Reuben Wright Jackson designed and opened a drive-in pork barbecue eatery in 1921 on the Dallas-Fort-Worth Highway, which came to be known by the name Pig Stand. According to the Historians, in 1921, The Pig Stand Dallas was the first drive-in restaurant chain who also offered its very first drive-thru window in 1931 in California (Pig Stand Number 21), and in a decade’s time, Kirby and his franchises had opened their Pig Stands all over the Midwest, New York and California. It was not just place for eatery but a place for social interaction too. (A Survey Of American Fast Food Dining Options, 1921)

Later in 1940, the largest food chain of World, McDonalds was opened. Inititally, it was established as barbecue drive-in by Dick and McDonald. When they realized that Burgers are most popular, they closed it for few years and again reopened it in 1948 as just a small walk up stand with only offerings of menu like Hamburger, French Fries, shakes, coffee and coca cola covered with a disposable wrapping paper. With their speedy and stream lined production method which they called “Speedee Service System”, they became quite popular. And now McDonnald has around twenty eight thousand outlets and every year it opens two thousand outlets all over the world. (Miffin, in review of Schlosser’s The Dark Side of the All- American Meal, What we Eat, Para.5).  In 1969, “Wendy was opened” by Dave Thomas, which was a protégé of Kentucky Friend chicken whose founder was Col. Harlan Sanders. The most Prominent place where can one witness the Fast Food culture is in Chicago.

The word Fast Food, as said by Historian John Mariani, was first coined by George G. Fosterin in 1848, but it did not gain popularity as it gained in 1960’s when there was splurge of chain restaurants. (Oliver, Fast food, Para.1). And the Fast food took a fast track on their route to fill the “Bellies of the Busy bees”.  The Fast preparation, easy and convenient availablity led to the popularity of Fast foods.

There was also one trade magazine running named “Fountain and Fast Food Service” in 1951, which gave the revolutionary concept of Fast services of food. In 1960, it renamed as Fast Food and reported that, “Delicate scallops are really fast food…because they come ready to cook.” And in July again remarked, “Fast food type restaurants did the lion’s share of business for breakfast and noon meals eaten out.”(, online encyclopedia). And thus Fast food became so popular that Americans started spending more of their earnings on Fast Food than on any other thing.

Americans expenditure on Fast Food in 1970 was around $6 billion; in 2000, their expenditure went to $110 billion. (Miffin, in review of Schlosser’s The Dark Side of the All- American Meal, What we eat, Para.1). Fast Food is now the life – line of the American culture. Every day at-least one quarter of the American Adult population is seen enjoying Fast Food. In just a short period of time, the Fast Food industry has not only transformed the American diet, but also its landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture. Whether at home you are feeling lonely and are not feeling to cook food, just give a phone call and the Fast food reaches at your doorstep. Buying a Fast food has become a routine affair.

But on the other hand we need to notice its harmful effects also. The Americans are not giving a thought only to the fact that these Fast Foods are causing disastrous effect on the health of the children. According to the researchers, taking more than 5 grams of Trans Fats leads to heartache and more than 5 per cent of Trans Fats are present in half of 43 large sized Trans meals of McDonald and 19 of KFC have these Trans Fats. These Fast Food meals are higher in calories, sodium and fat, and are deficient in important vitamins and minerals and are rich in fat, salt, or sugar. (Coghlan, Fast Food awash with worst kind of Fat. Para 2) Due to this very reason, the obesity in the U.S. has increased since 1980 and now more than half of the world population is overweight and every fourth woman and fifth man is obese. (Laitila, Para. 3) As the size of the various food items began to increase, and came in the market in the bigger packets, the consumption of these food items in the form of candy, chips, and popcorn increased to more than fifty percent.

It was on 22nd November 2002, BBC reported law suite filed against McDonald on the issue of obesity. This lawsuit was filed by lawyer Samuel Hirsch in a Manhattan federal court, alleging that McDonald’s had violated the New York state’s consumer fraud statutes by misleading consumers stating that their cheeseburgers and other products were healthy and nutritious but on the contrary McDonald did not take into consideration the health risks that had affected children who had suffered from health problems of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity from eating its products. (BBC, McDonald’s targeted in obesity lawsuit, world edition)

The Marketing leaders in the Fast Food Industry are targeting the children and adults alike through their media campaigns and unfortunately they are not regulated either and the big example of this is the advertisements of McDonald showing Children Happy Meals with toy and clown with Muscat which has become the most popular advertisement campaign. In 1996 even Disney remained partner to McDonald in advertising campaigns. Recently, the chain of restaurants like Carl Jr. and Burger King have been directing advertisements towards young teenage population and middle age men with the sexualized images tempting their youthful passions towards their large, meat-filled burgers with rich satisfying food. Americans are failing to realize what bad impact it is posing on the  health of the people.

 We are taking off the Joe Camel from the billboard only because we think that Joe Camel is marketing bad products to our younger generation, but we consider Ronald McDonald and others like as the good and fashionable. Joe Camel is a cartoon character created by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co and in 1997 Federal Trade Commission charged the company and voted 3-2 against such promotional campaigns. (Clayton, Jr. Joe Camel too cool, 1997) Several efforts are being undertaken to prevent such media campaigns that can lead to harmful effect on the children. The Children’s Food Bill was passed in United Kingdom in 2005 to regulate the advertising of  Junk Foods that are harmful for children which was supported by 300 children and several organizations. Other countries are also in the process to impose strict regulations on fast food advertisements, following on the lines of Chidren’s Food Bill, and so are the talks that are going on between the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the fast food companies for taking the steps to improve the chidren’s diets, yet it is a long process. Still its popularity instead of decreasing is gaining ground day in and day out.

The main streets of America’s and malls now are filled with the names Pizza Huts and Taco Bells, Gaps and Banana Republics, Starbucks and Jiffy-Lubes, Foot Locker, McDonalds, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, which sells pre-prepared meals such as hamburgers, French fries, soft drinks, fried chicken, and ice cream. Hamburger and French fries entered into the every day Menu of the American meal in the 1950s. A single American eat three hamburgers and four orders of French fries every week and to this are added the steady barrage of fast food ads, with thick juicy burgers and long golden fries. And because more than half of the youngsters are skipping either lunch or breakfast, they are succumbing to eat between meals that is also the main reason for the increase of intake of Fast Food.

            Fast food has become so common that it has become a way of life and the domination of the Fast Food giants are giving an exotic touch to golf courses, and man-made lakes across the deserts of the American West. The Food Industry in respond to the Schlosser’s “The Food Nation” formed “Best Food Nation” online web site whereby they declared that the Americans expenditure on meat and poultry dropped on an average 4.1 in 1970 to 2 percent in 2004. The data that was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as mentioned in the site too states that the annual recurrences of several foodborne illnesses has been reduced in 2005 as compared to 1996 – 1998. Further it also declared that the incidences of foodborne illnesses caused by E. coli has been declined by 29 percent, Listeria by 32 percent, and Salmonella by 9 percent. (Best Food Nation, Our Positive Impact, online edition) McDonald’s has reduced fat content of the fat from hamburgers, encourages recycling, and do not buy beef from Brazil, but adopted the biodegradable coverings for Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

            There are 160,000 fast-food restaurants all over the world therefore the jobs for one out of ten Americans is there in these restaurants.  And according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast-food restaurants are providing employment to 12 and a half million people of America. The beverage industry is alone giving more than 3 million jobs and $278 billion in annual economic activity. In the packing plants the hourly workers are earning $12.03 and approximately $25,200 per year. (Best Food Nation, Our Positive Impact, online edition)

These Fast-food chains were centered on the suburbia with the population having automobiles but later they spread to cover all. The Fast Food reflects the American culture and is a symbol of their life style. They are the emblem of speed and efficiency and have played one of the biggest roles in the economic development. Advertisements have endorsed these with the status symbol giving these meals a new taste and new smell.

            Thus, as the world is changing our life styles, way of thinking also changes and so our Food habits. Though the smell of our culture and food that our ancestors has bestowed on us are still inherent in our blood yet every next generation wants to have something new, and something very refreshing and Fast. So the food habits that we inherit and pass on to our next generation should have a qualities of fulfilling our inherent desire to get ourselves associated with our culture and secondly enabling us to move with this world with not only the taste that delights but is nutritious content too. In this race of Fast Food restaurants, only that restaurant will win who can satisfy the appetite of the generation next.


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