ColumnWe know fast food is bad for us, yet we keep eating it. It’s time to stop.
Is it possible to live without fast food?
The answer to that question is simple. You don’t need burgers, fries and milkshakes on a regular basis. But in today’s economy with easy accessibility to fast food chains almost no matter where you are, the question becomes more complex than that: are we willing to choose to live without fast food?
Unfortunately, many of us are not. We are addicted. And even if we choose not to eat fast food, large chains are so commonplace around the world that it’s no surprise that hamburgers and the like are just a part of our subconscious. For example, in France, McDonald’s recently launched an “unbranded” advertising campaign; no text, no logos, just photos of McDonald’s menu items that are so iconic that they are recognizable just by looking at them. Even if you are not a regular McDonald’s consumer, the photos are identifiable, proof that the fast food chain has made its way into our everyday lives, whether we want it or not.
Fortunately, while McDonald’s makes two-thirds of their revenue outside of the U.S., there are 105 countries around the world that don’t have a McDonald’s. Those countries may have their own homegrown fast food chains, but at least there are still places in the world where you can get away from the Golden Arches.
But if it’s not McDonald’s, it’s something else. In the United States, it’s not strange to live within closer proximity to a fast food restaurant than to a grocery store; consuming fast food is most often the easy and economical choice. Why drive five miles to buy a head of broccoli that you will then have to cook than going one and getting an entire meal for under $5?
In my bubble, I am always shocked to find that people are still eating fast food. “Didn’t you read “Fast Food Nation” or watch “Supersize Me”??” “Fast Food Nation” may have been published more than decade ago, and we may have come a long way in terms of talking about food and what we eat, but if you think we’re doing well in regards to what we eat on average as a society, you are living in a Happy Meal.
We know all the harm that fast food does. We know it makes us sick, we know it’s bad for the environment, we know that it’s addictive and we know that it’s a major contributor to the global problem of obesity. And yet, we sit back and watch it take over. We let it happen.
Example? Breakfast. Nowadays, the average American eats a takeout breakfast in their car about eight times a year. That may not sound like a lot. But it’s eight times more than necessary. The business response is of course to tackle the breakfast market. Taco Bell just launched new breakfast offerings, which include a waffle that resembles a taco and a “breakfast drink” that consists of 5 percent orange juice and 95 percent Mountain Dew. Eat that for breakfast every day for a week and let me know how you feel.
Seriously, no one in their right mind would ever tell you that a waffle taco and a sweetened drink that’s mostly soda is part of a complete breakfast. But people will eat it anyway. Because we’re seduced by marketing and we’ll gladly take the easy choice. Bowl of oatmeal that needs to be prepared at home or drive-thru breakfast that we can eat in the peaceful solitude of our cars? At some point we made a very wrong turn, and unless we stand up for real food we’re about to drive society off the proverbial cliff.
But until we as a society say no to fast food, we’ll continue to live in a system that’s dictated by the food that they serve. And don’t even think about playing the “some people can only afford fast food” card. The richer you are, the more likely you are to consume fast food. A Gallup poll regarding fast food consumption shows that more than half of people earning $75,000 annually or more eat fast food at least weekly, whereas only 39 percent of those earning under $20,000 do. What’s worse? Only 22 percent of Americans think that fast food has some nutritional value to it, but eight out of Americans admit to eating fast food at least once a month.
Time for a reality check people. Living without fast food is perfectly doable; and it’s not just healthy, but a necessity. It’s easy: you say no. Every single time. Even when you have a craving. There’s always a good veggie burger to be made at home after all.
Most importantly, there’s simply no excuse for eating industrialized fast food, because there’s no replacement for real food, and a waffle taco will never constitute breakfast. Ever.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.