When you think of fast food you probably think of McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, Shake Shack, and similar food chains.
Fast food is "mass-produced food" designed to satisfy the urgent needs of the life of corporate America through the use of "speed service".
Fast food consists of pre-cooked meals kept ready to serve to the customer once the order is placed. The goal of fast food was to reduce the waiting time, satisfy the high demand, and promote faster consumption.
Today there exists a fast food restaurant for almost any kind of food you can imagine, like pizza, hamburgers, french fries, bagels, Asian food, Mexican food, and so on. A fast-food meal is very popular amongst children, young people, university students, and, of course, business people.
The popularity of these food chains has created a fast-food culture of fast and easy consumption.
Fast food restaurant chains are part of the American culture and in this report, you will find a scoop about the history, how fast food developed over the years, and why these sorts of restaurants are highly criticized.
Go check our guide to the United States cooking to learn more about the subject.
Origins of fast food
The concept of selling a pre-cooked meal existed even before the restaurant industry was a thing. Fast food was very common in cities close to water bodies where the dish was prepared right there in front of a customer.
This marked the beginning of the fast-food phenomenon and the beloved British dish when the first fish and chips shops opened around the 1860s.
However, the "Western" concept of fast food was introduced to the world after World War I in the United States with the first drive-thru restaurants.
In 1921 the American company White Castle opened the second fast food restaurant and the first hamburger chain in the country.
From then on the development of the fast-food industry took speed and restaurant chains were invented, as well as franchises, and the concept of "on the go" meals. This eventually became part of local American culture.
Keep in mind that this massive industry wasn't built in one day and the concept of fast food that we know now is far from the original intent behind creating these types of restaurants.
Ever wondered what are the roots of American food? Read about the origins of American cuisine.
On the go
The concept of "on the go" is the basis that helped build the fast-food industry. Fast food chains would market their services for corporate America (as we mentioned earlier).
Restaurants saw an opportunity to offer food to those who were "too busy to eat" by making the prime asset of their service offering a "time-saving meal".
Now, anyone that was in fact too busy to eat, didn't have an excuse because they could grab a meal on the go and save all the time in the world.
Fast food restaurants saw the opportunity and took it as the boom of industrial America is happening.
One of the most important characteristics that made fast food an on-the-go type of meal was that it didn't require cluttery to be eaten. Its main pro is that it is finger food and people could be eating a hamburger in a car while walking to the office, or on their way to work on a train.
This is the characteristic that will set fast food aside from other restaurants and skyrocket it into success.
The fast-paced and "always busy" culture of Americans helped increase the consumption of these foods, however, though out the United States there is now more awareness of the importance of healthy nutrition.
It is becoming more popular to eat low-fat foods and have a well-balanced diet, even if it takes more time out of the day to cook those healthy foods.
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Globalization and business
As the world became globalized so did fast food and these popular restaurants started to appear everywhere, including some non-western countries. The clearest example of this phenomenon is McDonald's and its global exponential growth.
McDonald's has restaurants in 6 continents, 126 countries, and it has over 31,000 restaurants worldwide.
The way McDonald's has so brilliantly achieved this is by adapting its menu to each country's foods. For instance, the meat, potatoes, and drinks might stay the same but there are other treats added to the menu depending on traditional foods of the country.
The example everyone always points at is the opening of the first McDonald's in Moscow in 1990 when 30 000 visitors lined up the very first day of opening to have a taste of the Western world.
The opening of the restaurant took 13 years of negotiation between McDonald's and the USSR.
According to Forbes, today, McDonald's is worth $19.2B and in 2020 it was listed number 10 in the ranking of World's Most Valuable Brands.
The fast-food industry is a massive business because people spend billions of dollars every year buying and eating fast food. But keep in mind that this is an industry that is becoming weaker due to backlash on the health issues it can cause.
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What do critics say?
Our eating habits were intertwined with fast food for too long, so long that we got to see the negative effects it had on our bodies because of the lack of nutrition.
The fast-food industry has faced a lot of backlash during the past years due to concerns about the negative health effects the food has on people, alleged animal cruelty, and more than one report of worker exploitation.
There's been a lot of push for the education system to stop offering students fast food in the school cafeteria because parents are concerned about their children's diet and nutrition.
There is more than one study that shows how the consumption of these foods can be harmful to someone's health. They have shown that an excess of fast food can cause obesity, digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol levels, dental cavities, and more.
Obesity is one of the health issues that gets more attention when it comes to criticism of fast food because it is the most visible way these foods hurt the human body.
The concern with the negative effects of the fat and grease in these foods is only one of the major criticisms the industry faces, but the heaviest one. Especially now that, as a society, we are moving towards a better and more healthy lifestyle.
People will now check what's on the food they are going to eat, they check how ethical the companies are, how polluting or green they are, and so on. These healthy tendencies are holding companies accountable but there is still a lot this service has to work on.
As society gets more education on the subject, there are more opportunities for companies to be better and report back to the community their changes. Education is the only way to make any nation prosper!
Read about US regions and their dishes.
In the United States, obesity and a high calory diet have always been national issues, however, Americans have become more aware of the importance of a good diet in recent years.
Initiatives have been taken to educate local communities and even provide better food choices for children in school.