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Fast Food History
Ultra-processing has become synonymous to the rigors of modern society. It began as an experiment, then became a fad, and is now a necessity. The production and consumption of fast food through ultra-processing methods, has become an integral part of the modern man, and while it started first in developed countries, it has spread to influence people in developing and under-developed countries as well. The rise in the demand for the cheap, but sumptuous, hyper-palatable ready-to-eat food products have become a necessity to people living in vibrant cities across the globe.
Food has always played a major role in the evolution, adaptation and the increase in civilization, says Pollan (2014). Today, continues Pollan, more than seventeen thousand new products show up in supermarkets across the globe each year, and each one of them are vying for that dollar of the consumer. While it would be hard not to notice them or even harder not to be enticed by their appearance, they really don’t deserve to be called food, and instead, as edible food-like substances. These of-the-shelf cooked foods are highly processed ‘inventions’ that contain chemical additives that are highly dangerous and something that the human body is not accustomed to. These ‘inventions’ were not made just to attract consumers because they did, but because of the demands of modern society. Unless there was a need to ‘invent’ something that could meet the needs of consumers, there wouldn’t have been the necessity to ‘process’ food to meet the growing demand for instant food. And when the need arose, food processing revolutionized. The extent and purpose to which food processing has revolutionized, has become an intrinsic part of industrialization (Giedion). With the rapid growth of industrialization in the west, there was the emergence of a mechanism in the mid nineteenth century that could effectively and efficiently design and produce food products such as bread, biscuits, cakes, and meat products, to name a few, in quick time (Pollan). The mass production of such food products led to the steady decline in standards, and the rise in food insecurity and nutrient deficiencies. This led to food-related public health problems globally, and as industrialization made way for globalization, the growth and spread of increasingly cheap, fatty and sugary foods, and meat products, spread to all parts of the globe (Monteiro et al.).
Colburn (2015), says that the history of fast food did not start with McDonald’s. While there is the possibility that the first fast food restaurant could have started in Ancient Rome, and later, during the Middle Ages, there was evidence to show that quick and inexpensive food was seen in many cities of Europe; including London and Paris. However, the history of fast food in America is connected to the rise of the automobile industry. While it might seem that these two industries are intertwined, it has nothing to do with fast foods being served from restaurant windows to cars with passengers. While McDonald’s name would come to mind the minute a person thought of fast food, it was White Castle; a hamburger joint that that first served fast foods in America, and that too in Wichita, Kansas, in 1916. This was followed by serving fat food to customers waiting in cars. This service was started as a novelty service at an A&W Root Beer shop in the 1920s. Then, in the 1940s, persons delivering food began to wear roller skates to speed-up services, and then came the drive-through windows. By the 1950s, fast food franchises grew in popularity, and the names of White Castle, McDonald’s, A&W Root Beer, and Howard Johnson’s took precedence. It was in the 1950s that McDonald’s emerged as a popular fast food destination for Americans. McDonald’s hamburgers were on their way to revolutionize the fast food concept and industry.
The fast food industry has grown by leaps and bounds to such an extent that there are over four million workers employed in this industry in the United States alone (Colburn). The attraction for fast food lies in the cost and time. Most of the fast foods are available at highly reasonable prices and are served in very quick time. When fast food made its mark in the market there were burgers and French fries, but today, as the business expands and the number of consumers grow, there is an assortment of dishes dished out for the foodies. Some of these include the popular pizzas, chicken nuggets, specialty sandwiches, hot dogs, and onion rings. Also, with the growing global audience, fast food restaurants have also started to serve tacos, noodles, kebabs, fried rice, sushi, and so on to meet the taste and requirement of this sector.
What caused the fast food boon? “The way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous ten thousand years, but the image that is used to sell the food is the same imagery of gregarine America,” says Robert Kenner, in Foods Inc. In this documentary, the film takes a look at huge supermarkets displaying an array of food products in tantalizing and colourful packing lure consumers. The trend to eat out in fast food restaurants have become a part and parcel for most Americans as Maria Andrea Gonzalez, a mother of two, will acquiesce. She and her husband have no time to cook at home, or the money to buy organic food, and so, eat fast food just about every day. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface farm, says that people get carried away by the cheap price for food products served by these huge corporations, and find buying hygienic organic foods too expensive. The movie shows exactly why fast foods have grown popular globally Kenner).
Although fast food is central to Americanism, Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, by John Jakle and Keith Sculle provide the historical entry of fast food in the United States. Jakle and Sculle documented the significant link between the food industry and the proliferation of the automobile in America. To confirm this, they were able to show how roadside food chains were influential in homogenizing modern American eating habits, the role of food packaging in fast-food consumption, and, the massive transition to quick-service dining to meet the immediate needs of driving customers (Hogan). Jakle and Sculle were able to trace the lineage of fast food from diverse urban establishments, such as hotel dining rooms, saloons, luncheonettes, and soda fountains, to the introduction of restaurant chains. Some of these quick-service chains included White Castle, White Tower, Toddle House, and Little Tavern, and they featured the hamburger as their primary food product. It is these early urban restaurant chains that set precedents for the fast foods of today. White Castle is credited with the phenomenal growth of hamburger chains in the 1920s and their continuation into the 1930s. In order to show how these restaurants standardized their services and products, Jakle and Sculle provided the case study of the Terre Haute-based Snappy Service, which thrived from the mid-1920s to the 1940s.
Snappy Service sold its burgers in signature whiteblock buildings, and their success came from the high-volume sales from a limited, low-priced menu. It was obvious that these restaurants would cater to urban working-class in urban neighborhoods, despite the growth of auto traffic in these areas during the 1920s. As Americans began to produce millions and millions of new appliances, autos, and houses because of industrialization, the hamburger industry also grew along with it. As young families migrated to suburbs to reduce rental costs and avail better amenities, fast-food companies also moved to the suburbs to meet the needs of these young families. Burger King, McDonald’s, and a few others built outlets along the busy suburban thoroughfares and shopping plazas so that the young families could manage their time at work and home conveniently. Gradually, these fast food giants, adapting to the new suburban lifestyle, modernized their business methods by introducing carhops to ferry meals to cars, building ample parking lots, and, introducing drive-through (Hogan).
With the passing of time, the fast-food industry began to identify and attract consumers with food specialty (Hogan).
The growth of the fast-food industry has been nothing short of astonishment (DeMaria). From its birth in the late 1940s in Southern California, fast food has become synonymous to brushing one’s teeth. So influencing has fast food been on Americans that, it is estimated that more dollars are spent on fast food than on newspapers, magazines, books, movies, videos, and recorded music, with a combined spending of $110 billion in 2001 (DeMaria). It is estimated that an average American consumes three hamburgers and four orders of French fries weekly. McDonald’s alone operates thirty thousand restaurants worldwide, and they hire more people than any other American business. The success of fast-food can be attributed to uniformity and mass production that induces confidence among customers. Therefore, it would not come as a surprise that Ronald McDonald is a well-known personality among American school children (DeMaria). However, fast-food industries are also drawing flak for their health-related issues today. Fast-food restaurants have contributed to a number of food-borne infections, workplace injuries, and obesity (DeMaria). As of 1999, there was an alarming rise in obesity, and this is caused by the consumption of excess calories and reduction in physical exertion. Therefore, in order to minimize health-related issues, most of the reputed fast food giants, such as Burger King have consciously made efforts to stick to dietary content to overcome obesity (DeMaria).
Where there is opportunity, there is bound to be a congregation of people seeking employment, and when one looks at the Middle East, there is a huge influx of people from countries all over the world. As not many people bring their families to work in the Gulf because of the hostile climatic conditions, mostly people who do arrive there do so, on their own. The Middle East today, is among the highly recommended and sought after destinations for job hunters. With its huge oil reserves, the Middle East offer all sorts of job opportunities, and if one were to visit a few international airports around the Middle East, it would not be a surprise to see people from all over the world, step out in thousands everyday in search of jobs and businesses. GulfTalent in an article published in December 2009, said that “In terms of demographics, segments with the highest redundancies included senior executives at 13% and Western expatriates also at 13%” (gulftalent.com). The gulf has become a destination for singles, couples, and families seeking money. Even though certain kingdoms in the Gulf have liberal views and laws to attract more foreigners, there is not much there for them to spend their earnings on. Because of this, almost all eligible members from other countries work to earn and save money. This can be said of other developed nations too. Just about every adult works, and when they are pitted against one another in competition, there is not much time available to them to spend cooking food.
Considering the above, it can be said that there is an increasing proportion of households now, with both husband and wife working to earn an income. With more females entering the workforce and the less time they have to prepare meals, they rely on fast food or ready meals to meet their food needs. In addition to this, as the household income multiplies, families would rather switch to ready-to-eat meals that can be quickly heated in an oven or microwave. A number of fast food companies and restaurants can affect the economic factors within families who now have a dual income. Earlier, it was only the man of the house who used to go to work leaving the woman behind to attend to the house chores. She could cook at a convenient time, take care of her children, send them to school and make lunch and dinner at a convenient time. But as the cost of living began to rise, the woman had no choice but to start supporting her man in brining additional revenue to run the family. The wife will thus have enough time to work, prepare food and increase the family income.
Colburn, Katie. ‘The History of Fast Food in America’. Accupos.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 20
DeMaria, Anthony N. 'Of Fast Food and Franchises'. Journal of the American College of
Cardiology 41.7 (2003): 1227-1228. Web
Giedion, S. Mechanization Takes Command, A Contribution To Anonymous History. New
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1948. Print.
Gulftalent.com,. 'Employment and Salary Trends in the Gulf 2010 - Gulftalent.Com'. N.p.,
2009. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Hogan, David Gerard. 'Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. John A.
Jakle and Keith A. Sculle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Business History Review 74.04 (2000): 741-744. Web.
Kenner, R. 'Food Inc - Full Movie'. YouTube. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Monteiro, C. A. et al. ‘Ultra-Processed Products Are Becoming Dominant in the Global Food
System’. Obesity Reviews 14 (2013): 21-28. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. Print.
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