Fast Food is Dead

Posted: October 21, 2022 in Consumerism, Culture, Idle Nonsense, Taste
Tags: ,

/rant on

Despite its obvious satisfactions, fast food has always been a guilty pleasure for anyone with … taste. Redirecting the evolved culture of the table to standing in the parking lot, eating in one’s vehicle, or skulking off with the feedbag to eat in isolation (typically in the blue glare of the TV) always felt somehow illicit, like getting away with breaking some unspoken rule regarding how people ought to manage to get sustenance in a civilized fashion. What was lacking in quality and self-respect was typically made up in speed, price, and consistency. If one simply needed something to stuff in one’s face while on the road or in a hurry, familiar fast-food options were easy to settle upon rather than go out of one’s way and/or commit extra time to eating at a diner or mid-tier restaurant with actual waitstaff. Back in the day (get off my lawn …!), one could fill one’s hands (and belly) with a burger, fries, and drink for around $5 within a few minutes of ordering at the counter. The comfort food itself was predictable and gratified the senses, being suffused with all the ingredients now understood as irresistible hyperstimuli: salt, sugar, and fat. Exactly no one thought of fast food as quality, but boy did it satisfy immediate cravings.

Well, that era is over. Although still ubiquitous in a degraded landscape overun by franchises (franchise hell is what I call it), the fast-food option has stopped supplying food that is any of cheap, quick, or savory. I’m no aficionado of fast food, but I’ve certainly consumed my share. Over the decades, prices have increased substantially, quality has suffered, and worst of all, it’s no longer fast. The saving grace of fast food was getting it into my grubby paws quickly and chowing down eagerly, followed predictably by the sensation of it sitting uncomfortably in my gut as a giant, undigested mass. The last few times I’ve indulged, the wait at the counter has been 30+ min! I’ve never done it, but I suspect anyone ordering fast food through one of the food-delivery apps on their phone pays extra and waits for roughly an hour. The two obvious factors causing delays are (1) the implicit and wrongheaded (says me) demand to keep the drive-through lanes moving before serving those inside the restaurant (term loosely applied) and (2) the cost-saving reduction of staff to a skeleton crew functioning constantly in crisis mode. I recall how decades ago an entire school bus of “diners” could be unloaded into a fast-food joint and all be served relatively efficiently. That could never happen today with six or fewer people behind the counter trying vainly to take and fill orders. There are no fry cooks anymore flipping burgers, though fries are still dropped into the fryer on site.

Quality suffers, too, as the food, if it can even be called that anymore, is increasingly some chemical concoction of nonfood prepared elsewhere, flash frozen, and reheated on site. The resulting upset stomach, often nearly to the point of vomiting, relegates fast food to an option only for those with iron bellies — formerly an attribute of youth but now considerably less so because of the precipitous rise of autoimmune disorders and food intolerance/allergies. Dunno what’s to be done to restore the past glory days (?) of fast food, and I’m not in the business of solving this dilemma, if indeed either a dilemma or solutions exists. Reports indicate some large portion of the public gets most of their meals from fast-food restaurants, and some unaccountably get nearly all their meals that way. Profitability also seems not to suffer even as patrons suffer long waits and considerable gastrointestinal distress. If the death of fast food is another example of the race to the bottom (of what?), it shows no sign of having yet sunk to the floor.

/rant off

  1. wjastore says:

    Enjoyed the rant, Brutus. I guess we could add that “fast food is deadly,” but we all pretty much know that.

    Or, you could say fast food is neither fast nor food, which is basically the subject of your rant. Geez, we can’t even enjoy potable non-poisoned water nowadays, so who knows what’s next.

    When I was young and caught up in the Apollo program, all I wanted was Tang and space food sticks (though I did love the fried bread dough my dad made). Surely the breakfast of champions.

    As we fish out the oceans and exhaust the lands, we’ll have to get used to “parts is parts,” perhaps spiced up with some Soylent Green crackers.

    • Brutus says:

      Agreed, “fast food is deadly” is a turn of phrase I might have used but is so obvious (i.e., banal) it didn’t even occur to me. Same with fast food being neither fast nor food. Your citation of Tang, space food, “parts is parts,” and Soylent Green dates you (and me), calls to mind my review of David Sirota’s Back to Our Future. Hip jargon is certainly not a new development, though some examples age out of memory faster than others. When do we get the Soylent Green remake (also reviewed on this blog)?

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