Fast food is one of the world’s fastest growing food types and it is continuously expanding. But some of the most rapid growth is occurring in the developing world, where it’s radically changing the way people eat.
People buy fast food because it’s cheap, quick, and heavily promoted. But its benefits can be deceptive. Meals devoured in the car or at our desks are replacing homecooked fare enjoyed with family and friends. Around the world, traditional diets and recipes are yielding to sodas, burgers, and other highly processed and standardized items that are high in fat, sugar, and salt-fuelling a global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
Those in less of a hurry are finding alternatives. Fresh organic foods are increasingly popular in Europe, Japan, and the United States. And a “slow food” movement to promote appreciation of food and the cultural experience of shared meals is becoming widespread worldwide.
Modern commercial fast food is often highly processed and prepared in an industrial fashion, i.e. on a large scale with standard ingredients and standardised cooking and production methods. It is usually prepared and served very rapidly in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion which minimizes costs. Menu items are generally made from processed ingredients prepared at a central supply facility and then shipped to individual outlets where they are reheated or cooked (usually by microwave or deep-frying) in a short amount of time. This process ensures not only a consistent level of product quality but also a quick delivery for the customer to either take out or take away
Fast-food outlets are take-away or take-out providers, often with a “drive-through” service which allows customers to order and pick up food from their cars; but most outlets also have a seating area in which customers can eat the food in the premises. Moreover, many gas stations have stores which sell pre-packaged sandwiches or frozen foods that can be heated in microwaves provided at the premises. Traditional street food is usually available from independent vendors operating from a cart, table, or portable grill.
This type of food has been designed to be eaten “on the go”. It does not often require traditional cutlery and is eaten as a “finger food”. Common menu items at fast food outlets include fish and chips, sandwiches, hamburgers, fried chicken, French fries, chicken nuggets, tacos, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream.
History of Fast Food
Although fast food restaurants are often viewed as a representation of modern technology, the concept of “ready-cooked food to go” is as old as cities themselves. Ancient Roman cities had bread-and-olive stands, East Asian cultures featured noodle shops while the British included meat pies and pastries.
Nowadays, when we think about fast food, we automatically bring to our minds a meal of hamburgers and French fries from the traditional American restaurant: Mc Donald’s. It is the brand most associated with the term “fast food” since it is the largest fast-food chain in the world. It is located in 120 countries and operates 30,000 restaurants around the world.
However, there are many other forms of fast food that enjoy widespread popularity:
ï¿½ Chinese takeaway restaurants normally offer a wide variety of fried Asian food like noodles, rice, or meat.
ï¿½ Japanese Sushi has become very popular in recent times.
ï¿½ Pizza is a common fast food too, with chains such as Pizza Hut.
ï¿½ Fish and chip shops are a form of fast food popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Fish is battered and then deep fried.
McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world and it is the brand most associated with the term “fast food”. It is located in 120 countries and operates 30,000 restaurants around the world.
ï¿½ A recent study showed that children who drink sodas are more often obese.
ï¿½ In many tests, trans-fats, which are commonly found in fast food, have proved to have a negative effect on the body.
ï¿½ The director of an obesity program for a Boston children’s hospital, David Ludwig, claims that “fast food consumption has demonstrated to increase calorie intake, promote weight gain, and elevate risk for diabetes”.
ï¿½ Excessive calories are another issue with fast food. A regular but not overly filling meal at McDonald’s of a Big Mac, large fries, and a large Coke drink amounts to 1430 calories. A diet of approximately 2000 calories is considered a healthy amount of calories for an entire day.
Some countries are beginning to respond to widespread concerns about fast food. For instance the state of California taxes junk food, helping to reduce overall consumption. In 2004, a law phased out the sale of all junk food (including soda) in public elementary schools. In addition, many chain restaurants are offering a wide range of healthier menu options and providing nutritional information on all their offerings. Some food companies are also taking action in this business. For example Kraft, the world’s largest food company, plans to cut advertising directed at children and to shrink its portion sizes.
All the same fast food chains have come under fire from consumer groups over issues such as caloric content, trans-fats and portion sizes, and this concern has led to the rise of the Slow Food movement, which opposes laws and habits that favour fast-food choices.
The origin and scope of Slow Food
The Slow Food movement began in 1986 after an Italian journalist was horrified at the sight of a new branch of McDonalds. To him, it seemed that a global takeover of industrialised, standardised fast food was well on the way – and it could be the beginning of the end for the huge variety of good, traditional, and regional Italian food. He decided that it was necessary to set up a “slow food” movement to counteract the potential for “fast food” world domination.
To achieve his aim, Petrini realized the necessity of an eco-gastronomic movement, i.e. a movement that, having the preservation of taste at the forefront, sought to support and protect small growers, artisanal producers, and the physical environment, and also aimed at promoting biodiversity. Today, the organization that Petrini and his colleagues founded is active in over 100 countries and has a worldwide membership of over 80,000.
Slow Food Convivium (Slow Food branches) organise a variety of events such as tastings, dinners with a particular theme, and visits to places of food and drink interest. Education is an important objective: these convivum either organise initiatives in schools, such as school gardens, or educate people about real food with taste. Conviviums collect information about regional food and drink, e.g. good shops or restaurants, or about food and drink products under threat, and they pass on this information to Slow Food members worldwide.
Members receive ‘Snail Mail’ (the Slow Food UK quarterly newsletter), convivium newsletters and information about forthcoming Slow Food events and activities, as well as the ‘Slow Food Companion’ a summary of everything that the Slow Food movement does, and other international publications).
Collectively, to assist groups of artisan producers, Slow Food convivium have initiatives such as “the Ark of Taste” and the “Presidia” which are designed to rediscover and revive forgotten regional flavours that are in danger of disappearing. Since the international initiative began, more than 750 products from dozens of countries worldwide have been added to the international Ark of Taste. Examples of UK Presidia include artisan Cheddar cheese hand-made in Somerset from unpasteurised milk, Three Counties Perry, and Fal Oysters.
Slow Food continues to develop taste education programmes for children and adults, including the new University of Gastronomic Sciences, established in Italy in 2003. Also, it does not restrict itself to the developed nations: Slow Food is active in promoting projects to sustain food production in the world’s poorer countries, too.
Slow Food philosophy
Slow Food members recognize the importance of pleasure connected to food: we should learn to enjoy the vast range of recipes and flavors, recognize the variety of places and people growing and producing food, and also respect the rhythms of the seasons. But more importantly, we must adopt a responsible attitude in the search for this pleasure. In other words, we must respect and defend food and agricultural biodiversity around the world because they form part of our cultural heritage due to their historic, artistic and/or social value. Thus, we become co-producers, not simply consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we are part of the production process too.
For these reasons, through education, Slow Food helps to safeguard local cuisines, traditional products, vegetable and animal species at risk of extinction, and it also supports a new model of agriculture which uses traditional methods of cultivation and which is less intensive and therefore healthier. At a higher level, the philosophy of the movement seeks to extend its focus from the virtues of food to considering identity and the quality of life as a whole.
All in all, Slow Food envisions a future food system that is based on the principles of high quality and taste, environmental sustainability, and social justice – in essence, a food system that is good, clean and fair. Food should taste good; however, industrialisation very often results in bland food that simply doesn’t taste as good as food that has been produced locally with care, pride and passion. Also, food should be clean, i.e. it should be produced in a sustainable way, without any negative impact on our environment, and with a minimum of artificial intervention. Finally, food should be produced in a fair way: its producers should not be exploited but should be paid a reasonable amount for their skill and labour. None of this means that Slow Food is against progress or technological advances. Far from it, Slow Food is a truly progressive concept that seeks to utilise mankind’s ever-expanding knowledge to develop the diversity of all that is best in our world heritage.
Slow Food mission
Slow Food works to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives.
As to the defense of biodiversity, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity was created by the Slow Food movement, recognizing that the appreciation of gastronomy must include the additional step of safeguarding our gastronomic resources. The Foundation supports the projects of the Ark of Taste, the Presidia and Terra Madre to accomplish this goal. The Ark of Taste supports biodiversity by promoting artisanal quality products. It was created in 1996 and consists of a growing catalogue of foods that have been forgotten or marginalized and that are at risk of disappearing completely. The Presidia projects were created in 2000 to help artisan food producers directly.
These small-scale projects protect traditional production methods by supporting producers in situ and helping them find markets for traditional foods. Presidium products have not only conquered cooks and gourmets, but also ordinary consumers who are willing to pay fair prices for quality products. Terra Madre is an initiative that brings together food communities that work for the sustainability of their food products and for quality which accounts for exceptional taste and respects the environment and people. The Slow Food Foundation of Biodiversity exists thanks to the Slow Food movement and also through generous support from public and private donors. While the Foundation promotes projects around the world, it directs its financial contributions especially to the world’s less developed countries, where conserving biodiversity means not only improving quality of life, but actually saving lives, communities and cultures.
By educating taste, i.e. by reawakening and training their senses, Slow Food helps people rediscover the joys of eating and understand the importance of knowing where their food comes from, who makes it and how it is made. Convivium activities consist of, say, visits to an apple orchard or a local farm, food and wine tastings, visits from a guest speaker or local producer to a dinner. Taste Workshops offer guided tastings with food experts. School initiatives like convivium school gardens offer children learning experiences about the food they eat and grow themselves. Also, Slow Food created the University of Gastronomic Science to offer a multidisciplinary academic program in the science and culture of food.
As regards the need to link producers and co-producers, Slow Food organizes fairs, markets and events, locally and internationally, to showcase products of excellent gastronomic quality and to offer discerning consumers the opportunity to meet producers. Some of these events include Salone del Gusto, Cheese, Slow Fish, Aux Origine du Goï¿½t and A Taste of Slow.
The natural progression of mankind has been quite phenomenal. On the one hand, we are eating more and more, and more of it is bad stuff. On the other hand, we live longer, which means that if we ate right, we would probablly live to be 130 years or more. One thing is for sure: fast food has gotten faster and slow food is still fighting… When eating out, needless to say, fast food restaurants are often the cheapest option but, unfortunately, not usually the healthiest one. This is the first obstacle to healthy eating: lack of knowledge of the nutritional facts of our favourite items. Consequently, we need to educate ourselves about the food system and the choices we make when eating.
Slow food is not only about stopping to eat fast food from one day to the next, but it is more a philosophy of life in which one should take time to enjoy time with family and friends. Everyday can be enriched by doing something “slow” – taking the time to prepare a home-made meal, having lunch with the family, having long discussions over dinner, or even squeezing your own orange juice from the fresh fruit. As simple as it sounds, eating slowly is key to longevity. And eating right goes along with it.