| The case for fast food

Introducing the newest fast food innovation; the Col-Pop. Designed by the Korean fast food chain BBQ Chicken, the Col-Pop is a cup of cola with a miniature container of fried chicken attached to the top. It is designed in such a way that you can drink a cold drink and eat a hot meal from the same container.

It’s the epitome of multi-tasking; you can eat your nuggets and you can drink your cola, all while keeping one hand free. Is the creation of Col-Pop a sign that even fast food has become too complicated and time-consuming?

It’s been said before, but it’s true: this is a fast-paced, career-oriented, and frantic society, and when we actually find time to eat, it’s often with the help of the fast food industry. Fast food is still constantly consumed, even though we all know what’s wrong with it. According to ediets.com, Americans eat an average of three hamburgers and four orders of fries per week, and 159 fast food meals per year.

Fast food is blamed for countless social and health problems: obesity, less family time, laziness, and so on. So why do we still eat it? What is the appeal?

Convenience is the obvious answer; it’s quick, cheap, and you can eat it on the go. And now, with fast food innovations like the Col-Pop, multi-tasking has reached bizarre new levels.

We can bemoan our skewed social priorities, especially compared to Europe’s lower obesity rates and culinary expertise. But McGill Professor John Galaty, who specializes in social organization, ethnicity, religion, and cultural theory, offers an interesting perspective. Pushing the obvious health issues aside, he argues that fast food may in fact be beneficial to some people.

“Our days are absolutely full with different demands and opportunities,” Galaty says. “Fast food fits into the cultural theme. Fast food is time- and labour-saving.”

This labour-saving aspect of fast food can help those on the up-and-up. “There are so many opportunities in today’s society, and the social innovation is exciting,” Galaty says. “Multi-tasking is necessary for the demands of today’s society. Fast food is a cultural accompaniment.”

Beyond burgers

The first hamburger was invented sometime in the late 1800s. After that, the 20th century saw a flurry of fast food innovation. The now-ubiquitous Big Mac appeared in 1968, followed by the Egg McMuffin in 1973. In 1971, the first Starbucks opened in Seattle, and Wendy’s claims to have created the first modern-day drive-through window that same year. Then came the first 7-Eleven 32-ounce Big Gulp in 1980.

With popularity comes backlash. Health food stores, the Slow Food movement, and the rise of organic and local consumption have all gained prominence as alternatives to an unsustainable and unhealthy industry. And from Fast Food Nation to Supersize Me, consumers are paying attention.

The problems with fast food are obvious: environmental waste, health concerns, worker mistreatment, animal cruelty. But perhaps we’re blaming the industry too much. Perhaps fast food is just an easy scapegoat.

For example: does fast food really undermine family time? Galaty doesn’t think so. “From observation, it seems people will tend to eat fast food a few times during the week, but then also balance it out with family meals at home,” he says. “Fast food can help consolidate families. Sometimes going out [for] fast food is a family expedition. It can be exciting and done all together.”

“Going on a weekend ski trip could require a stop at a fast food joint along the way,” he continues. “You can have sacred family time at home or at a fast food restaurant. There can still be that aspect of togetherness but it could be togetherness at McDonald’s.”

Shifting priorities

Galaty poses an interesting question. “One might ask: do you tend to eat meals in front of the TV?” Even home-cooked meals are vulnerable to pop-culture interference and our multi-tasking epidemic. Fast food isn’t the cause of our social ills, but an outcome and reflection of our shifting priorities.

Fast food just may not be as evil as we once thought. Its drawbacks are undeniable, but it just reflects and over-worked and over-scheduled society. For those who work long hours, fast food is simply the most convenient available option.

Maybe we don’t even need to eat dinner together for family time; now, there are other ways to socialize and spend time as a family than by sitting down around a home-cooked meal. Chatting with the kids over a Col-Pop might be just as rewarding.