Saturday, January 16, 2010

No More Fast Food

You may have heard that McDonalds is now providing free wireless Internet access at their restaurants. For those of you who eat at McDonalds, this is great news! For myself, I haven't eaten McDonalds in several years. And recently, I decided to abandon fast food in general.

Not eating at McDonalds was an easy choice, back when I made it. I still remember my first Big Mac. I was 12 years old, and my mom gave me $5 and told me I could eat lunch whereever was within walking distance of where we were. Finally, my big chance! I could finally try that Big Mac that I'd seen so many commercials about. Sadly, it did not live up to the hype. It was "okay", but nothing special. Since then, I had never eaten at McDonalds and thought afterwards, "wow, I'm glad I ate there!" So now I don't eat there anymore.

Since then, I've run into disappointment at every fast food establishment I've ever been to. Carl's Jr has one (just one) item on their menu that I like (the Western Bacon), and I always feel like crap after eating it. Wendy's also only has only one menu item I can stand (spicy chicken sandwich), and it's not worth the sheer incompetence that they tend to hire to sell it to me. Even Subway is on my black list, with their selection of styrofoam-inspired breads.

The problems with individual restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Fast food is famous for its unhealthiness. Granted, most restaurants now offer healthy options, but I have a hard time paying even a dollar (sometimes two or three) for a bag of apple slices, when I could just plan ahead and bring a $0.33 apple from the grocery store with me instead.

Fast food menus are not designed for healthy eating. What's interesting to me is how many aspects of this were pioneered by McDonalds. When Ray Kroc first found McDonalds, he was surprised and impressed at the manufacturing-line techniques that were used to churn out fast, cheap burgers. Decades later, McDonalds not only began selling value meals, but actually assigned numbers to them, for convenience. And let's not forget the famed "Supersize" option which everyone copied again. While they don't ask anymore if you'd like to supersize, I'm told you can still ask for it. The most classic example is a Big Mac with large fries and a large Coke. Tasty, no? Not for me. And just between you and me, I've never been a fan of McDonald's fries either.

I think my biggest problem with fast food has been using it as a crutch. When I don't bring lunch with me to work, fast food is there to keep me from being hungry. When I forget breakfast in the morning, there are plenty of places I can stop by on the way to work. And when I'm feeling just a little too tired to make my family a delicious and healthy meal, I can always pick up a bag-o-burgers on the way home.

Why do I find myself in these situations? I think that it's been a misguided set of priorities, coupled with poor planning. I could get up early and spend a few extra minutes making pancakes to show a little love to my family, or I could stop by McLazy's on the way into work and leave my family to fend for themselves. I could make a little extra for dinner one night so that I can have leftovers to bring into work the next day, or I could buy a bucket of chicken so as not to lose precious TV time.

I'm not saying that all restaurants are bad, of course. I'm still okay with casual dining restaurants. I will still go to diners. Fine dining, when it can be afforded, is a fine thing indeed. Even delis are okay with me, in moderation. If I could afford it, I would love to take my family out to eat once every week or two. Eating out is a treat, and a way to experience new foods and keep your palate from getting board. But when any treat becomes habit, it starts to lose meaning and spoil us. I'm not okay with that.

Note: I've already been asked this once or twice, so I'd better say it here. As far as I'm concerned, carry-out or delivery pizza is also fast food. I love Pizza Hut, but I don't love the expense, or the idea of using it as a crutch. I can make my own pizza at home, which may take more time and planning, but which will taste 10 times better, and cost less than a half as much.


  1. I used to love the Sourdough Jack from Jack in the Box, but I recently had one after a long hiatus and it was very disappointing. The problem I think is that since the last time I had one I've enjoyed much better burgers, both of my own creation and from restaurants. I have to say that I do love a Five Guys burger.

    I don't believe that fast food can't be good food though, and I know I've heard Anthony Bourdain say the same. It's merely that the American version of it is quite poorly implemented. Just one example that I've experienced is Japanese noodle shops. They're fast, delicious, cheap and healthy. What's not to love?

    But in this country, your mantra would be a wise one. I personally would rather save my money and go someplace nice half as often. I also don't believe the notion that fast food is inexpensive. Even ignoring the fact that much of the cost is externalized through poor farm and health policy, it just isn't that cheap. With a little planning, as you said, I can feed my whole family for much less than a single value meal. I would say it's easily worth that investment of my time.

  2. Ironically, we've been discussing this subject in our office the last couple of days. We have come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to get a food-bourne illness is to eat at one of our local fast food joints. I myself have been made ill by the hamburgers from a major national chain, which happens to have two stores in our town.
    We don't generally rely on fast food as a crutch, although we will use it to bribe the boy now and then. Because our house is well out of town, we're not as tempted to grab something for dinner as we might otherwise be. It's more work to do that than it would be to fix something at home (unless we're already in town).
    I, too, would rather save a little and go to a nicer place less often than go regularly to a less establishment. (Besides, even when we go to McD's or BK, we wind up spending $10-20. And that only buys a meal for Daddy, a couple dollar sandwiches for Mom and a shake and fries for the boy. We can eat at Olive Garden for than)!

  3. I agree with the fast food. There are only a few places Tim and I like to go. I am just loving the Five guys burgers up here in IF. So happy we got them. Next time you guys come up we are going to take you to Big Jud's burger place. Best burgers I have ever had!


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