The American Fast Food Culture Cultural Studies Essay

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Culture, being an invisible accumulation of civilization, presents itself via a tangible medium, such as food. We've all heard the old adage 'you are what you eat', but does it make sense? Put simply, it at least illustrates the essence between a person's personality and what he eats. Owing to the intimate connection between the two aspects, fast food, an American style eating consumption, may possibly have an inseparable relation with American values. Accordingly, this thesis tries to discuss the American fast food culture from the perspective of American value orientation to draw a fresh new picture of American fast food culture.

The author endeavors to employ Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory to analyse American fast food culture, expecting to achieve profound understanding of American values in relation to fast food culture. Besides, the author purposes to verify the extensive application of the Theory.

In addition, this thesis will familiarize the readers with the magnate of American fast food industry-- McDonald's, the first fast food restaurant around the world, from a totally different set of eyes. As a derivative of McDonald's, McDonaldization is a mirror reflecting the typical aspects of American culture. This thesis will provide specific information about the worldwide renowned brand-- McDonald's and its impact on American fast food culture. In this way, a general analysis goes into details to assess the application of the Value Orientation Theory.

Last but not least, this thesis aims to prepare individuals who are going to stay at the United States with a fresh outlook of American fast food culture. Thus, they can be well-prepared for the intercultural communication and adjust themselves soon while they are abroad. By appreciating American values and their fast food culture, students will possibly have a better performance and behavior to avoid cultural shock.

The concept of the Value Orientation Theory was created by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck in 1961. The Value Orientation Theory is composed of five categories relating to human activities and their relation to each other. Accordingly, these five categories are man-nature orientation, activity orientation, time orientation, human to nature orientation, and relational orientation.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) is a book by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser that examines the local and global influence of the United States fast HYPERLINK ""food industry. He describes various high-tech capabilities of the base and its extensive defensive system, speculating that if the worst were to happen to the fast food industry. Schlosser suggests, it would give important clues to the nature of American society.

This thesis tries to adopt the two studies analysis the American fast food culture from the perspective of American Value Orientation which has never been done before.

This thesis is divided into three chapters as follows.

Introduction: It commits to briefly introduce the purpose and significance of the study, and thesis organization.

Chapter One: It analyses reasons for the prevalence of fast food in America by applying the Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory. Basic concepts of the Theory as well as American values based on the Theory, and their relations with the prevalence of American fast food will be elaborated.

Chapter Two: In this Chapter, the famous fast food brand McDonald's and its derivative McDonaldization will be presented, a prime example of American fast food eidos which have a great impact on American society even to the whole world.

Chapter Three: It dissects the double-sided effect of American fast food, which, on the other hand, shows the interrelations of American value orientation and American fast food culture.

Conclusion: This part is a summary of the thesis and a vista of the future for American fast food.

Chapter I Reasons for the Prevalence

1.1 Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory

The concept of the Value Orientation Theory was created by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck in 1961. The Value Orientation Theory is composed of five categories, such as man-nature, activity, time, human to nature and relational orientations, all of which show their interrelationship with human activities.

Individuals in the United States are nature dominates humans. "This belief has made it possible for the United States to change the course of rivers, harvest forests for wood and paper, breed cattle for increased meat production and destroy disease-causing bacteria." Literally, it seems that people in the United States tend to controll everything, including the environment, but this belief has contributed to the material wealth of the United States without a doubt.

The next two categories are activity and time orientation interrelated in a sense and deal with the mode or the use of time in relation to human activity. In the United States, efficiency and practicality is of overriding importance in time management, which has become the second nature to most American people. Thus, they strive to do everything efficiently as possible.

The human to nature part explores human rights and responsibilities as well as the meaning of being a human. Post-modern American beliefs tended to view people as being born evil with the potential to be good, while contemporary beliefs are more along the lines that humans are born with a mixture of or the potential for being both good and evil.

The final category talks about the relational value, implying that the relationship of an individual is to others. As we all know, the United States is the most individualistic country in the world. "The value of individualism in the United States is reflected in the belief that individuals should set their own goals and pursue them independently." This ability to set these goals and make decisions by themselves is the top-drawer in United States culture.

People in the United States, in relation to the Value Orientation Theory, almost seems to have a control complex. For instance, they have domination over nature, which has helped their country become the overlord of the world. They always bear in mind the need to control their own time. On the other hand, the individualism of the United States demonstrates that citizens there prefer to be in charge of their own lives and leave their fellow men alone if there is no direct benefit to themselves.

1.2 Reasons for the Prevalence

All the American values contributed to the prevalence of fast food in the United States. High efficiency and fast-paced work are not only a vivid manifestation of the contemporary society, as well as infiltration of space in people's lives. Therefore, eating in fast food stores has become a U.S. lifestyle. This lifestyle developed into a way of life and attitudes, and got spread to other areas, and formed a certain culture. This is known as fast food culture. Compared with three meals a day, fast food is a condiment, a trend toward American way of life. Burgers, pizza, fried stuff with cheese, French fries, donuts, and all such food items that can be prepared and served quickly are termed as fast-food and have plenty of consumers from all age groups. Fast food is basically on-the-go food, quickly made, and served within minutes for the people who lead fast-paced lives. For those city dwellers, eating seems to become a burden, so fast food is particularly favorable to those who work day and night. American fast food shows its most significant features of being efficient, convenient, and hygienic. It embodies the American values and the objective needs, but also as a modern dining concept of consumption received the world's most successive recognition and acceptance, surging to the world. The American fast food culture, not only has been a symbol of obvious significance in the framework of the typical American way of life, but also has broken through the region, state, national cultural discrepancy and the barrier of traditional eating habits, as a lifestyle, a cultural style swept the world, thus winning popularity both at home and abroad.

The experience of fast food connects with the high consumption in the modern community. General economic status and standard of their cultural characteristics decide that contemporary society can only be a cultural industry, and the culture of fast food is typical of the culture industry. Whether people's feelings on this kind of culture are good or not, the fast food culture has virtually become a satisfier to people's demand. Therefore, there is in-depth connection between the fast food culture and the people's emotions.

"The fast food culture as a kind of commodity, consumption is its motive and purpose of production." The fast food culture attracts people's interest by its colorful form of attractive lines and eye-catching decorations. Consumption of fast food culture is the nature of relationships through market positioning. Because of the public sentiment, there is such a demand and it constitutes a fast-food culture version of this consumption. In the commerce society, the public desires for fast food expand substantially, which contributes to the emergence of fast food culture. Therefore, constantly requiring promoting the fast-food culture makes it have great vitality to stand in the commerce society. It can be seen that the fast food culture and the public requirement will interact with each other and consequently get further widespread.

Chapter II McDonald's and McDonaldization

The McDonald's was the first fast food restaurant ever. By this time, the other famous fast-food brands just like KFC, Pizza Hut which are the world's three top fast food brands from America had been known by all the people, all of which constituted a powerful fast food empire and developed rapidly. People could not escape these fast-food chains easily wherever they are off to, including China. McDonald's originated in the United States and its ramification--McDonaldization implies efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. It is one of the most influential products of the United State in the 20th century. And the profound meaning of McDonaldization has expanded as time goes by and becomes the feature of our times.

Mc or Mac is in the unique Scottish family name signs, which means "son of". Name it and the other English class structure. Like, such as in Edison-- son of Edith; Wilson-- son of William. Obviously, McDonald is son of Donald.

According to word formation, it is easy to analyse the structure of McDonaldization, which is based on the first verb McDonald into McDonaldize, and added the suffix tion. The suffix 'tion' involves two meanings as follows:

(1) --- the process or state of

(2) --- the product of or the institution produced by

Obviously, McDonaldization could be defined as the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world.

As a derivative of McDonald's, McDonaldization is a mirror, which reflects the typical aspects of American culture as follows.

Efficiency-- The so-called McDonald's efficiency is to point out McDonald's most effective way of making people achieve physical satiety, which is the embodiment of the flow line operation, products simplification and selection limitation. The employees are all trained high efficiency in ordering and preparing food. Meanwhile, McDonald's is not only time-saving, money-saving, but also provides attractive dining environment for the customers, especially the setting of the children's playground, which enables parents and children, each in his proper place, to enjoy entertainment and dining in a required time.

Calculability-- It emphasizes the calculation and quantification of products, reflecting in two aspects: the production process such as speed, and the final results. Once the production of the food and the sales time become measurable, the producing and sale process will be predictable. According to the record, McDonald's tried to finish a hamburger + milkshakes + fries the selling services in 50 seconds. People attach great importance to its unified price and service, specially emphasising on "fast", because one of the American values is "time is money". McDonald's working procedures ensure its calculability, for instance, when crispy fries is deep-fried , the fries machine will automatically increase the funnel; when the cup is full, the beverage machine will automatically shut down and this automatic planning system is to prevent operator's error or extended computing time. Eventually, this process can be calculated, quantified, to ensure uniform quality and quantity.

Predictability-- It lays so much emphasis on principles, systematic management and rules that McDonald's products and services remain unchanged all over the world. It performs in various ways, such as the almost uniform decoration style, the staff's words and deeds and the types of food. In this way, people go anywhere in the world, as long as they step into the McDonald's, in which people can anticipate what they have to order, what to eat, how long to eat, will be left an impression that McDonald's is no surprise reasoning that McDonald's staff procedures, and even the greetings, are ritualized and highly scripted. Everything in McDonald's is able to be foreseen.

Control-- McDonald's type of Control is via technical means to replace human labor, and ultimately in control of people as people are uncertain, unpredictable, inefficient while technology and machines can easily be manipulated. Through the manipulation of the machine, flow control operations and facilities for employees and customers, McDonald's has achieved the two-way control: a high degree of mechanization, limited items on the menu, not a comfortable seat, all of those in control of the customers to eat and leave. In a traditional restaurant, the chef is the drivingforce and engine. The chef's emotion can even affect the quality of the food he has made. In addition, it is difficult to feed every customer's appetite since their expectations are generally different. But McDonald's do not have to bother. Its employees can handle cooking automation after receiving a short period of training, then directly go to induction, machine operation to produce the consistent taste. The U.S. advocate innovation, However, the innovation McDonald's presents is that whichever McDonald's you walk in, you experience the same and you feel the same. Due to the programmed service, not any variance is tolerable. Admittedly, this one-size-fit-all effect is also a kind of innovation.

Chapter III Double-sided Effects

3.1 Positive Effects

Fast food brought a rich cultural diversity of values. Fast-food culture, abundant in the concept of being fast, convenient, efficient, variable, fashion features, enhanced individuals' perception of time and sense of competition. Furthermore, it encourages individuals to work in the subconscious of efficiency, value of time, avoid procrastinate, and keep fast-paced work and life.

Fast food has such a huge impact on people's society and economy. The fast-food culture has a very mixed audience. Because the scope of fast food industry consumption extend, the impact on the economy will then increase. The managers of fast-food industry promote their products through media and advertising, so that there is people's love-hate relationship with fast food. In order to win better performance, many of the leading fast food brands engaged in a fierce price war, which also stimulated the public's consumption, resulting in another wave of cost-effectiveness.

The McDonald's Corporation has become a powerful symbol of America's service economy, which is now responsible for 90 percent of the country's new jobs. In 1968, McDonald's operated about one thousand restaurants. Today it has about twenty-eight thousand restaurants worldwide and opens almost two thousand new ones each year. An estimated one out of every eight workers in the United States has at some point been employed by McDonald's. The company annually hires about one million people, more than any other American organization, public or private. McDonald's is the nation's largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes, and the second largest purchaser of chicken. The McDonald's Corporation is the largest owner of retail property in the world. Indeed, the company earns the majority of its profits not from selling food but from collecting rent. McDonald's spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other brand. As a result it has replaced Coca-Cola as the world's most famous brand. McDonald's operates more playgrounds than any other private entity in the United States. It is one of the nation's largest distributors of toys. A survey of American schoolchildren found that 96 percent could identify Ronald McDonald. The only fictional character with a higher degree of recognition was Santa Claus. The impact of McDonald's on the way we live today is hard to overstate. "The Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross."

3.2 Negative Effects

Fast-food culture is more than a means of cultural consumption, but rather a style of life and values as well. Its commercial nature, characteristics and the marketization reflected the pursuit of the cultural environment flooded with material desires and sensual enjoyment.

One of the ironies of America's fast food industry is that a business so dedicated to conformity was founded by iconoclasts and self-made men, by entrepreneurs willing to defy conventional opinion. Few of the people who built fast food empires ever attended college, let alone business school. They worked hard, took risks, and followed their own paths. In many respects, the fast food industry embodies the best and the worst of American capitalism at the start of the twenty-first century-- its constant stream of new products and innovations, its widening gulf between rich and poor. The industrialization of the restaurant kitchen has enabled the fast food chains to rely upon a low-paid and unskilled workforce. While a handful of workers manage to rise up the corporate ladder, the vast majority lack full-time employment, receive no benefits, learn few skills, exercise little control over their workplace, quit after a few months, and float from job to job. The restaurant industry is now America's largest private employer, and it pays some of the lowest wages. During the economic boom of the 1990s, when many American workers enjoyed their first pay raises in a generation, the real value of wages in the restaurant industry continued to fall. The roughly 3.5 million fast food workers are by far the largest group of minimum wage earners in the United States. The only Americans who consistently earn a lower hourly wage are migrant farm workers.

Moreover, eating fast food and leading a sedentary lifestyle trigger obesity, which leads to other complications like the increase in the cholesterol level, blocking of the arteries, the increased risk of coronary diseases, in addition to the general physical discomfort posed by the extra weight. Fast food is also addictive and hence it is very difficult to give up on their greasy and fatty foods and carbonated drinks and switch to healthier options. Thus constant and regular consumption of fast food can lead to an overall unhealthy condition. Malnutrition, obesity, increased risks of heart attack, hypertension and an overall unhealthy body are some of the things that follow a fast food addiction. So if people want to lead a healthy and fulfilling life it is the best to cut down the fast food intake, switch to healthier options and supplement it with regular fitness exercises. Health is one of the most important aspects that need to be taken care of for being truly happy in life. So, it is a must to solve this obesity problem.

I do not mean to suggest that fast food is solely responsible for every social problem now haunting the United States. In some cases (such as the malling and sprawling of the West) the fast food industry has been a catalyst and a symptom of larger economic trends. In other cases (such as the rise of franchising and the spread of obesity) fast food has played a more central role. By tracing the diverse influences of fast food. I hope to shed light not only on the workings of an important industry, but also on a distinctively American way of viewing the world.

The sociologist George Ritzer has attacked the fast food industry for celebrating a narrow measure of efficiency over every other human value, calling the triumph of McDonald's the irrationality of rationality. Others consider the fast food industry proof of the nation's great economic vitality, a beloved American institution that appeals overseas to millions who admire American way of life. Indeed, the values, the culture, and the industrial arrangements of the fast food nation are now being exported to the rest of the world. Fast food has joined Hollywood movies, blue jeans, and pop music as one of America's most prominent cultural exports. Unlike other commodities, however, fast food isn't viewed, read, played, or worn. It enters the body and becomes part of the consumer. No other industry offers, both literally and figuratively, so much insight into the nature of mass consumption.

Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where this food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten. However, they should know what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns. As the old saying goes: "You are what you eat. "


According to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory, time is of utmost importance to most Americans. Their lives seem controlled by the little machines they wear on their wrists, cutting their discussions off abruptly to make their next appointment on time. This philosophy has enabled Americans to be extremely productive, and productivity is highly valued in their country. They have reputation for being realistic, practical, and efficient. Here are the questions they are likely to ask, "Will it make money?" "Is it aesthetically pleasing?" "Will it be enjoyable?" In this case, fast food emerged just in time to feed Americans' appetite. Soon, it receives worldwide successive popularity.

It is an extremely attractive way of life in America that everyone in the fast-paced society is running in a hurry, fast fill his stomach, and approach efficient way to meet other needs. Therefore, fast food model or say McDonaldization, presenting a overwhelmingly effective mode and philosophy, are widely used in education, sports, finance, or even religion, cartoons and other areas.

As the cradle of fast food, the United States is questioned by its people with a rejecting attitude of fast food: What is the impression of the United States? Years ago, people would say "cowboy". But currently, many people would say, "McDonald's". The former response established the "American Dream" and opened the realms of gold; while the latter one destroyed the "American Dream" by creating a fast food empire with one-fifth of population being obese children and many unhealthy individuals.

However, "the benevolent see benevolence and the wise see wisdom." Some hold a positive viewpoint toward American fast food culture. It is the accelerated pace of life, the increasingly busy work and the inevitable cultural phenomenon that should not be regarded as garbage. American fast food brought a rich cultural diversity of values; it can also help people be efficient in various areas of daily press releases and in the abundance of useful information as well as grasp opportunities for personal development.

Anyway, as long as the United States is a country to pursue the timeliness, fast food will and always will occupy a high place in the catering industry and its culture.

To sum up, this thesis felicitously applies Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory to analyse American fast food culture. This has never been done in conjunction with the Theory and American fast food culture. It will help readers better understand American fast food culture from the perspective of American values. Moreover, if you are going to visit the United States, it will help you understand the Americans with whom you will be relating-- from their own value system rather than ours. So, starting from American fast food culture, many more American cultures can be understood and analyzed by applying Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's Value Orientation Theory. To grasp the core philosophy of this framework, more follow-up researches should be inspired. In other words, further studies about this topic need to be conducted in the future.