"We were taken to a fast food café where our order was fed into a computer. Our hamburgers, made from the flesh of chemically impregnated cattle, had been broiled over counterfeit charcoal, placed between slices of artificially flavored cardboard and served to us by recycled juvenile delinquents-Jean Michel Chapereau" (Ehler). Fast food restaurants have become an essential part of the busy American lifestyle over the past thirty years. Many people have different opinions about the fast food industry in our country. Some, such as Jean Michel Chapereau, find it repulsive and fake. Some believe that it is hurting the health of Americans, and blame it for the increasing obesity in our country. Others believe fast food is a quick and easy fix and cannot live a day without it. Americans in general have become one of the biggest groups of consumers in the world, and as a result have helped the fast food chains to grow over the years. The fast food industry can be better understood through its history, advertising, and nutritional concerns.
"Southern California had recently given birth to an entirely new lifestyle - and a new way of eating" (Schlosser, The American Way 15). Between the years of 1920 and 1940, the amount of people living in Southern California tripled. The community that was traveling to California used cars as a means of transportation. This was the beginning of the automobile, and the start of the fast paced lifestyle that came along with it. Novelties such as motels, drive-through banks, and even drive-in restaurants originated. This is how the fast food industry began (Schlosser, The American Way 15-17).
The image of the drive-ins was very important. They had to stick out so that customers could see them while driving. "The southern California drive-in restaurants of the early 1940s tended to be gaudy and round, topped with pylons, towers, and flashing signs. They were 'circular meccas of neon,' in the words of drive-in historian Michael Witzel, designed to be easily spotted from the road" (Schlosser, The American Way 17). Waitresses at these drive-in restaurants, known as carhops, often had to dress up in costumes. People that worked in these positions were good looking women who did not receive a salary. They usually made money though commission and tips. "The drive-ins fit perfectly with the youth culture of Los Angeles. They were something genuinely new and different, they offered a combination of girls and cars and late-night food, and before long they beckoned from intersections all over town" (Schlosser, The American Way 17).
Advertising also plays a large role in the fast food industry. The target audience of most fast food companies is children. "Today companies selling all kinds of products realize that kids have a lot of influence on what their parents buy. Every year in the United States, children are responsible for more than $500 billion worth of spending" (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 39). Moreover, because the fast food companies want this major revenue, they are willing to change the views of young children to get it. Ray Kroc, a man who took over part of the McDonald's company, and Walt Disney, a role model of Kroc's, were two men that had a significant role in this process (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 39). Ray Kroc came up with the idea of creating a child-appealing figure that advertised for McDonalds. He called him Ronald McDonald (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 40). Kroc decided to spread Ronald McDonald, in the form of television, across the United States for all the children to see. The advertisements aired on TV on Saturday mornings- a time when all children were watching cartoons (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 46). Today, the average American child spends approximately twenty-five hours a week sitting in front of the television. Over a year, the average child sees over 40,000 television commercials, 20,000 of these commercials being for fast food, cereal, and soda pop (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 57). These children are being brainwashed into liking these foods just by seeing them on the TV. The selling to children is not confined just to television; the Internet has also become a great advertising site and a good way to get children's information (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 52). In addition, "McDonalds has opened more than eight thousand playgrounds at its restaurants in the United States. Burger King has built more than two thousand. A manufacturer of these 'playlands' explains why fast food chains build them: 'Playlands' bring in children, who bring in parents, who bring in money'" (Schlosser and Wilson, The Youngster Business 57). Furthermore, even though it is impossible to stop fast food advertising to children, it is possible to control television viewing and internet access.
According to a new study, "A ban on fast food advertisements in the United States could reduce the number of overweight children by as much as 18 percent" (Lehigh University). Many people believe that fast food is the main cause of obesity in America because of studies like this. However, it is not just eating fast food that causes obesity; it is the amount that you eat. Eating more calories than your body can burn off is the main factor that causes people to gain weight (Schoenstadt). Because the increasing amount of obese people in the United States today, people blame it solely on the growth of the fast food industry. "Fast-food lovers consumed more fats, sugars and carbohydrates and fewer fruits and non-starchy vegetables than youngsters who didn't eat fast food. They also consumed 187 more daily calories, which likely adds up to about six pounds more per year, the study found" (Holguin). While this shows that fast food is unhealthy, it also shows that the people who gain weight are the people who eat fast food on an everyday basis. The amount of weight an individual gains comes down to the amount of food eaten, the amount of exercise he or she does, and the amount of sleep he or she gets (Walt Larimore, Sherri Flyn and Halliday). In regards to the amount of food, portion sizes have increased over the years. For example, in 1955, an order of fries was 2.4ounces. In 2004, an order of fries was 7ounces. In 1916, customers could only by a coke in a 6.5 fluid ounce bottle, today they are 16 fluid ounces. If people went to the movies in 1955, they could buy popcorn that was three cups. However, the people that go to the movies today they get an average of 21 cups of fully loaded butter popcorn (Walt Larimore, Sherri Flyn and Halliday). The fact that the portion sizes are increasing, and the fact that a quarter of the population, 70 million people, in the United States eats fast food every single day causes the obesity rate to increase, not just fast food in general (Walt Larimore, Sherri Flyn and Halliday).
People who are concerned about obesity and fast food can also do something about it. There are many healthy fast food choices available. Fast food companies also do a good job of making nutritional information available, which can help a person make choices about what and where they eat.