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I’m going to go out on a limb here and attack an American icon. I’d like to talk to you about the evil of Fast Food.

Yes, evil.

I know, it’s a strong word: one that is usually reserved for mass murderers and heartless dictators and the forces of darkness.

Fast food?  Evil?  How could that be? It seems like such a social good. In our small town fast food restaurants are the only places in town with free indoor playgrounds, late night service for those 3rd shift workers and little toys that come in the children’s meals. These restaurants are also the largest employers of the teens in our town. And as a cheerful 5 year old in my son’s class recently instructed him, “Now there are some really good new chicken bites at _______ and they are really yummy.” My son (who has been indoctrinated by his mother) looked at his friend skeptically. “That stuff is nast-y,” he said. “It’s not really chicken.”

First, a bit of a confession.  I’ve been sucked in by the allure of Fast Food. Last summer, the kids and I trotted down to our local Dairy Queen with free ice cream coupons in hand from the Library. Middle Child was still nursing his leg from the sting of his vaccinations that day and I figured ice cream was just the fix. Not being a frequenter of fast food restaurants, I was immediately impressed. The smiling server in the 50’s-style uniform, the array of choices, the clean and sunny dining room filled with senior citizens reading their papers and eating their lunches, the photo gallery of black and whites of DQ through the ages: it gave a cozy feeling just sitting there with my kids. Some lettering on the window even told me that this particular establishment was a stop on the Crooked Road Music Trail and that on another day I could come and eat my hamburger and listen to live bluegrass. Soon the smiling server brought out our ice creams and blizzards in handy disposable cups with tons of napkins. The ice cream was delicious. The pain of his shots was soon just a distant memory. I was somewhat entranced with the whole experience. This was so easy! Mess free! So convenient! So fun! So cheap! What could possibly be wrong with this picture? I was a little rattled by the how much I enjoyed the experience.  I could understand why people eat fast food so often: it feels good! But as we all know, what feels good is not always good for you.

Here’s where the evil bit comes in. Now, I’m not talking evil like a conscious malicious force trying to get you (think the guy with horns and a pitchfork or your least favorite dictator). I’m talking about St. Augustine’s definition of evil: as simply the absence of good.  Fast food, I would argue, is evil simply because there is really nothing good about it. Most people don’t realize how bad it is, so let me try to shed a little light on the subject. The name says it all: Fast Food.

Fast: Most of us live our lives on the run: busy, stressed, overwhelmed, darting from this thing to that. To keep pace with this insane existence, we’ve invented a way to fuel our physical bodies so we can keep up the pace. Grabbing dinner or breakfast on the way to this or that, eating while driving, sipping on a large sugared beverage throughout the day to keep a constant stream of glucose in our blood to keep our energy levels from tanking. THIS IS NOT HEALTHY. Throughout history, most of a human’s day was built around gathering and preparing sustenance for ourselves. Growing, processing, preparing. In the midst of this work, we bonded with our families, turned our faces to the sun, asked for help from neighbors. We sat down at a table and discussed the world and our days. Food is not meant to be fast, and life is not either. When it is, we miss out on some of the great privileges of being human: using our bodies and skills to provide for ourselves. Learning, growing, inventing, improving. When we relegate this to the realm of the Fast Food Chains we are making our lives smaller in many ways. There is a whole movement about this: it is called the Slow food Movement. You can read more about it here:

2. Food: in case you didn’t know, Fast Food is not really food. It is a food product. It is a food product that is made in ways that run contrary to our fundamental American ideals of fairness and justice.  The mistreatment of animals, the use of undocumented workers, the underpayment of legal workers, the inclusion of fillers and chemicals into the food to give it that great taste, the insidious marketing to children: all of these things make fast food pretty evil in my mind. The price of the options at fast food restaurant also speaks to its worth: 99 cents for a hamburger? Perhaps it is cheap because it is nutritionally valueless. What is not included is the cost to society of people eating cheap, chemically laden food. High blood pressure, diabetes, inflammatory conditions: these things are costly, even if the food that fuels them is not. In some ways, even the cheap cost is an illusion as shown in this clever New York Times article and great picture:

So slow down! Just say no to fast food. If you want to know more about “The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” consider reading Eric Schlosser’s Book: Fast Food Nation. Educate yourself, and make some change in your life based on what you learn. If you are so busy that you cannot prepare meals for your family, consider cutting out some of the activities so that you can do one of the most important things of your day: cook and eat a meal in community with those you love. For you parents out there: family meals will do more for your child than ballet, soccer, basketball, karate and boy scouts combined.

Here’s to slow (and happy) eating!



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