Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, Panda Express, you name it. Fast food is everywhere, and not surprisingly. According to The Barbecue Lab, 83% of American families eat fast food at least once a week. Its benefits seem to extend far beyond taste. Fast food companies have lured the public into buying because of its fast and inexpensive offerings. But at what expense?
Since the start of civilization, the act of eating has been more than a need: it has been a social ritual. Hunter-gatherer societies relied on community for safety and nourishment. This sense of community was taken to the table, or cave, where hunter-gatherers would come together to cook and enjoy their recently killed mammoth. During the Medieval Age, monarchies would introduce noble brides to kings during supper. In fact, entire courts like that of Louis XIV were known for vibrant and opulent kitchens. Nowadays, you can find families gathering on Sundays in Latin America to celebrate life or family picnics throughout Europe. Sadly, this tradition seems to have been weakened by the fast food business in the United States. The average American overall spends less time eating, therefore limiting the possibilities to strengthen connections in a community. A recent study published by FSR Magazine states that the average wait per party is 23 minutes. Twenty-three minutes to order, eat, pay the check, and leave. Is 23 minutes even enough to eat at a healthy pace without choking?
Fast food does not only affect the creation and strengthening of connections, but it also undermines centuries of history and innovation in traditional kitchens. Mexican cuisine’s grandeur is the result of the use of fresh and native indigenous products and a mélange of the ingredients and spices brought from Europe by the conquistadors. At home in Mexico, it is not rare to eat mole for lunch. The peculiar and delicious taste of the dish, which involves chiles and chocolate, is always accompanied by my mom’s short history lesson. “You know, Regina,” she would say, “this dish was the product of desperation and interculturalism.”
As the legend goes, colonial Mexico was waiting for the arrival of the viceroy Juan de Palafox y Mendoza. There was a welcome feast in a convent led by Brother Pascual Bailon. He was so profoundly nervous that he accidentally dropped ingredients of indegenous origin like chocolate and chiles into a pot where wild turkey was being cooked. He served the final result to the Spanish nobles, who were surprised at the sublime and peculiar taste. Fast food is not only too fast, but it fails to portray the richness of Mexican gastronomy, and instead emphasizes the stereotype that Mexican food only includes tacos and burritos. Similarly, Chinese cuisine was influenced by the country’s geographical diversity. Different regions of China offer distinct agricultural and meat products to its magical, harmonious cuisine. Orange chicken lacks these contributions, those of which make such magnificent dishes possible.
During the time of the pandemic, schedules seem to be more packed than usual, adding to the necessity of eating fast and efficient meals. One might think that fast food would come in a clutch. You order a burrito and eat it quickly as you type that annoying English paper you waited too long to start. Everything seems perfectly acceptable on the surface, but it might not be the perfect answer on a deeper level. The opportunity to sit down with friends and talk about the day was missed; maybe your friend had brought along a new person from class, who would have been interesting to meet. Instead of being able to enjoy food together, to energize, refresh, and inspire one another, you are left with a heavy feeling in your stomach. Is it ever really worth it to avoid the social ritual of a meal?
Cover photo courtesy of https://eatingdisorderspecialists.com/closer-look-food-addiction/ .