I was just reading about Taco bell responding to Chipotle’s success by introducing items that are similar to those on Chipotle’s menu and marking a shift in its own offerings. This attempt by fast food companies to project a healthier image is interesting because it goes beyond changes in an industry and says something about us as a society. The notion that fast food is lacking in nutrition, serving up empty calories is pervasive. Why, then, do people continue to consume fast food? First, because of the way our lives are structured, we are always short of time and pick fast food as an easy option to fit in between errands, work and practice matches (plus the kids will eat it without whining). So while it is cheaper to cook at home, we are not at home long enough to be able to do so. Second, a whole generation has grown up without basic cooking skills so the reality is that there are few things that are well cooked at home and it is more efficient to buy dinner than cook something which is not fulfilling. After all, our relationship with food is emotional, we do not see food as fuel, we need to feel satiated after a meal and badly cooked food does not do it for us. So, until we can change the way we live our lives and have the time to prepare a nutritious and delicious meal, we will be making that run to the fast food drive through. That being so, the news that these places will be making their menu healthier is encouraging.
The fact is that preparing a meal at home takes time, skill and effort. If we choose to put our energies here, we need to pull back somewhere else. If I make the choice to tend my garden, grow my produce, keep chickens and cook from scratch, that does not leave much time for other pursuits. I am reminded of something I read on the wall of a Kindergarten class: all of us are not good at everything but everyone is good at something. If we each concentrate on what we are good at, society as a whole can prosper and live at a higher level of well being than if all of us tried to replicate the essential routine of survival. Food, after all, is primarily fuel, even though we often love it too much to see it that way.