What We Expect From Fast Food

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A recent road trip brought up for me the fraught issue of the cost of food. Traveling with kids (who for some reason seem to be ravenous  on the road although they have to be coaxed to finish up at home!) means that at least some of the meals have to come from fast food outlets as the process isquicker, cheaper and gives rise to less controversy and negotiation. Still, when you get home and do the bills, the amount spent on food is a big part of the trip expenses.

So I was intrigued to read Mark Bittman’s take on the possibility of healthy and edible fast food and was mostly in agreement but for two points. The first is cost:   if we define a fast food meal (as the article does) at about $10 for a wrap/taco/sandwich and shake, that works out to an average of $40 per family for just one meal of the day (and ravenous kids eat frequently!). I fully support paying  fair wages to farm workers and a fair price for food grown with good farm practices but do look for good prices which won’t bust the budget. How do we reconcile these two variables?

The second issue is that of our expectations from fast food . What proportion of our meals do we actually eat at such places? If it is an occasional meal, on a journey or for a treat (“I cleaned my room, can we get donuts?”), or the house is getting a makeover and we can’t cook tonight, my expectations would be moderate. Yes, it should not be greasy and disgusting and tasteless but fresh-from-the-fields-the-way-Mom-made-it is not really essential.

Let us not delude ourselves: it is possible to maintain the highest quality levels only in our own kitchens when we source and handle the ingredients ourselves. So if the food meets basic health standards, the workers have been fairly treated and it comes out fast, the pricing should position it where it is an option available to all. Demanding the highest quality ingredients and standard of cooking will push prices too high and make it unaffordable and inconvenient. After all, when we opt for fast food, it is the “fast” rather than the “food” which is the key factor in our decision-making process.

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