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Healthy, Ethical, Real Fast Food
Fast food is an ever-changing market. From when it started in 1921, composed mainly of shakes and burgers, it has evolved to the present, where franchises battle for the cheapest, tastiest, and biggest meals. But now another approach to fast food is being considered; can fast food be good for the consumer, made with real ingredients that are ethically sourced, but still be fast and cheap? The market of fast food is beginning to provide the consumer with real, ethical, and healthy food again.
Before fast food, hamburgers were sold mainly at fairs, circuses, lunch counters, and carts. The public considered these burgers to be low quality food, believing they consisted of slaughterhouse scraps and spoiled meat. But the first fast food restaurant, White Castle, was created to change the negative image of hamburgers. Opening in 1921, in Wichita, Kansas, White Castle became an important part of fast food development. The restaurants were designed so that the customers could see how their food was being prepared. The buildings were painted white and even the name, White Castle, suggested cleanliness (Wilson). This chain was most successful in the Eastern and Midwestern parts of the United States, but White Castles’ overall success gave hamburgers, the main item on most fast food menus, a better reputation.
Since those early days of fast food, many things in the business have changed. Today, the preparation of food is hidden from customers. French fries are made in large factories, processed and frozen, then shipped to restaurants instead of being cut and fried in the restaurant. Hamburgers are made in huge factories and the meat in one hamburger comes from dozens of cows instead of just one cow. Flavors produced in special chemical plants are added to fast food because the food is processed so much that it loses much of its flavor (Americans are Obsessed with Fast Food). Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and additives are in almost everything (Ettinger). It has become close to impossible to find a fast food meal consisting of food that is grown and raised opposed to being mass-produced.
Hidden among the fast food giants lay some small franchises that have managed to make it in the fast food world. But these restaurants’ menus are quite different from traditional fast food. “So we were driving around……looking for something to eat. But not just anything. We wanted the All American meal- burger, fries, and a shake- and without the side order of guilt. We decided to create a place where family and friends could enjoy a great tasting All-American meal made with healthier ingredients and cooked without the excess fat” (Evos). This is how a southern “feel good fast food” restaurant called EVOS started. Burgerville and Mr. Natural’s are other small franchises that boast similar menus filled with healthy, ethical, and real food. Located in the Washington and Oregon area and Austin, Texas, respectively, these healthy chains have been created and stay alive because of consumers’ interest in a better, on-the-go meal (Top 10 Organic Fast-food Restuarants). Another new restaurant that recently opened, LYFE, which stands for Loving Your Food Everyday, is focused on meals with fewer than 600 calories containing ethically sourced ingredients and “sustainable whenever possible.” Former McDonald’s executive, Mike Roberts joined forces with Stephen Sidwell, an investment banker, Chef Art Smith, Oprah’s former personal chef, and Chef Tal Ronnen, a ground-breaking vegetarian and vegan chef, to create LYFE. “Every decision we make — from using eco-friendly building and packaging materials, to ingredients we source, to providing an engaged service team and partnering with local nonprofits — will engage and inspire our guests, and ultimately, have a tremendous impact," said Roberts (D'Estries). If LYFE does well, it is rumored to open up to 250 restaurants nationally in the next five years.
Even though these small franchises have begun to blossom across the nation, none of them have taken off into mainstream fast food like Chipotle Mexican Grill. “I had a very strong vision for the way Chipotle was going to look and taste and feel. And I knew it wasn’t going to be a typical fast food restaurant…. And [it would] really elevate typical fast food,” said Steve Ells, who founded the restaurant in 1993, in Denver, Colorado (Chipotle Story). Today, forty percent of Chipotle’s black and pinto beans are grown organically and five percent are grown using conservation tillage methods to reduce erosion. Genetically modified corn is never used, lettuce comes from local farms, and none of the meat is raised in confinement (Sacks). “…the vast majority of the pork in the United States is raised in confinement. And I knew I didn’t want that kind of suffering to be part of our success” (Chipotle Story). Because Chipotle CEO Steve Ells decided to only sell “food with integrity” as he calls it, burritos at Chipotle cost a little more than burgers at other fast food restaurants. But people are willing to pay an extra dollar or two to get food that tastes good and feels good. This customer and supplier support is why Chipotle is expanding quickly and they are expected to open 165 new restaurants across the United States in the coming year (O’Brien).
During the 2012 Grammys, Chipotle launched their first commercial, titled Back to the Start. It showed a roly-poly animated farmer raising his pigs in fields the old-fashioned way. Then he began to raise his pigs in crates, watching antibiotics being pumped into their food and then seeing the plump hogs get shipped down a conveyor belt and packaged into trucks. Overwhelmed by the maltreatment of his pigs, he “went back to the start” and put his pigs back outside. The commercial ended with a truck bearing a Chipotle logo driving off, filled with free-range pork (Back to the Start). The short two-minute film provoked emotional responses from viewers, but perhaps it did more than that. Not long after the show-stealing commercial aired, McDonald’s said it wanted its pork suppliers to stop using gestation stalls, small spaces in which pregnant pigs cannot turn around or move, in the process of raising female pigs. Though McDonald’s never mentioned Chipotle’s commercial in their statement, it probably is not a coincidence that these two events happened around the same time. “There are alternatives we think are better for sows” (Benson) said McDonald’s Senior Vice President of the company’s North American Supply Chain Management. As one of the biggest pork buyers in the nation, this statement is a huge step towards better treatment of pigs, chickens, and cows. Hopefully other franchises will follow in their footsteps.
For some celebrities, such as Ryan Gosling and Zooey Deschanel, McDonald’s has another problem. They wrote a letter urging McDonald’s not to buy eggs from chickens raised in battery cages. “I’m Hatin’ it” is their opinion of the practice. “On behalf of compassionate people everywhere, I implore you to help end the needless suffering of these animals by adopting strict and meaningful animal welfare policies worldwide, including the commitment to prohibit the purchase of eggs produced by hens who spend their miserable lives crammed into tiny wire cages (Reddy),” said their letter. Mr. Skinner, McDonald’s CEO, to whom the letter was addressed, has not yet received the letter, but McDonald’s said they have already been looking into cage-free options. This protest shows that consumers want a better meal, they still want something cheap and fast, but that doesn’t mean it has to be fake or cruel.
Fast food is beginning to transition back to the old ways of making food becoming more ethical, healthy, and just plain real food. Fast food franchises’ realization that people do care where their food is coming from, how their food is made, and what ingredients are in their food is changing the world of fast food. Companies are beginning to focus more on the “food” and less on the “fast”.
"Americans Are Obsessed with Fast Food: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal." Interview. CBS News. 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-204_162-326858.html>.
Back to the Start. YouTube. 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMfSGt6rHos>.
Benson, Pat. "McDonald's Wants Better Treatment for Pregnant Pigs." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/13/business/la-fi-mo-mcdonalds-pigs-20120213>.
Chipotle Story- How It All Started. Perf. Steve Ells. Chipotle Mexican Grill. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/fwi/videos/videos.aspx?v=5>.
D'Estries, Micheal. "MNN Bloggers." Mother Nature Network. 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/former-mcdonalds-executives-to-start-healthy-fast-food-chain>.
Ettinger, Jill. "Fast Food Menu Items Without GMOs." Organic Food, Organic Living. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.organicauthority.com/foodie-buzz/which-fast-food-menu-items-dont-contain-gmos.html>.
"EVOS." EVOS. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. <http://www.evos.com>.
O'Brien, Elizabeth. "Defying Gravity." Smart Money Apr. 2012. Print.
Reddy, Laura, and Cindy Galli. "Ryan Gosling, Other Celebs on McDonald's Egg Suppliers: I'm Hatin' It." ABC News. ABC News Network, 20 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/ryan-gosling-celebs-mcdonalds-egg-suppliers-hatin/story?id=15198003>.
Sacks, Danielle. "For Exploding All the Rules of Fast Food." Fast Company. Print.
Wilson, Tracy V. "How Fast Food Works." HowStuffWorks. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/fast-food3.htm>.