Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Deal With Fast Food

I was watching a documentary called Fed Up over the weekend about our collective addiction to sugar and processed food. I think it's something worth checking out. It really made me think about our eating habits. I say "our" because it's not just my habits but my family's. I hate to think I'm passing some really bad things down to my girls and it worried me a bit.

About the documentary itself, I invite you to watch it and formulate your own opinions on it. In my case it made me think about my eating when I was growing up and how it has changed as processed food has become more accessible. After careful analysis, here are some things I found interesting.

When I was a kid, fast food was not as widespread as it is today. The first big chain to make a serious expansion in Puerto Rico was Burger King. There were others of course but back then they started popping up more frequently. If we wanted to eat some Burger King, we had to drive 30 minutes to a mall in San Juan to get some. My Mom worked in San Juan so if she wanted to take us, she had to come from work, pick us up then go back to San Juan to eat there. Needless to say, she had to be in a very good mood to do that and we had to earn it. There had better been some good grades or something like that if we were to dare ask to go to Burger King. 

The main source of food was my Grandmother's cooking, and it was good. She was like most Grandma's in that she never measured anything so most of her recipes died with her, much to my dismay. This woman was a monster cook. Any native dish I eat is still compared to her version to this day. So, Burger King was simply a treat we would get once in a while. If it was a really special occasion, we would go to Pizza Hut. Fine dining at its finest if you asked me. "We are going to Pizza Hut? I better go air out the good clothes. You don't wear shorts to Pizza Hut."

Then came McDonald's and their massive expansion in the island which forced Burger King to reciprocate. The success of both chains ushered the entry of the others. You know, Wendy's, KFC, Taco Bell and they were everywhere. By the mid 90's they had taken over the island and things changed. I don't think for the best.

My Grandmother's health deteriorated and was unable to cook for us. My Mom worked so we started to eat what was accessible and convenient. Where back in the day it took 30 minutes to get a Whopper, today there are three Burger Kings within a mile of my house. Three. Right next to one another. To those three Burger Kings in a town that previously had no fast food joints you can add a McDonald's, 2 Church's Fried Chickens, 2 Taco Bells, 2 Subways, a KFC, a Wendy's , a Papa John's and a Pizza Hut. I have no problem picking up a pizza in shorts and flip flops at Pizza Hut these days. Change indeed. And that is just my hometown. I'm not even talking about the adjacent towns that have other choices within 5 to 10 minutes of my house.

We eat way too much fast food at my house. It's a sad fact but it's true. There is not a week that goes by when we don't eat it. We have allowed convenience to overtake our desire for health. We go to these places and eat and we don't just settle for basics either. It's the combo meal which means soda and of course no small potions either. For a while now, I have been going to these places looking for healthier choices but that doesn't really exist does it? At least not equally. I mean, why pick a salad when you can have a combo meal a lot less? It's certainly a model that prays on those strapped for cash. They literally penalize you for making the healthier choice to switch your beverage to bottled water by paying more for something that is actually cheaper. Nope. There really are no healthier choices in those places. Only the illusion of choice.

This isn't some elitist rant asking for the eradication of fast food and I'm not telling anyone what to do. This is a very personal thing I'm sharing here. I still eat fast food and plenty of it but changes have to be made. Cook cannot be a 4 letter word. My wife has agreed that we need to make more home-cooked meals but I have to step up my game as well. As the resident Chef of the house I'm gonna have to put more effort on this. I see my daughter's whining over soda or saying they don't like something my wife cooked without trying it because they'd rather have some burger, that is my fault.

The line has been drawn.

If you want to learn more about the documentary you can see the trailer at www.fedupmovie.com 


  1. We pretty much gave up fast food years ago, but I understand completely how families find it easy and convenient which is exactly what the restaurants want them to think. Another great option is the roasted chickens you can buy ready made at most grocery stores, even Costco! We bought one last week at Harris Teeter, picked up a couple deli salads and had a quick and relatively healthy meal.

    1. Definitely we have to look at other alternatives. I've seen the roasted chickens at Costco and never really gave them much thought. Going to check those out.

  2. Really interesting post! It's cool to hear about your experience seeing the real changes in people's food choices as fast food becomes more prevalent in an area. I've seen some of this when talking to family in India as well. Even 10 years ago going out to eat was a special occasion thing and now it's become much more frequent since there are more options. We eat way to much take out in my house too and we've been trying to cut down. It's hard when everyone's working but worth the effort. And it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Any decrease in fast food is valuable. You're right, there are no healthy choices with fast food. Even the so called healthy options have so much sodium! There was an interesting article in the Washington Post about how people might cook more if the people they cooked for had different reactions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/unearthed-how-to-get-people-to-cook-more-get-eaters-to-complain-less/2014/12/26/0e1c5e54-89f9-11e4-a085-34e9b9f09a58_story.html

    1. It sure started inocently enough. Even the big chains, I don't think started out trying to get you to go there so often. And you are absolutely right! It's not about quitting completely. Not right away anyway. But to stop making it such a central part of the diet is essential I think.

  3. Fast food is a treat in our house. We are lucky in that we really don't have too many fast food restaurants near us, and if we are going to make the trek for "out" food, we would rather go to Panera or Chipotle and have something just slightly healthier.

    We are big in moderation in this house. It's ok to have junk food from time to time, as long as it's balanced with plenty of fruits and veggies and good-for-you things.

    Somehow, we were blessed in that our son despises soda (I'm the one with the Diet Dr Pepper problem - I have limited myself to one helping per day, with lots of water to compensate, but it took some doing) and really doesn't care for juice. Nine times out of ten he will request water and I am a-ok with that.

    Good luck with the cooking. It's hard to get into the swing of it and we definitely have times when we fall into major ruts with meal choices, but overall, it's not too bad when you get going :)

    1. A treat. That's what it used to be at our house. Balance is key. It's not that you cannot ever go but just don't become a regular. If the cashier knows you by name and knows what you are going to order ahead of time, you should reset your priorities. LOL