Chowing down: Fast as a way of life

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Fortification for the demands of the day is economically, geographically, and nearly instantaneously available to Americans.  There are toastable frozen waffles, packaged breakfast bars, or yogurt cups from one’s own kitchen refrigerator.  Drive-through windows at local restaurants offer complete and handheld breakfasts.  Even if purchased, not cooked oneself, the substance of bacon, eggs, and toast used to require a fork, knife, and plate.  The preparation of even popular, comfort foods has become the province of people who are formally educated and paid.  The rhythms of a lovingly handmade, hot breakfast enjoyed in a warm kitchen in the convivial company of loved ones are gone.  Americans are so enamored with mass production that the value of amateur proficiency in the kitchen has declined precipitously.  Slowly preparing meals from fresh ingredients and family recipes has little meaning.

Still, how is it that fast preparation requires fast consumption of meals?  Eating while driving, working, and watching television is an expected part of multi-tasking for Americans.   Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, and burritos can be dispatched by the mouthful, too.  They constitute a handful; a double cheeseburger or a beef burrito dwarf finger sandwiches in size and weight.  Energetic chewing may be required, but table manners needn’t stand in its way.  Neither a dining table nor dining companions are found in a car, office, or den.  Large chunks of food are readily swallowed with the help of large volumes of beverages.  Straws encourage gulps rather than sips.  It isn’t enough for food to be fast, so must the diner.  The goal is to assuage hunger and finish a meal; minimizing the time spent eating is as important as minimizing the time spent cooking and cleaning up after the meal.

That doughnut or fried chicken leg need not be memorable as long as it is edible.  This minimal standard for taste enables the purchase of doughnuts or chicken legs at any restaurant.  For Americans, a valuable meal has become more food or drink per dollar.  Fast food restaurants compete by lowering prices or increasing portions rather than by improving taste or nutrition.  Their customers seek savings in time, effort, and money rather than enjoyment of their meals and the companionship of family and friends.  Changing these values would dramatically change not only the American diet and physique, but also the American identity and way of life.  Race you to the grocery store?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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