Last week as I settled in to catch a new release at the local cinema, I was eclipsed by the trailer for the upcoming film, “The Founder.” For those unfamiliar, the biopic will chronicle Ray Kroc’s success in establishing McDonald’s as the global fast food monarchy. Once I got over the new reality that McDonald’s has penetrated the movies, I realized just how integrated, influential and ironic the fast food industry has been and continues to be in our culture.
Let me preface my gripe by admitting that I do not hold credibility when it comes to criticizing cuisine or the business surrounding it. There are certainly many professional and academic sources which consider this topic, and have the reputation to report on it. Respectively, however, I think my relationship with the golden arches and its culinary comrades validates my voice just as much as anyone who consumes burgers and fries.
I’ve always had a love-hate affair with fast food. Sure, I was manipulated by marketing and toys as a kid to demand happy meals and to don a cardboard crown, but what millennial childhood didn’t feature this?
As I grew up, I finally came to terms with the unethical and unhealthy truths of my childhood nutrition. Even now, I still concede to late night cravings and travel conveniences with dollar-menu and all-day breakfast fixes. But this isn’t an addiction, it’s an affirmation of the fast food industry’s inescapable grip.
If targeting my impressionable adolescent mind with animated personalities and pop-culture endorsements wasn’t enough, the industry has shifted its scheme toward millennials by incorporating a pseudo-café atmosphere and health-food menu choices into their image. I don’t go to Burger King for a salad; I go to commit caloric suicide. By virtue of their fast-food status, we shouldn’t condemn chain restaurants like these for their lack of a healthy substitute.
Instead, we ought to relish in the obvious irony associated with their branding. When McDonald’s declares its “official sponsorship” of The Olympics, or Sbarro infiltrates high school cafeterias, I can’t help but laugh at the insensitive industry for their blatant ignorance. Do these culinary corporations really expect us to be fooled by an endorsement from Gabby Douglas or Lebron James?
Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of industry identities with honest, health-conscious models, but they remain secondary to the big dogs without a celebrity endorsement, or a corrupt marketing strategy. Despite their good intentions, restaurants of this caliber follow suit to the major corporations with controversial ingredient sourcing and unethical employee policies.
Between the buns of the fast food industry is the manipulation of cultural cuisine to fill the pockets of American corporations. Restaurants like Taco Bell, Panda King and Pita Pit market their menus under the disguise that foods are “inspired by” global recipes, fooling consumers into eating appropriated delicacies.
Most of all, this expropriation manifests in the personalities associated with fast food chains. Specifically, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen are guilty of presenting stereotypical identities affiliated with their food. Some might argue that spokespeople like Colonel Sanders for KFC and Annie for Popeyes are neutral personifications of those cultures and their food. However, I see both as carefully choreographed clichés, and interpretively offensive.
Ultimately, I just want to stress an awareness when it comes to fast food. Whether that consciousness is of culture, ingredients or ethics, know your nutrition. Regardless of my own culinary cognizance, I’ll probably opt for fast food in the succeeding weeks for the sake of convenience, or by the spell of the special sauce, and maybe even see a movie.