Sunday, September 8, 2019

The United States of Fast Food

Image credit: Thrillist
In America our relationship with fast-food is a funny thing. It carries so many negative connotations- unhealthy, unsustainable, low-status, the worst of corporate America. Everything that Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollen, Morgan Spurlock and others have very persuasively deconstructed about it. For all the profitability of the McDonald's brand, you can seemingly devalue a thing by adding 'Mc-' to the front- McMansion, McJob, McChurch, etc.

But for many of my generation, fast-food was our first paying job and where we learned to work. I remember at age 15 being taught to work the grill at a McDonald's in Bellingham, Washington, and marveling as my trainer explained that their hamburgers tasted the same wherever you went because their entire system of operation was designed to achieve that consistency. I came to discretely harbor immense pride at being an employee of the most unstoppable restaurant brand in the world and looked down at my friends who'd settled to work at inferior chains, jobs that had the same stigma without any of the (admittedly, perhaps, imaginary) status.

For all the unfavorable associations with fast-food, it is part of the fabric of our culture, because it is everywhere we go. On a remote state highway or in a bleak airport terminal with few appealing options for sustenance, it might be the one thing you feel like you can trust. And in this excellent read by Adam Chandler, his fascinating personal and historical journey showed me how fast-food, for all its faults and flaws, serves as kind of a connective tissue, facilitating shared experience in this country in a way I'd never fully appreciated. And in this day and age where we live in either a red state or a blue state and there is no shortage of issues to fracture us- whether it is politics, religion, education, health care, parenting, or the economy- it's worth noting when anything has the power to connect people in ways that transcend social, racial, economic, political, geographic and even generational lines.  Even if it's a way we might be reluctant as a fast-food nation to admit.

Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heard of America's Fast-Food Kingdom
By Adam Chandler
288 pp. Flatiron Books. $27.99.

King of the substitute brands

I've re-published this story on Medium and will be moving all my posts over there soon.  Thanks for visiting!