Golden Arches and white paper bags have come to define quick eating in our society, but there are serious drawbacks to this convenience. The link between a processed diet and poor health is no longer a secret, and in light of the national movement to raise fast-food employee wages above their current poverty-level, ethical concerns are also being raised by many Americans. But there still lies a problem for the majority of consumers, even those of us with such concerns —we are still very busy and we still need to eat—fast. However, the solution to this problem may not be ridding our lives of fast eating, but rather how we approach and define this eating.
How long does it take to prepare and eat an apple?
The myth of fast-food convenience is perpetuated by propaganda, and the addictive nature of processed foods keeps the majority of our population coming back for more, yet these foods are no more convenient than natural whole foods—veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are incredibly simple by nature, and require little to no preparation. Why then is the average consumer not turning to these easy to grab, nutrient-dense energy sources amid their daily hustle?
Our society’s belief in fast-food convenience has much less to do with our impractical schedules and time constraints, and much more to do with our susceptibility to marketing and social pressure. Our televisions, magazines, streets, and even schools are filled to the brim with advertisements for unhealthy food choices—none of which are sold as such.
Since birth we have been taught to believe that we need processed foods—that we do not have the time or resources to prepare our own meals, nor do we need this added stress amid our daily responsibilities. It is common for parents to reason that they would like to make healthier choices for their families, but microwave dinners and drive-thru’s are the only means of providing meals while working and maintaining their households—and there is valid logic to this belief.
Compounding the myth of fast-food convenience is the myth that a healthy lifestyle is inconvenient and expensive. Just as we have been taught to depend upon the drive-thru and microwave, we have also been taught that healthy eating is expensive and burdensome.
This is simply not true.
Case in point, the average price for a pound of beans is between eighty nine cents and a dollar twenty five, and provides anywhere from nine to eleven servings; conversely a single serving off the dollar menu costs…well…I think you can figure that one out.
If consumers were better informed they could see the ease of healthy eating—heating up a bowl of oats for their kids in the morning is just as quick as popping in a pop-tart; throwing fruit and veggies in a lunchbox takes no more time than grabbing a “lunchable” or a candy bar; and sitting down for a quality dinner can be as easy as boiling up a bag of one dollar beans and throwing together a quick salad.
Even when in a jam and on-the-go, places like 7-11 and Walgreens carry a variety of fruits, nuts, and veggies right next to their chips and candy bars—albeit most of this stuff is not organic, but it is an affordable and far nutritionally-superior alternative to the drive-thru.
But while such a healthy, affordable, and convenient diet appears to be an easy choice, the real challenge lies in getting the average consumer to realize that they have a choice at all. Several generations removed from the initial baby-boomer fast food explosion, drive-thru dining is no longer the special occasion and family treat meal it was initially pitched as; it is now the sole means of sustenance for millions of consumers believing it to be their only choice.
While the prospect of competing with the marketing campaigns of multi-billion dollar corporations is not something we can achieve overnight, we all possess an immense amount of power as individual consumers. Amid our busy lives we can still choose who we hand our money to, what we put into our mouths, and the example we set for our friends, families, and communities. While we may not have the time to stop eating fast, we can choose what it is we are eating so quickly. What are you going to choose?