When I was born in 1978, the United States had roughly 60 thousand fast food restaurants. That was up from just one in 1921, the year the original White Castle offered the first fast-food burger to Wichita, Kansas’ hungry folks in a hurry.
I picked up these bits of fast-food folklore watching Fast Food: Convenience or Crisis?, the first episode of Netflix’ new series History 101. As a restaurateur, I naturally found the topic intriguing!
But the program that begins with a nostalgic look back at America’s early fast-food love affair soon switches its focus.
The explosion in restaurants — which was well underway the day I was born — meant that fast-food chains needed efficient ways to lower costs. This led to centralized processing centers and ignited a “… massive demand for large-scale food production.”
Because the resulting huge increase in meat production forced factory farms to expand at an unprecedented rate, the 21-minute history lesson also covered the industry’s impacts on our health and environment.
Between 1950 and 1994, we’re told, the obesity rate among Americans climbed from 12 to 23 percent. Nutritionists and doctors blamed the near doubling on “sugar, fat and salt” loaded fast food.
They also began making the connection between the processed, animal -based fare and soaring cases of heart disease and diabetes.
Fast forward 22 years to 2016, and obesity now afflicts 1.9 billion people worldwide That’s nearly 4 of every 10 men, women and children on planet Earth. All thanks to the fast-food craze gone global.
And the millions of cows turned into billions of burgers each year are responsible for nearly 15 percent of all climate-changing methane emissions.
The episode ends, however, with a small ray of hope: Fast-food chains pay close attention to their customers’ changing preferences, including those of “millions of vegans worldwide” who want plant-based options.
One outcome of the demand for healthier choices? In 2019, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and White Castle all introduced versions of vegan-friendly “Impossible Burgers.”
I started fast-casual Fruitive in 2012. We do our best to accommodate our customers’
desire for convenience, but we’ve always made their health — and that of the environment and all living creatures — our top priority.
During this worldwide pandemic, we’re in crisis at every level. But I continue to embrace the hope of a future in which Fruitive’s example of putting health ahead of convenience won’t be the restaurant-industry exception.
It will be the rule!