Quick Food or Fast Food?

Fast food gets a (deservedly) bad rap; a fact I have whined about mightily in this blog and further cemented in my new favorite book entitled “The Ominivore’s Dilemma”. (Yes, I’m a tad late to some parties.) The ingredients in fast food are far from genuine, most are extracts of entirely different and significantly cheaper substances that simulate the taste and/or smell of the intended flavor. For example vanillin is a curious by-product of making paper, spent yeast smells a bit like beef and is a major “flavoring agent” of nearly every canned soup and beef stock on the shelf; a fact about which I have mixed emotions given the apparent environmental impact of real beef.

Fast food aims to be “tasty”, not delicious, engineered by teams of food chemists who have turned to the dark side of “molecular gastronomy”. Fast food is adequate, not wholesome, utterly convenient by requiring zero planning or forethought, and is mindlessly-affordable. “Reasonably-flavored, convenient, cheap food” is perhaps a better term than simply “fast food”.

A comedian, Bryan Reagan, has a great line about having waited 2 years to get a new prescription for eyeglasses. “You ever wait that long? How is instantly-improved vision NOT at the TOP of your to-do list?” A similar case could be made for food; how is choosing the very substances that create “you” not at the top of your priority list? I know people who put more thought into their clothing than they do with what they put in their mouth. Corny as it sounds, you are (or rather, become) what you eat.

There is a trend in Silicon Valley to populate the day with so much work, one forgets (or simply neglects) to eat. Hopping between deadlines, we skip meals; zipping right past the very thing that sustains life itself. We bypass fundamental nourishment and blame being overly-busy, bordering on "overwhelmed", as the cause. We have deadlines to meet in order to secure a paycheck and more importantly, to perpetuate a sense of overkill. This notion of work-over-food is as frightening to me as the food most people end up eating due to the diminished time they allow themselves to ingest it. Fast food’s availability allows them to “skip lunch” knowing they can quickly, readily, and cheaply “grab a bite” later.

I’ve certainly skipped a meal because of deadline demands and fast food, or its in-bred cousin “trade show floor food”, is the only option. Likewise, airports haven’t seen fit to provide organic, fresh, wholesome, sustainable food outlets. It is at those times, if hunger is strong enough, animal instinct kicks in and a “Mc-something” becomes acceptable, though you feel dirty about it afterward. It’s a pleasing thought that fast food chains might go bankrupt if people ate fast food only at these desperate times, when no grubs, beetles, or guinea pigs are available. To abandon fast food altogether in today’s world of cell phones and instant messaging, where everybody “had a crazy week”, and deny ourselves being able to eat on-demand, is unthinkable.

“Speed” forces us to sacrifice quality; the airline seat I currently occupy, for example. If the idea of flying asparagus from Argentina to California seems ludicrous, then ponder the insanity of eating that same asparagus on another plane from San Francisco to Miami; in December.

At this very moment, I am in just such a position - though it’s June, and due to a friendship I will never quite fathom*, I am fortunate to be sitting in “First Class”. “First”, of course, being a 4-inch wider, 8-inch deeper version of Coach Class with free drinks and heated food, metal utensils (including a return to shortened metal knives which are not NEARLY as dangerous as the serrated plastic versions of only a year ago.) The often-crooked, always rickety fold-out "tray table" is draped with a napkin to hold an miniature array of visually promising, but inevitably disappointing, plastic-tasting food. Some items are more edible than others. The bread roll is almost always a throw-away resembling the end-product of an “Easy-Bake” oven. Bleached, bland, and soulless flour doing the rest. The chicken is closer to jerky and contains curiously-sourced “grill” marks. The cheesecake wasn’t bad.

Why are we trying to emulate a fine-dining experience at 38,000 feet in a big metal tube hurtling through the air at over 600 miles per hour? Where did this idea came from? Surely this was born from the the days when jets were new and only rich people could afford to fly.

But why go to so much effort? Why isn’t a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich an option? They are far better in terms of taste, far easier to store and create in the limited resources of a plane, quicker and lighter to serve, and edible by all but the most insane vegangeterians (a word I made up just now). And, let’s face it, anyone who doesn’t like a P.B.& J. is surely a terrorist and should be removed from the plane for questioning.

Granted, all of these cases could be rectified by the aforementioned “planning ahead”. I could make my own PB&J to bring to the airport, along with an apple, and a reusable plastic container for water I could refill at any drinking fountain. While fast food’s is an enemy whose bad intentions have only become truly clear in the last decade or so, our subconscious dependence on it remains. Convenience is a luxury we can’t afford any more.

* As I made my way to my seat in 26D, I made eye contact with a woman who had that look of “can we trade seats so that I can sit next to my friend/husband/daughter/kidney donor?”; a look I met with minimal sympathy having taken an uncharacteristic red-eye flight just hours before. 26D, you see, is an exit row. Her offer was 23D, only slightly closer to the front of the plane, but much nearer to the seat in front of it.

I pointed out her offer was lacking in incentive. Her friend directly across the aisle, upped the ante; she offered 1A in exchange for 26D. I hesitated just long enough to consider a downside. Seeing none, surrendered 26D, and headed for the front of the plane.


Sven said…
ok, ok... guilty as charged.

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