Animals and Their Place inside the Fast Food Nation
The 1950's were a time of elegance, charm, and were truly the apex of American power. When one listens to music from this era or looks at photographs, one can almost feel the happiness that people felt during that time, especially after the war-torn decade preceding the 1950's. However, when looking at old photographs of family, one will also notice very thin, even fit young men and women laying on beaches and smiling up at the sun without, seemingly, a care in the world. Now, however, when on a beach in the United States, most often, one will notice the contentment of people all around, but will also see quite a few sunbathers who are not at all fit, and perhaps a small percentage of overweight beach-goers. This is an independent statement, of course, but it is made after years of observation, and the statistics presented below will agree with this simple truth. Our nation and many other nations in the developed world are experiencing a phenomenon that has heretofore been unknown to humankind: obesity due to over abundance of food, which is often chemically treated and cheaply produced.
The Creation of the Fast Food Nation
One could say that the 1950's, a decade of such glamour, started the obesity craze, for this is when restaurants that served 'fast food,' as we know it today, became widely known. This is, in part, correct. However, fast food started way back in Greek and Roman times, but for the purposes of this paper, the focus will start with White Castle, a restaurant that survives today and one that opened in1921 in Kansas, according to the History of Fast Food. Before White Castle, people considered burgers to be of inferior quality, as many thought that hamburgers came from meat that was spoiled and hard, according to this source. It was due to this concept that While Castle founders decided to change the public perception of burgers. In fact, they went so far as to let the public see how their hamburgers were being prepared. To add to this, they painted all their buildings white, which suggested cleanliness.
However, White Castle did not have something a future competitor would have: assembly-line systems of making food. McDonald's, according to the history, was the first restaurant to utilize this, and it began the process in 1948, with the McDonald brothers' opening of their own restaurant. The 1950's thus started a boom, and soon after McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell opened. Clearly, the McDonald system, which survives in many restaurants to today, was very successful. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, sales of fast food in the U.S. totaled over $160 billion in recent years. Furthermore, the industry is expanding worldwide. Sales for companies like McDonald's grow not but the hundreds, but by the thousands as the company expands in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.
Reception and Research Question
Yet, according to the "Economy of Fast Food," McDonald's and similar restaurants are not always well received around the world. In fact, fast food restaurants have been attacked in many countries, including in the United States, China, and Western European countries, Russia, India and Sweden, with protestors accusing these establishments of selling unhealthy food and undermining the health of children and the richness of local culture.
Another issue that is part of the debate focuses around animal rights, and this is closely linked to whether these restaurants are producing healthy food that Americans, and world citizens for that matter, should eat. As this is perhaps one of the most important questions facing our society today, it is important to examine it in detail. Therefore, this paper will ultimately focus on how fast food has affected our world, but especially how the rise of the Fast Food Industry relates to the impact on animals and animal rights, by examining such accusations as those mentioned above.
A Problem in America?
As the demand from fast food chains has grown exponentially over the past 50 years, companies have required similar tasting food in mass quantities to be shipped into every corner of the world. A monumental task, surely which has surely never been attempted in the long history of humankind. To succeed so incredibly is a credit to the fast food industry's ability to overcome obstacles through the entire lifecycle of the food making process, from the very plants its animals eat, down to the packaging of the finished product. The early days of fast food chains saw an extremely slim menu, with few choices beyond hamburgers and French fries.
As the businesses developed over time so did their menu choices, including products designed to be healthier to the consumer than fast food is typically known to be. The healthy choices began with the simple salad, and expanded to include smaller portioned items, along with alternatives to high sugar products with healthier fruit alternatives. Low calorie wraps have replaced thick rolls at some establishments. French fries are being made with healthier oils, and with less salt. In some areas, menus now display calorie counts next to food items, so that consumers can be better informed about the choices they make. The 21st century fast food industry is future looking, expanding relentlessly across the globe, and are developing even more sophisticated menu options.
The Other Side
According to the feature film Food, Inc., however, there still is the fundamental problem that the dilemma of food vs. man has been growing for decades. In this view, according to the film, "high calorie, sugar laden processed foods coupled with our sedentary lifestyles is growing our waistlines and contributing to serious health issues like diabetes, heart ailments and cancers. One-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese." (Food, Inc.) This film exposes the fast food industry, and the food industry in general in a way in which it has never before been exposed, and the results are not so pretty. Yes, the fast food industry is making millions, and yes, we have ridiculous demands of our food, especially in the price vs. cost arena, but this film shows just how emphatically poor our nutrition truly is.
One reason for this event is something called 'factory farming.' This concept first appeared in the 1920's when an over-delivery of a couple hundred chicks went to a small farm. According to this history,
"instead of returning the overage, the farmer/housewife decided to keep them indoors through the winter. The chicks survived and almost ten years later, she had increased her flock to 250,000. Although this was chicken feed by today's standards, the seeds of chicken factory farming were planted." (Factory Farming)
However, according to this same history it was in the 1970's that the first true animal factories appeared, and they were focused on egg production. Though with the increase in technology certain things became more cost effective, unfortunately there were also unintended consequences.
Factory Farming at its Worst
For one, in order to make the most profit, farmers began to keep their chickens closely cooped up, feed them as much as possible as quickly as possible and this, of course, involved some chemicals as well. Due to the confined quarters, once one chicken became sick, the entire flock could be destroyed, and often time it was. However, this didn't stop the farmers, some of whose companies, in the early 2000's were keeping "over 1 million or more hens and Cal-Maine had 20 million chickens, the largest by far," according to the author.
Chickens are not the only animals affected, however. The big businesses' need for profit coupled with the farmers' want to repay debts have transformed our food industry to include artificially grown pigs and cows as well. According to the film, Food, Inc.,
"Approximately 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the U.S. annually. Nearly all of them are raised on factory farms under inhumane conditions. These industrial farms are also dangerous for their workers, pollute surrounding communities, are unsafe to our food system and contribute significantly to global warming." (Factory Farming)
Furthermore, the close quarters in which these animals live are not only harmful to them, but also a harm to humans. In the film mentioned above, for example, the audience meets Barbara Kowalcyk, a woman whose 2-year-old son died from E.coli poisoning after eating a hamburger in the West Coast restaurant. According to the film, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further estimate that "76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses," (Food, Inc.) which is quite a high number for all these various statistics. Sadly, the mother in the story presented by the film is still lobbying to save other children from suffering the same fate as her family has suffered, but the citizens are doing very little.