Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

A Brief History of Fast Food

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Kung Fu fast food restaurant Zhangmutou town china

Kung Fu fast food restaurant Zhangmutou town china (Photo credit: dcmaster)

From my Food and Culture class,  “The History of Fast Food” was  one of the most interesting topics especially at their stage of life and experiences.  Hopefully that will change.  So here is the information they gathered along with a little editing from me. I thank them and hope you enjoy their contributions.

First some facts – There are close to 50,000 fast food chains across the United States, In the world, there are more than 500,000 fast food places. Kids between the ages of 6 and 14 eat fast food 157,000,000 times every month. Ninety-six percent of kids in school could recognize an image of Ronald McDonald, the face of McDonalds. The only recognizable figure that ranked higher was Santa Claus. To top it off, Americans spend nearly $100 billion on fast food every year.

You may ask why we chose this route instead of continuing with the natural way of food production; well, there are two simple answers: money and convenience.

Before we progress, in 1912 we saw our first glimmer of the fast food industry with the opening of a new kind of food service called the Automat in New York.  The Automat was a cafeteria with its prepared food behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots..  This restaurant created quite a sensation and remained popular, especially around the 1930’s, accompanied with slogans such as “Less Work For Mother”.

The first fast food chain was White Castle, which opened in March 1921.  It all started out of a little white shack in Wichita, Kansas by Billy Ingram.  The name was created because “White” was signifying purity and “Castle” represented strength, stability and permanence. Some say the “Castle” was is a symbol of the water tower that survived the Chicago fire.   White Castle put five holes in their burgers so that the patties will cook faster and there would no need to flip them. There are now 423 running White Castles in the United States.

The most famous of all, McDonalds was established in 1955. Years before, McDonalds was a hamburger stand in California and was owned by Dick and Mac McDonald who named the fast service the “SpeedDee Service System. They sold the stand to Ray Croc and they all went into business together selling Kroc’s Multimixer shake. Later, Neal Fox from Arizona designed the famous golden arches that are now found on every McDonalds in the world.  By 1958, they had sold 100 million hamburgers with only 99 U.S. restaurants. McDonalds went international in 1967 and is now found in 119 countries.

In 1952, Harland Sanders, a.k.a. Colonel Sanders created Kentucky Fried Chicken and by the 1960’s, the restaurant became a household name. KFC was actually founded in a front room of a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. The chicken was originally fried in an iron skillet, but due to demand, Sanders had to switch to the pressure cooker to meet that demand for the “finger licking good” fried chicken.

Burger King was founded in Jacksonville, FL in 1953 under the name “Insta-Burger King” by Keith Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Mathew Burns. It was bought in 1959 and restructured by two Miami men, McLamore and Edgerton who are responsible for its current moniker, Burger King. It was sold to Pillsbury in 1967 and then acquired by a British company who put it up for sale in 2000. After many other sales, the current owners in 2010 are 3G Capital of Brazil. The original price of the Whopper when first placed on the menu was 37 cents and is still the number one selling hamburger at BK today.

Taco Bell was founded by Glen Bell in San Bernadino, CA who was originally selling hot dogs out of his drive-in. He than began to sell tacos for 19 cents and opened the first restaurant in 1961.  It was a huge success and the company franchised.  Pepsi decided to buy the chain and made it into the company it is today.  Pepsi came up with the famous slogan “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” said by the little Chihuahua in the commercial.

Dave Thomas started Wendy’s in 1969 in an old car dealership in Columbus, Ohio.  Thomas originally worked for KFC but started his own dream.  He decided to serve a different shape of hamburger. The big question is who is the girl with the red hair on their signs?   The girl is actually Thomas’s daughter, Melinda Lou, but had the nickname of Wendy by friends and family.

Why do we go to fast food restaurants?  It was best expressed by the following quote from one the student papers.

“Fast food has recently started to attempt to become healthier due to the constant criticism if often receives.  McDonalds offered their first salad in 1986 and Wendy’s now offer mandarin oranges and milk instead of French fires and a soft drink.  This is great but it is not a solution to the unhealthy choices that consumers continue to make.   Even though a salad is on the menu the consumer still rarely chooses it because when a person goes to a fast food restaurant he or she wants a burger and fries for a cheap price in a small amount of time.  I can speak from personal experience on this subject.  I have never entered a fast food restaurant with a salad in mind.  In my case I usually want a burger, possibly two, an order of French fries and Dr. Pepper to drink.  The meal is extremely unhealthy, however it tastes great, easy and quick to obtain, and cheap compared to a regular restaurant.  I know that a salad would a healthier choice but that is not what I went to a fast food restaurant for”.

Can you get a more honest answer than that???


One thought on “A Brief History of Fast Food

  1. Pingback: Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the routinization of everyday life | shoaibgarana

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