Live Well
The-Perils-of-Our-Fast-Food-Culture
May 2015

The Perils of Our Fast Food Culture

I think we can all agree that there are pressures on our environment, from depleting soil and water resources to changing climates. Modern farming methods seem to cause many of these. But this begs the question, how do we feed the growing population that is undernourished but, also, how do you nourish the growing population that suffers from obesity and obesity-related illnesses in a way that supports the environment? We live in a world in which about 3 billion people suffer from malnourishment – 1 billion are undernourished, 1 billion are macro-nutrient deficient, and 1 billion are obese. We need to consider how we can properly nourish the world’s ever-growing population while also limiting the damage to the environment.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., in 2014, the world population was 7.2 billion people. This is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050. At the same time, producing food for this population is depleting natural resources, causing a change in climate and a loss in biodiversity. For instance, according to the FAO, four of 30,000 edible plants provide 60% of the world’s dietary energy intake; 29% of marine fish stocks are overfished; 25% of the planet’s land is “highly degraded”; and we are facing more frequent droughts and 2014 was the driest year in 1200 years.

I recently watched the presentation by Alice Waters. She makes the point that we live in a culture of “fast food values”. Waters states that, more and more, we value the following:

  • Conformity
  • Speed
  • Availability
  • Cheapness
  • Deception
  • Work as drudgery
  • The notion that more is better
  • Dishonesty

I agree with this whole-heartedly, and I think this may explain why we as a global population are depleting the environment. Since the 1970s, there has been a focus on cheap food both in the US and around the world. While, initially, the objectives of programs developed to meet these goals were laudable, over time they became less so. We began to value and expect cheap food, that looked the same and was available at any time of the year. As a result of these goals we started to encourage large-scale monoculture farming and intensive use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms with built-in pesticides. We also encouraged the transportation of food to and from distant location, increasing the use of fossil fuels. The irony is that, when all is said and done, about one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted (for more information on this, I would highly recommend watching a documentary called Just Eat It: A food waste story – check out www.foodwastemovie.com for more information).

Unfortunately, I am neither a farmer nor a scientist, so I don’t have any quick solutions to these very large-scale problems. I think issues of population control come into play, as do issues of rural development in developing countries. Similarly, there needs to be a global commitment to the support of the sustainable use of natural resources, by decreasing large-scale, intensive farming and the use of pesticides.

Nevertheless, I do think it’s time to re-consider what Alice Waters calls our “fast-food values” and think about what can be done to prevent further damage. I think there are several things we, as individuals, can do to promote a sustainable farming environment. Specifically, we can:

  • Support small, local farms which employ farming methods that don’t deplete the soil or water resources
  • Reduce food waste by buying only what we need for consumption and minimizing what we throw out
  • Reduce our meat and dairy consumption because production of meat and dairy is very input-intensive (according to research, 36% of global crop calories are used for animal feed).

There are many facets to this discussion and I have just skimmed the surface. If nothing else, we can take steps to move away from the fast food values listed above.

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Cook Well

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Fast Food? Wait a Minute…

In the spirit of moving away from fast food values, I thought I should explore how easy (or hard) it would be to make a home-cooked meal for the same price as a fast food meal. So I decided to compare a home-cooked meal for 4 people to a fast food meal.

Going to my local fast food restaurant takes about 15 minutes by car, so I assumed that the total meal would take roughly 45 minutes (travel to the restaurant and back and waiting time). My kids seem to like chicken nuggets so I ordered four chicken nugget meals at $3.19 each (including fries, a side and a drink) and my husband and I tend to prefer cheeseburgers so I got the two-cheeseburger meal option (including fries, a side and a drink) at $4.89 each. The total came to $22.54.

At home, I opened my cookbook Live, Eat, Cook Healthy: Simple fresh and delicious recipes for balanced living and decided that I would make Asian Beef and Vegetable Stir-Fry (for a PDF of the recipe, click here) with Jasmine Rice. I assumed I already had some of the basic staples in my pantry (salt, pepper, sugar, oil etc…) in my pantry. Before preparing
the ingredients for the stir-fry (cutting the beef into strips, cutting and chopping the other vegetables, I put on the rice, which would take about 30 minutes. The time to prepare the ingredients took roughly 20 minutes. When I was done, I began to cook the stir-fry, which took about 10 minutes. The total cooking time was 30-40 minutes. The cost of the meal came to $20.92, and I had leftovers for the next day!

So, while we sometimes think that it is quicker and cheaper to pick up dinner at a fast food restaurant (and, fortunately, now we have healthier fast food options to choose from), it doesn’t need to be. With good planning, one can have a full meal prepared in the same amount of time and for less money.

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Worthwhile

One of my favorite activities is going to the Greenmarket at Union Square in New York City. This summer I am so I am going to plan some food-related activities and “field trips” in other parts of New York. If you are a foodie like me, here are some ideas:

  1. Smorgasburg – East River Waterfront, Brooklyn NY
  2. Katz’s Delicatessen – 205 East Houston Street, NYC
  3. Russ & Daughters – 176 East Houston Street, NYC
  4. Essex Street Market – 120 Essex Street, NYC
  5. Casa Della Mozzarella – 604 East 187th Street, Bronx, NY
  6. Minton’s – 206 West 118th Street, NYC
  7. Golden Mall for Chinese Food – 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, NY
  8. The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English – 1 West 59th Street, NYC
  9. Il Laboratoria del Gelato – 188 Ludlow Street, NYC
  10. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream – 81 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY