Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

The Price Of Fast Food

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I’ve got some thoughts up at Blisstree on Mark Bittman’s Sunday New York Times piece“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?“:

 … articles like Bittman’s always rub me the wrong way, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. His gratuitous mention of “Brooklyn hipsters and Berkley locavores” bugs me—I know it’s an attempt to distance himself and his arguments from these people, but I think it only serves to reinforce the connection. More bothersome to me is his equation of fast-food consumption mainly with low-income folks. In my experience, eating crap is one thing that crosses class, geographic and educational-attainment lines. Middle-class suburban families live on fast-food. PhD students eat fast food. Young professionals eat fast food. And, yes, even New York hipsters eat it, too. Fast food is not a low-income problem, it is an American problem.

And, ultimately, I don’t think folks like Bittman go far enough in condemning it. Oh, sure, they’re fast to lay the blame on fast food companies and marketers. But progressives like Bittman don’t want to be accused of being elitist (or get lumped in with the mockable Brookyn hipsters and Berkley locavores), so they’re careful to couch any arguments about personal choice in sociological ephemera and resist saying anything too radical. Conservatives, meanwhile, are too reactionary, and too in bed with the idea that criticizing fast food is somehow an affront to business and a slide into ‘nanny statism’ to apply the same sort of harsh tactics to our table choices as they do to our bedroom behavior.

And yet, honestly, maybe what the fast food debate needs is some good, old-fashioned stigma and shaming, a la smoking over the past 50 years. We can talk all we want about so-called food deserts, ‘evil’ fast food marketing, the addictive properties of fatty food, etc., but none of these are really doing anything to stop individual consumption of fast food. We need to make eating fast food ‘bad’ in the same way we’ve ostracized tobacco users. People should feel bad about eating fast food regularly. People should know that in doing so, they are inviting myriad health problems on themselves. We coddle the fast food industry, and its devotees, because it’s so politically/socially volatile not to—and I think this is the root of the problem.

And here are Phoebe Maltz-Bevy’s thoughts, which at first blush I guess seem kind of antithetical to mine, but really aren’t, I don’t think:

Speaking of the Bittman article, yes, yes, socioeconomic factors, YPIS, another article telling the poor that they can totally live off lentils, etc. The class-warfare counterarguments write themselves, and are only partly fair. Fair, insofar as lentils get old quick, but plenty of people could cook but don’t. I mean, all of this Think of the People Who Can’t Afford a Saucepan is a bit much, because obviously people who can afford a saucepan and then some are also not cooking. (But to the commenter who points out that gender enters into this, why yes it does.)

But even if you’re not especially lacking in time, money, and (ahem!) grocery access, even if you like to cook, cooking remains a chore. Until food writers wrap their heads around the idea that cooking also means grocery shopping, that grocery shopping takes time, that even ostensibly cheap-to-prepare meals often meaning you buy $8 worth of some massive amount of an ingredient you only end up using twice, that planning meals for the week is either a major task of its own or you end up wasting a great deal of food (leftovers being tough if what’s left are perishable ingredients and not a prepared meal), that all of this food needs to be not only prepared but cleaned up from, that hands and surfaces need raw eggs and meat washed off them, in short, until they realized that no meal takes ‘only 30 minutes’ except possibly the meals they think take only 5, how is anyone ever going to be convinced?

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Written by Elizabeth

September 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

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