The Impact of Fast Food on Pop Culture

When we talk about popular culture, food is very much part of it, as well as the beliefs, practices, and trends in a culture that affect the eating practices of different people. The definition of pop culture comprises the ideas and objects generated by a society, including political, commercial, media, and other systems, and also the impact of these ideas and objects on society.

At the present time, you can find more than 160,000 fast-food restaurants where over 50 million Americans eat every day. With this, many people would say that fast food is America’s way of eating. It is very easy to get, affordable, and delicious. However, it is also true that everything that fast food contains can have a negative impact on health, including obesity and diabetes.

If you are looking into learning more about the popularity of fast food, you’re in the right place. In this post, we are going to tell you more about the impact of fast food on pop culture.

What is Fast Food?

Fast food pertains to food that can be prepared and served quickly. You can get fast food items from many places, such as counter service, sit-down restaurants, drive-thru, take-out, and delivery. The term fast food also refers to food that people intend to quickly consume either on-site or off-site. As we’ve mentioned earlier, a lot of people turn to fast food as it is inexpensive, convenient, and delicious. But you also need to take note that fast food items are usually made using cheaper ingredients like high-fat meat, added sugar and fats, and as well as refined grains. But there are also a few fast-food restaurants that serve healthier meals to their customers.

person holding a burger from a fast-food chain

Why is Fast Food Popular?

Most of us might have consumed some form of fast food in the past month or week. It is estimated that more than half of the population eats at least one fast food meal each day. But have you ever thought about how and why fast food has become so popular? Well, the answer may lie in convenience. For example, years back, in small towns, fast food restaurants were not available. In cities, on the other hand, bars and diners are the only places open at night. With this, the demand for restaurants that offered more than just burgers started. 

Fast forward to the present time, we now see different fast-food restaurants wherever we go. There is one down the street from every house, and sometimes they are even on the opposite corner of each other. Due to this, people tend to go into a fast-food restaurant for any meal. Some people no longer cook as much as they used to as they find it more convenient to eat or order food from fast-food restaurants than go out and buy groceries and cook at home. 

Fast food has been a part of the culture of America for a long time. As a result, it has become very popular and widespread throughout the country. Here are some of the reasons behind that popularity:

  • Convenience

As mentioned earlier, convenience is the top reason many people are into fast food these days. It is very easy to walk up to a drive-thru window or go to a fast-food restaurant and order at a counter without needing to wait. Since there are many available fast-food restaurants anywhere, people are able to have a decent meal without stepping foot into their kitchens. 

  • Price

Fast food is usually very affordable. The price of a burger with fries is great, especially when you think about how much you need to spend if you cook the meal at home yourself. People are also given the option to buy lots of food items for a low price by picking from the value menu. 

  • Taste

Since fast food became popular in the 1950s, Americans have become accustomed to its unique flavors. This is why most people know what to order when they go to a fast-food restaurant. Many fast-food chains have also made an effort to create and offer new menu items. However, even today, none have defeated the original cheeseburger. 

  • Availability

Another reason fast food is very popular is that you can find fast-food chains everywhere. When you are hungry, and you don’t have any food to cook at home, you can easily order in or pick up food for your family from the nearest fast-food restaurant. 

  • Advertising

Fast-food chains spend lots of money every year on advertising. This is why you will find their ads everywhere, such as on television, billboards, radio, magazines, and even online. Their advertisements are something that also entices the public to try the food items they are offering. 

common fast-food items

Fast Food and Pop Culture

It is true that the intake of fast food is increasing, not just in the United States but worldwide. In America, local governments are restricting fast-food chains by limiting the number of restaurants found in certain geographical areas. This is also the reason many fast-food restaurants today are beginning to offer more health-friendly menu items. 

We can say that fast food has a big impact on pop culture. Fast foods represented a cultural change, a change of direction from the traditional cuisine of a particular nation, as it is more aimed at an immediate consumption of cheaper food items that feels modern. In addition to that, young people have also identified fast food as a new meeting point, just like clubs, skateparks, and other more traditional meeting spots. 

One example of this can be the “Paninari,” which came from the Italian word “panino,” meaning “sandwich.” It was a subculture in the 1980s in Milan where a group of people would meet and spend the whole day in and out of the first fast-food restaurants. Aside from being an outstanding example of a subculture that revolves around fast food, it also proves the reason fast food has become so important around the world for the same reason, the Americanization of culture. These young people followed new values proposed by American cinema and pop culture.

Japan is also another country where fast food has had a deep influence on culture. There are lots of reasons behind the success of fast-food restaurants in Japan. For example, KFC used an effective marketing campaign where they presented themselves as the meal par excellence on Christmas Eve. That is why today, many families in Japan would eat KFC for Christmas. For other chains like McDonald’s, social factors helped them. Since Japanese workers have busy schedules, most of them would want a quick bite on their way home. That is why there are lots of fast-food stalls in Metro and Train stations in Japan. 

What are the Positive Impacts of Fast Food?

One of the best advantages of fast food is that it gives people affordable access to the number of calories they need for proper health. With meals priced at $2 or even less in other places, even people that belong in low-income households can access food so that they do not have to deal with hunger. Aside from that, here are some of the other positive impacts of fast food:

  • There are healthy options available.

Today, fast food is not just about burgers and fries. You can now find healthier fast-food meals from various chains in the world. For example, at Chick-fil-A, you can buy some grilled chicken wraps that can be as low as 340 calories. Wendy’s also offers salads that are under 400 calories. And if you want a healthier burger, you can get one at Shake Shack with only 360 calories.

  • Buying fast food can help save time.

Most food items that are served at a fast-food restaurant can be delivered in just a few minutes. They also require little waiting to place an order. This means that in just 30 minutes or less, you will be able to grab a meal for your whole family. It is a lot faster compared to cooking at home or dining in a sit-down restaurant. 

  • Fast food offers consistency.

If you eat in a McDonald’s in California, you will have the same experience when you dine in a McDonald’s in Maine. No matter what state you are in, you can be sure that the food quality you will receive will meet certain standards. Eating at fast-food restaurants can be an advantage, especially if you are looking for a place to eat in a location that is unfamiliar to you. 

  • A lot of fast-food establishments are locally owned and operated.

Many fast-food locations are franchised. This means that they are owned and operated by someone locally. This provides local entrepreneurs a chance to create a business that can give good-paying local jobs while meeting the hunger needs of people. Even though jobs at fast-food restaurants are paying wages at or near minimum wage, they still give people the chance to gain service skills and work in an environment that can help them find better jobs in the future.

  • Fast food consumers in the United States can make informed decisions about their eating choices.

In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed, which was also known as “Obamacare.” With this act, all fast-food locations are required to post the actual calorie count of each item they have on the menu. This way, consumers will know exactly how many calories they are consuming for each product. When you know exactly what you are eating, you are less likely to consume too much.

people enjoying fast-food burgers outdoors

What are the Negative Impacts of Fast Food?

No matter how convenient and delicious fast-food items are, they still come with some cons. Here are some of the negative impacts of fast food:

  • The quality of food tends to be lower at fast food locations.

Since fast food goes through a bulk production process, it lowers the overall quality of the food being produced and served. Most quick-service restaurants utilize frozen foods that are heated or cooked quickly. Also, long-term storage is needed to keep prices low, limiting fresh meats and organic vegetables. 

  • Fast food can be addicting.

The combination of fast food being delicious and packaged in an attractive way can encourage dependence and addiction in some people. According to the American Psychiatric Association, most fast-food meals are consumed with a soda, which contains a high sugar content and as well as caffeine, which increases the chances of an addiction forming further. In fact, even foods that are high in salt and fat have the potential for addiction. 

  • Fast food changes the structure of society.

It is true that fast food is affordable. However, it also changes the family dynamic. Some quick-service restaurants do not allow people to linger and talk over their meals. This means that you and your family may only have about 20 to 30 minutes to eat. Therefore, instead of catching up with one another over dinner or lunch, you will all focus on eating as fast as possible for the fast-food restaurant to maximize their potential daily revenues.

  • A meal from a fast-food restaurant can have more calories than the recommended daily intake level for a person. 

For each individual, the recommended number of calories to be consumed in a day is around 2,000. Some may need more while others need less. This means that if you go to a fast-food restaurant and order a burger, large onion rings, and a chocolate shake, it is possible that you’d consume the exact amount of your recommended daily intake level. However, that is not the only food item you are going to eat for the day.

Fast Food Worker: A Classic Role in Pop Culture

people working in a fast-food restaurant

In the real world, fast-food workers are not just teenagers who are looking for a little after-school money. With the economy and with necessity, the demographics of the job have changed. However, it seems like Hollywood is still not catching up with reality. It’s because, for years, fast-food workers have been portrayed as high-school students playing pranks behind greasy counters. Here are a few examples:

  • The Simpsons: Jeremy Simpson is one of the most famous television fast-food workers. He mostly works at Krusty Burger, where he fulfills all the stereotypes of a fast-food employee. 
  • She’s All That: This was a very popular teen film back in the 1990s. There’s a memorable scene here where Zack seeks Laney out at her job at a Middle Eastern fast-fooderie, where she is seen wearing a hideous falafel hat.
  • Mystic Pizza: Before becoming an Oscar-winner, Julia Roberts was seen slinging pizza as part of an ensemble of a 1988 romantic comedy. She played a waitress character named Daisy who wanted to get out of small Mystic, Connecticut, but things just seemed to get in her way.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High: In this show, Brad just wants to pay off his car and is stuck working in fast food. He was fired at All-American Burger for mouthing off to an angry customer and found himself onto his next job at Captain Hook’s Fish and Chips. He eventually quits as he was embarrassed on a delivery run, then makes the big move to a convenience store clerk.

The Most Iconic Fast-Food Items in America

A lot of websites have probably ranked the most popular and top-earning fast-food restaurants in the US or in the world even. But it is also quite interesting to learn about the most iconic fast-food items in America since we are talking about pop-culture here. Every chain has an iconic offering or two. These are foods that pretty much define their brand. These are also items that some people can’t resist when placing their orders. 

Below is the list of food items that are most often ordered, or they can also be the original offerings that helped make the chain’s reputation. Here are the most iconic fast-food items in America:

  • McDonald’s French Fries

French fries from McDonald’s

When talking about McDonald’s, you could argue that the Big Mac is perhaps the best burger in the world of fast food. But whenever people order a burger at McDonald’s, most of them also order some French fries. There can be many reasons behind this, but we could all agree that the fries in McDonald’s sure taste good. 

  • Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

Starbucks is a very popular fast-food chain for its many specialty coffee drinks. But there is one item that is usually associated with the brand, which is the Pumpkin Spice Latter or PSL. It was first offered in 2004 and has become the most copied creation so far. It is an autumn specialty introduced by Starbucks. Its sale each year is eagerly anticipated by many people. Starbucks is believed to sell as many as 350 million cups of it each year. 

pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks

  • Subway’s Italian BMT

The Italian BMT is Subway’s best-selling sandwich. Originally, BMT stood for Brooklyn Manhattan Transit, which is the name of one of the original subway lines in New York City. Today, according to Subway, it stands for Bigger, Meatier, Tastier. 

  • The Whopper by Burger King

In 1957, which was 11 years before the Big Mac was introduced, Burger King launched the Whopper. It is an oversized flame-broiled burger, served with ketchup, mayonnaise, and the usual lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on a sesame bun. There are also lots of ways to customize this burger by adding or removing ingredients and asking for heavy or light servings of the add-ons. 

  • Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco

The crunch taco is the basic Taco Bell order. It is a staple of their menu since its founder Glen Bell has invented the pre-formed crispy taco shell back in 1950 and filled it with seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, and lettuce.

  • The Baconator by Wendy’s

The Baconator is among the most popular food items on Wendy’s menu. It was introduced in 2007. It has two patties and cheese plus three strips of bacon placed across each of the two burgers. It does not have any vegetables or mustard but just mayo and ketchup. There are also other variations of the Baconator, such as the one with pepper jack cheese, jalapeños, and chipotle ranch sauce. 

  • KFC’s Original Recipe Chicken

Even though many fast-food chains introduce new and improved menu items, sometimes, the original and the item that made the reputation of the chain is still the best. KFC offers a lot of choices on their menu, but it is still the Original Recipe chicken with the famous secret blend of 11 herbs and spices that made it popular in the world. 

  • Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s Biscuits

Popeyes is one of the fast-food chains out there that make delicious fried chicken and as well as popcorn shrimp. But if you mention the chain to Popeyes fans, the very first thing that most of them will think about is the biscuits. Well, they are unusually good. They are flaky and light, with a buttery flavor and a little tang of buttermilk.

Conclusion

Fast food indeed has a great impact on pop culture. It is something that many people turn to when they feel hungry and need a quick meal. Fast-food restaurants have also become meet-up places by friends and family members. For some people, it might be quite difficult to imagine life without fast food. It has become part of people’s lives and culture not just in America but in other parts of the world, too.