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It all started in postwar America where the life became all too frenzied with growing number of singles living on their own in time-poor societies. Fast food industry simply began with hot dogs and hamburgers in western states of America. In early 70s, Fast Food restaurants mushroomed not only as a big industry of cheap eatables, but also as the biggest employment sector (Schlosser 4). Schlosser notes that in 2000, Americans spent $110 billion on fast food.
The scale of this massive industry has now gone global, with thousands of fast-food restaurants being opened every year. Though it remained strictly American until mid-1970s, the Fast Food saga had landed in Europe and other developed countries by that time. McLeod and McGee’s study in 1990 concludes that the number of fast-food restaurants in Hong Kong grew by staggering 1200% from mid-70s to mid-80s (Schell, Smith 197). Now fast-food restaurants of international chains can be seen in every nook and cranny of underdeveloped countries.
Fast food became an easy solution to needs of fast-track life in developed countries. For last four decades this industry has earned billions owing to working individuals and targeted marketing for youngsters. A research report by Ofcom in Britain highlights the reasons behind, which are similar for any developed country. Lifestyle trends like rising incomes, longer working hours, more working mothers, time constraints and cash-rich parents, tend to support a ‘convenience food culture'( Ofcom).
Another fact which is common in developed and underdeveloped countries is growing snacking culture amongst youngsters. All these dynamics have collectively contributed to huge market building of fast-food chains. But apart from this massive success, fast food has triggered a global debate about its authenticity. “Junk food” is now used synonymously for fast food. There has been worldwide upsurge of criticism on fast food chains for triggering the early age obesity, diabetes and other problems.
This criticism can be grouped into two prominent streams. The first group is the most prevalent which puts the whole blame of recent hype in early age diseases on fast food restaurants. This group appeared as early as in 1986, when some activists of London Greenpeace formulated and distributed leaflets bursting with accusations on McDonald’s (Schlosser 245). Though some of these blames were fabricated, many were able to attract global attention. Factual blames also found evidence in studies conducted around the world. Now this group has transformed into thousands of public health communities worldwide who consistently oppose fast food consumption.
The other group is one that calls for the responsibility of people about eating, and that of parents. But the counterargument, as almost always asserted by the first group, is that the huge marketing campaigns of fast food chains are reversing all efforts to keep youngsters away from junk food. Various reports and studies signify the trends of huge marketing campaigns of fast food chains and the significant correlation this has with fast food consumption.
It is noted that the food advertising expenditure of large food chains is growing more than the sales. A report published by International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2004 stressed that food-marketers are specifically targeting the children and adolescents with intense advertising practices. Consequently, it was estimated that US adolescents spend $140 billion a year on fast food. Children under 12 years of age spend another $25 billion, but may influence another $200 billion of spending per year (Story, French).
While strong criticism campaign by public health communities against fast-food chains in the States and Europe has created significant responsive awareness, the epidemic has just struck underdeveloped regions with full blow. While west is striving to adopt healthy nutritious life, people in poor countries are standing where Americans in the 1970s were. Fast food restaurant gives, according to general perception, a “westernized feel”.
Stop by a fast food restaurant on a highway, walk-in through glass doors, feel the cool airbrush through, listen to fast track western music, get into queue in front of elegant counter, read through backlit menus behind the uniformed teenagers, place your order, pay and get a packed burger with fries within five minutes. Eat-in or takeaway, both feel trendy. Now even larger chunk of sales of big chains is coming through “home-delivery”. You feel like not cooking yourself, just pick up the phone, dial a four-digit code, listen to a voice who already knows your name and address, place your order and see the delivery man on your doorstep within twenty minutes. This is called convenience in time-poor, cash-rich societies.
Fast-food chains in third-world countries have come in a multifaceted package. These chains drew huge foreign investments in poor countries, created millions of jobs, provided franchises to local entrepreneurs, and raised the living standard through that ‘westernized feel’. But it goes back to how much big food chains can exploit the urge for westernization. Several of the accusations in London Greenpeace leaflets concerned third-world countries. They accused McDonald’s of selling unhealthy food, exploiting workers, torturing animals and above all, promoting third world poverty (Schlosser 245). All this, surprisingly enough, is being witnessed today on massive scale.
Amid all the hype and opposition, Fast food chains are making billions, spending as much on advertisement, and reaching every corner of world. Today they seem to assert, there is no stopping Fast Food epidemic.
1. Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of all American Meal. 2001. Houghton Mifflin Books.
2. Schell, Lawrence M., Alan Bilsborough and Malcolm T.Smith. Urban Ecology and Health in the Third World. 1993. Cambridge University Press.
3. Office of Communication. Food advertising in context. Children’s food choices, parents’ understanding and influence, and the role of food promotions. 2008-03-09. Web.
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4. Mary Story, Simone French. “Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US.” 2004 1-3. Web.