Travel anywhere in the world and you can almost be certain to see a fast food restaurant. Whether it’s the golden arches, the late great Burger King mascot, or any of a dozen other symbols of fast food, we are assured that a once purely American way of eating has made its way around the globe.
What isn’t seen is the environmental devastation fast food has caused. In Central America the rainforest is being clear cut at an alarming rate just to create grazing land for cattle. In many parts of the world, monoculture farms of soy beans and other grains are planted not to feed starving humans but to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens who will be slaughtered to fill the massive need of the fast food industry. Nor will you see the amount of water used to raise these animals, or the tons of antibiotics fed to them to keep them healthy long enough to reach slaughter. You won’t see the pollution engendered by the amount of waste generated by cattle, pig, and chicken factory farms—but if you live near one, you will see, and smell, it.
How did we wind up here? How did we decide that fast food is an appropriate way to eat and that exporting the concept and the chains was good for the rest of the world? To make cars more affordable, the assembly line was created. That same assembly line idea was translated in the mid-1900s to mass producing many products, including food. Before the advent of fast food, the average person might eat small amounts of meat and rarely more than once a day, if that. Today because the cost of mass production brought down the price of meat products, we can eat them three times a day, every day.
We may pay only $.99 for a quick bite, but what do we pay in hidden healthcare costs, what does our planet pay in terms of environmental degradation, and what do the animals pay in terms of lives lived in horrid conditions? When you think about it…fast food costs far more than $.99.