Fast food means big business, with hamburgers and pizzas leading the way. But food did
not get the fast food treatment we of know today until after brothers Richard and Maurice
McDonald opened their first restaurant in San Bernadino, California, in 1948.
Fast food is the term given to many items that can be prepared and served quickly. While
any meal with low preparation time can be considered to be fast food, typically the term
refers to food sold in a restaurant or store which is rapidly prepared and served to the
customer in a packaged form for take out. The term "fast food" was first recognized in a
dictionary by Merriam-Webster in 1951.
Louis Lassen launched a culinary revolution by placing a beef patty between two slices of
white bread. One day in 1900, a rushed businessman asked owner Louis Lassen for
something quick that he could eat on the run. Lassen cooked up a beef patty, put it
between some bread, and sent the man on his way. This started a food revolution.
The American-style hamburger sandwich utilizing a roll or bun was first officially recorded
at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904 and hot dogs were popularized at the same fair with
America's first pizzeria opening in New York City the following year.
In modern history, fast-food is associated with the U.S.A., because the earliest fast-food
restaurants sold hamburgers. Walter Anderson and Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram, Sr.,
formed the White Castle System in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. White Castle sold
Hamburgers priced at five cents a piece and after its popularity increased, the company
devised ways of increasing the cooking time of its hamburger patties by making five holes
in the patties to speed-up cooking which is their trade mark method still to today.
The fast food phenomenon evolved from drive-in restaurants built in southern California in
the early 1940s. Restaurateurs wanted to take advantage of the rising popularity of cars,
so they designed restaurants that let people order and eat without leaving their vehicles.
In 1948, they decided to try something new, so they simplified the menu to where there
was nothing left that required a knife, fork or spoon and replaced all the plates and
glassware with disposable cups, plates and paper bags which dispensed with the need
for any waitresses, bus boys or carhops and leaving their customers to come to the
counter to order and collect their food and eventually years later to take advantage of
growing car sales came the ever so convenient drive-thru window which eventually
became a standard in every fast food establishment. Most importantly, they took a hint
from Henry Ford and divided the food preparation tasks into a virtual production line to
speed up the process and get the food to the customers much quicker and boosting sales.
The McDonald brothers opened their redesigned restaurant in 1948, and several
fast-food chains that still exist today opened soon afterwards. Burger King and Taco Bell
got their start in the 1950s, and Dave Thomas founded who Wendy's Old-Fashioned
Hamburger Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio in 1969 and named it after his daughter
Wendy. Some chains, like KFC and Jack in the Box that were established before them all,
modified their cooking techniques after seeing the success of the others.
It was originally called the Speedee Service System, and the result was so successful that
a host of other fast food restaurants soon followed.
Keith G. Kramer flew to California, ate at a McDonald's and then flew home to Florida
where he founded Insta-Burger-King later changing it to just plain Burger King.
Fast food is not just for the restaurants. Since the 1940's frozen food for the home
became a convenient way for the modern house wife to put a decent meal on the table in
a fraction of the time. Then in 1953, "Swanson Foods" introduced the first frozen TV
dinner to America, originally called that because it was shaped to resemble a TV screen.
Starting out as a complete Thanksgiving dinner, they quickly expanded to fried chicken
and beef style dinners that you can eat on a snack tray in front of your favorite TV show.
But mom still had to pre-heat the oven and cook it so it was not super fast until the
microwave oven hit our kitchens. Now frozen foods are cooked in a fraction of the time
and can be made by any member of the family raising generations who today can only
heat & eat, never learning how to prepare a meal properly.
Our school systems are not helping the cause either. Home economic classes where
students learned the basics of cooking are being cut because of budget problems, and
the food being prepared for our kid's lunches are actually becoming less and less
nutritious and a step away from actually becoming unhealthy leaving our youth to get their
lunch from vending machines creating horrible eating habits.
Not only are we loosing recipes and techniques that were handed down from our parents
and grandparents, but we are also forgetting and in some cases never experiencing what
good food is suppose to taste like because it is being artificially flavored and over salted.
Today there are more fast food restaurants across this nation and frozen prepared meals
in our freezer than anywhere else on the globe. Whether you drive-up, drive-thru, walk-in,
defrost it or have it delivered, you can most likely get your favorite style meal from Italian
to Chinese food in front of you faster now than ever, but it will never replace the good
times hanging out in the kitchen learning how to cook or sitting around the dinner table
with the family enjoying a good home cooked meal.
The biggest excuse for the fast food explosion is the lack of time to prepare meals at
home. My answer to this is that it does not take any more time to cook a good meal than it
does waiting for the pizza guy or sitting in your car waiting to place your order at the
drive-thru window. The problem is that the art of how to prepare a meal for cooking is
becoming lost. Think ahead and get your ingredients together the night before or in the
morning. It really does not take much out of your day. Take advantage of the wonderful
world of electric appliances like modern slow cookers and pressure cookers that have
gone digital and makes life a lot easier by just punching in the numbers and it does all the
work for you including letting you know when it is ready to dish it out, and it does not take
much more time to cook double portions and freeze them for another time.
At one time the kitchen was the hub of the family and it kept us together, now it's become
a society of I -This and I -That, E - This and E -That, leaving the quality of family life on
the back burner like a forgotten bad meal. Get everyone involved, even the kids. The
earlier they start, the better they will keep good eating habits.
Today cookbooks are the number one selling book and TV cooking shows are almost
everywhere, but the art of preparing a fine cooked meal for the family is becoming a lost
art except for those of us "Foodies" who still believe that good eating is a good way of life
for our families and friends.