Taco Bell, McDonald's, Wendy's, and many other fast food restaurants have become a mainstay of the American diet. How have these establishments become such an influence in the decision making process. As the great consumers of a diverse selection of foods, many households around the country attempt to decide what they are going to have for dinner that night. Some families may need to consider nutritional value or cost. Especially during these tough economic times that the country is experiencing. Fast food is a perfect fit for these situations; filling quantities of food that is still gentle on cost. With this scenario happening all over the country, fast food chains are becoming more powerful than ever. In fact, one-fourth of Americans manage to digest a fast food meal every day ("Americans are Obsessed"). But, the average American does not now much about the background of the industry. When it comes to this, curiosity may just naturally arise. Hidden secrets of the fast food industry include the initial creation process of the food, lasting health effects, and reasons why it became so popular.
America's food supply comes from different places around the world, whether Americans know it or not. For the meat industry, the process begins in Brazil, which presents a controversial topic for America (Parker). This presents a problem because large quantities of land are reserved for cattle. In fact, the population is so great that it managed to be the foundation of deforestation in the country. It has been found that 232,000 square miles of rainforest were cleared from May of 2000 until August of 2006, with the leading cause being for cattle ranching (Butler). However, without deforestation, there would be no beef industry. Without the beef industry, Brazil's economy would take a substantial hit, from the bottom to top.
Interestingly enough, even the extremely powerful fast food companies need ways to preserve money. Therefore, they create feedlots with highly concentrated populations and give the animals feed, and a percentage of additives to speed up the fattening process. It was found that corn makes up from 70-90% of mass produced animal feed, with soybean meal mixed in ("You Are What they Eat" 26-31). This must be why the food industry invests 100 billion dollars on corn (Keim).
Corn holds a huge role in the average diet on a feedlot. According to the National Academy of Sciences, animals kept in the confined spaces of a feedlot were given nitrogen enriched corn. The Academy conducted a study that occurred over a two year period. During the two years, authors bought 480 samples of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries. In the samples purchased, they attempted to use a method that was able to measure Carbon-13 and Nitrogen-15. In the sample of burgers, they were able to conclude that the cattle were kept in confined spaces and fed mostly corn ("Ruiz"). This is opposed to wild grasses which would make the fattening process slower ("You Are What They Eat" 26-31). For chickens, the same thing was determined. They were in confined spaces, and predominately fed corn. To add to that, the fries were found to be cooked in a, "Corn-oil based protocol" (Ruiz). What also not known though, is that something else may be thrown into the mix of animal food.
What other secret has not been released about what could be in the meat? This question can only be answered when the other 10% that is fed to animals on feedlots is revealed. It comes down to a simple, yet logical explanation. Feedlots need high protein food sources; slaughterhouses need a clean solution to dispose of their animal waste. This scenario means that by-products will combine feed with corn. For example, chickens could possibly be fed meat and bone meal to go along with their diets. The major risk in this situation is that the animal feed may contaminated at any time because roughly 11 billion pounds of fat from animals is reused in animal feed. David Bossman, the CEO of the American Feed Industry Association, stated, "The food supply as it comes from the production source is very, very safe. We've seen that from all sources. And you can eat meat with confidence that not only is it safe, but it's getting safer because of all the things that industry is doing." Also, Richard Sellers, the Vice President for feed control and nutrition at AFIA, American Feed Industry Association, stated "We turn them [by-products] into valuable sources of protein to feed a hungry world" ("You Are What They Eat" 26-31). After the countless hours of time spent on preparing the animals, what is the next step?
The slaughterhouses are the epicenter for the industry. It is where the meats are made for most of the country. But, this is where many mistakes can occur if guidelines are not properly followed. First, the animals are led into the stunning area no faster than walking speed. Once they are there, several methods of stunning may occur. Stunning is where animals are knocked unconscious. The first type used is Carbon Dioxide stunning, which is an effective method for smaller animals such as calves and sheep. The Carbon Dioxide is administered in a chamber where the animals are given a controlled dosage. An alternative to that is captive bolt stunning, where "Gun-type mechanisms" are used to give a bolt to the animal. Another type is gunshot stunning in which an animal is simply shot, but the bullet must be placed in such an area that the animal is rendered unconscious immediately. The last form of stunning is electrical stunning, where animals are given a controlled voltage of electricity to put them out. The bolt depending on placement, either gives them a seizure, or puts them into cardiac arrest; neither involves pain to the animal. The stunning process leads into the bleeding process where the slaughter of the animal is completed. Usually these operations are swift and effective; but, the operators are human and still make mistakes ("Humane Handling of Livestock 4-9").
Mistakes in slaughterhouses causing potential outbreaks in disease are rare, but when they occur, they are a huge issue. Some mistakes that may occur include fecal matter being mixed into the beef. Salmonella and campylobacter may spread, and certain parts of the nervous system may get mixed in presenting the issue of Mad Cow disease ("Slaughterhouses and Processing"). Mad Cow disease, known as Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease in humans, is spread when infected nerve tissue of cows is spread into the ground beef that is sold commercially ("Mad Cow Disease"). In fact, the USDA has banned the consumption of any part of the cows nervous system to attempt to prevent Mad Cow Disease (Clarke). However, it is a rare disease and nobody knows what the true source of it is ("Mad Cow Disease").
It has been said that there are many health issues surrounding America, critics have even gone as far to say that there is a, "2009 Obesity epidemic in America" (Higginbotham). The main question though, is who is there to blame. Apparently there is a large connection between fast food and obesity (Sharretto; Pesic; Higginbotham). It has been found that about 60 percent of American adults are considered overweight (Higginbotham; Zinczenco and Goulding 1-10). An even more shocking number is that 15% of all American children are obese (Holguin). Companies have gone as far to implement their chains into schools around the country. According to Kelly D. Brownell, removing fast food from schools would be the right step to begin to take down childhood obesity (Witt). What is the cause of all of this though?
Americans are known for their busy lives, and many people would pay for time, sadly they will pay when it comes to their health. According to CARDEA, Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, eating fast food increases their risk of type two diabetes. They performed a study in which people were studied for 15 years. Subjects who had fast food at least two times a week gained around 10 pounds more than the participants who had it less than 2 times a week (Sharetto). Ultimately, consumers need to make healthier choices. They should keep away from fried foods, and pay attention to nutritional guides given on websites (Paul, Barston, and Segal). According to Cathy Nonas, consumers simply need to have smaller meals, combo meals are the wrong way to go ("Americans are Obsessed"). However, the value meal is so appealing due to its cost. When the value meal is purchased, the consumer is given 73% more calories, and only 17% more is paid (Zinczenko and Goulding 1-10). This is a practical reason to why it has become so popular.
Besides its booming popularity, there must be a reason why fast food is widely accepted as one of the leading contributors to obesity in America. The most accepted idea is that it is extremely high in fat and calories. In fact, some meals have enough servings for several meals. There must be a way to avoid the unhealthiness besides avoiding fast food altogether. Well there is a definite plan of making a successful, yet healthy trip to a fast food restaurant include the following. First, be aware of portion sizes, ordering combo meals can be one of the worst ways to stay healthy. Next, watch sodium levels; sodium will only contribute to high blood pressure, yet another side effect of over-indulging. After that, an important key is trans-fats; always stay away from those due to the fact that they are just purely unhealthy. Lastly, when debating over these decisions, "Moderation is always key" (Paul, Barston, and Segal).
When one thinks of fast food restaurant, they do not usually relate them to a high-class restaurant. They are many times thought of to be gross, or disgusting. However, the chains cannot be entirely at fault in these situations. Individual restaurants rely on their employees, who sometimes may not be so reliable. For example, when an employee does not wash their hands after using the restroom facilities, it is a surefire way to spread germs and bacteria. Also, when employees become lazy, they tend not to cook the food thoroughly, causing food poisoning. The inattentiveness towards the food is only exhibited as a way to save time. Another issue with the restaurants are bugs and pests. However, this is easily avoided by having regular inspections by the health department (Zanella). This simple preventative practice is performed throughout the country.
It has been clear that fast food is well known throughout America, but it is quite the opposite when it comes to how it became so popular. One reason is through the most unlikely source, children. Children have been main targets of the fast food industry simply because they have some thing called, "Pester power," otherwise known as nagging. That is how children persuade their parents to buy certain things. This idea must have been genius because the food industry spends around 10 billion dollars on advertising for children. The industry almost depends on kids because on average they see around 40,000 commercials a year. But, it does not stop at television. Advertising has hit the web, and to cash in on kids they make them put in their e-mail addresses to get free ringtones, or even music clips. This is very tricky, yet effective (Rouse).
There is an ongoing media war between the negatives and the positives of fast food ("McDonalds Attempts to Get Ahead of Critics"). It has been said that America is a "fast food nation" (Paul, Barston, and Segal). But what is all of the talk going on about this. To start with the negative, there have been numerous public works attacking the industry. This includes Fast Food Nation, Chew On This, and Supersize Me. These published items all are highlighting the negative effects of the industry and their so-called secrets ("McDonalds Attempts to Get Ahead of Critics").
On the other side of the issue, fast food institutions have been working hard to fight back. CEO of McDonalds, Jim Skinner, stated, "McDonalds has been a leader in employment opportunity, charitable giving, and has even gone out of its way to promote animal welfare and the environment." Skinner is attempting to say that as a whole, the company is a positive asset to the world. He added later, "These days, big equals bad to some people." Which is quite true, McDonalds is targeted due to their world recognition as a company. Lastly, he addressed the aforementioned attacks on the industry. "Fictitious Information irresponsibly published and reported in the media has people questioning the quality and safety of fast food in general," ("Food Fight"). Another effort that McDonald has put out there to achieve some positive recognition in the media is the McMoms campaign. Since fast food is generally thought to be unhealthy and poor quality, McDonalds felt it necessary to bring in a group of credible people who could test their food. The group of mothers is given the ability so see how the food is created, and were permitted to ask any questions, and then positively talk about it to the media. One of the selected mothers, Michele Crosby, said, "It was very interesting to see the quality of meat, the safety checks, and the uniformity of the product." This campaign was one of the strongest ways that McDonalds could counteract the negative aspects of fast food ("Family Matters; Goff).
When it comes to the big scheme of things, the fast food industry has many hidden secrets that they clearly do not want the general public to know about. These include the creation process, health effects, and how the business grew and became so popular. In the end it is a business, and they just want to make money, whether it is honest or not. Consumers have the choice though. Nobody needs to believe advertisements, movies, or books because it is their body and their health.
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