I Don’t Eat Fast Food

Posted on July 18, 2011

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I don’t eat fast food.  To be more accurate, I should say I no longer eat food that comes from fast food restaurants.

People look at me like I’m from Mars when I say this. Actually, I’m from Venus, but that’s a different matter. I don’t find my dislike of fast food to be at all peculiar. I was never a huge consumer of fast food, as you’ll see below.

Like every other working person in America I have a packed schedule most days, at least Monday through Friday, so I need to food that can be prepared quickly in the morning and that is portable. My budget and schedule do not allow for leisurely lunches at dine-in restaurants off-campus. So I eat home-made PB&J sandwiches regularly—those are pretty fast. And I make lots of meals that provide leftovers that I can store in the refrigerator at work and, when necessary, reheat in the microwave. But my solution to fast food isn’t the subject of this post. The focus here is why I no longer eat fast food.

Fast Food: The High School & College Years

The height of my fast food intake was during my teen and college years, but even then I probably ate far fewer fast food meals than the typical 15-22 year old. In college, I was a big fan of local fast food favorites Taco Casa, Bama Bino Pizza and Solomon’s Deli. Chain restaurant burgers, not so much.

To the best of my knowledge and memory, I’ve never eaten at a Long John Silvers or Captain D’s. I asked my parents if we ever went there when I was a child. The answer was “not that we know of.” I don’t recall having ever eaten at Taco Bell before the 1990s and I know I’ve never eaten there since.

The last time I ate an Arby’s was on a high school date. I remember that it was the weirdest tasting roast beef sandwich I’d ever had, so I never went there again.

My last visit to a Kentucky Fried Chicken was in the days when the chain was still branded as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Around 1978-79. I’d been on a church youth trip to Gatlinburg for astroturf skiing. We stopped at a KYFried somewhere in Tennessee on the way home. My  ride pulled into my driveway at the absolute last moment. I ran from the car straight into the bathroom. I can’t establish causal connection, and it might’ve been simple carsickness, but that fried chicken was the last meal I ate before I got sick. Scratch Kentucky Fried Chicken off my future dining options. I haven’t been back.

The only fast food burgers I ever ate were from Hardee’s (in the 1970s only), Burger King, McDonalds or the Frosty Inn, a hometown restaurant. There wasn’t a McDonald’s or Burger King in my small hometown during my high school years–and that made it easier to avoid developing a habit as a fast food burger junkie. I ate my share of Hardee’s burgers as a young teen, but always with mustard only. No ketchup or mayonnaise. I never even put ketchup on french fries.

As I got older and started hanging out with friends who could drive, visits to McDonald’s and Burger King in the Shoals area were more common. But we’re talking about fast food burgers and fries once a week, not 2-3-4 times per week. And this was in the days before everything was supersized.

My Final Days of Fast Food Burgers

One day, in 2002 or early 2003, I stopped at a McDonald’s on Highway 280 in Hoover. I remember the experience very clearly. I ordered a burger, probably a quarter-pounder with cheese, mustard only because that was my usual McDonald’s burger after they killed the McDLT. And medium fries.

The counter clerk asked, “Do you want to supersize those fries?”

“No,” I replied.

“You can get the supersized for only 39 cents more.”

I don’t recall the specific additional amount that I could pay to get another gazillion fries, but it was less than 50 cents. But I didn’t want more than a medium-sized serving of fries (which was a lot larger than it had been in the early years, anyway). I knew that I probably could eat no more than a medium-sized pack—or maybe not even finish it. Paying for more, even at a bargain, would be a waste of money (and a waste of food).

“No, thanks. I don’t need more fries.”

“But it’s such a great deal. I can’t believe you don’t want it.”

“No, I can’t eat that many fries.”

She was friendly but persistent. I didn’t relent. We finished the transaction, I picked up my order and left. And walked back to my car.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that exchange. She was a nice young lady, doing her job. I’m sure the manager had instructed the counter clerks to push the supersized options to increase sales. There’s nothing wrong with a business promoting products to customers to increase sales. But when the product is french fries and the quantity of french fries is beyond reasonable portion sizes, well, …..

My McDonald’s moment came just before there was a huge public outcry over the supersize promotions. The developing obesity epidemic was probably getting some news coverage by then, but nothing like we have seen in more recent years. I didn’t stop eating at McDonald’s because of that incident but it probably sparked something that would influence me later on.

No More

I stopped eating fast food burgers when I moved to Oklahoma in late July 2003. I don’t specifically remember why I stopped. I’ve always had healthy-eating habits so my decision probably stems from that. Late in the semester that year, I remember purchasing a burger from a no-name burger stand in the food court at the university where I worked. We had a faculty meeting and I hadn’t eaten lunch. I took a couple of bites of the burger, saw that it was pink in the middle, and threw it in the trash. The taste was horrid, anyway.

In October 2004, I drove from Oklahoma to an academic conference in Greeley, Colorado. I took my dog, a black Lab, with me. On my return trip home, I stopped to get gas just after I crossed the Colorado state line into Kansas. I was hungry and decided “one burger won’t kill me.” The only thing around was a McDonald’s. At that point, I hadn’t had a McDonald’s burger in about 16-17 months. Ordered regular burger, no ketchup, with mustard. I took one bite and gave the rest to my dog. And I felt guilty about letting my dog eat it. I’ve not been back to McDonald’s since that day.

I ate a Wendy’s burger in August 2007, out of desperation, at the end of a long day of moving. There was no food in my house, as I’d moved from Oklahoma back to Alabama. My niece and Mom, who had helped me with the moving that night, suggested Wendy’s. I was too tired and hungry to lobby for anything else. Not that there were any better choices available at that hour.

And so that marked the end of fast food burgers for me. One burger and a couple of bites of another burger since August 2003. I’ve had plenty of hamburgers since then, but only burgers made at home. Well, actually, I think I had a burger once at a real restaurant in Nashville when I was there on business in 2006.

Burgers Aren’t the Only Fast Food

I ate at Taco Casa a few times during the first year I moved back to Tuscaloosa (2007-08). The tacos were soggy, though, and not like I’d remembered them, so thereafter I only ordered extra hot bean burritos and only went back a few times. That’s not to say I’ll never have another serving of extra hot frijoles from a Taco Casa. I might even order a taco. But it’s unlikely. I no longer live in the town that’s home to Taco Casa and when I visit that town I prefer to dine at a couple of other special favorites.

When I lived in Oklahoma, I could walk a couple of hundred yards to The Hideaway and get a small, fairly healthy pizza for less than the cost of a fast food meal, so it was easy.

Between 2004 and 2010, I also occasionally had a Chik-fil-A sandwich (plain, mustard only, no fries), when I failed to bring my lunch and my schedule prevented me from leaving campus at lunch. It was very often that I ate Chik-Fil-A, however. Five or six times a year, at most. I stopped eating Chik-fil-A midway through the spring semester in 2010. I decided that I felt better if I didn’t eat fried chicken sandwiches. And I don’t like to eat industrially-grown and processed chicken, anyway.

My emergency fallback has been Subway or another deli-type establishment. The bread choices are usually bad (refined “wheat” flour, rather than true whole wheat bread) but it’s possible to get a fairly healthy sandwich, like a turkey and Swiss with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and hot mustard. On the downside, the meat is raised on industrial farms and I don’t like that. But I eat commercial deli sandwiches very infrequently, 3-4 times a year, at most. Last one was in March of this year.

More of What I’ve Never Eaten: Junk Food & Snack Food

Speaking of Subway and deli sandwich menus: I’ve never had a meatball sandwich, ever. In my entire life. Can’t imagine anything more unpleasant than a meatball sandwich (except a corndog). I’m fine with meatballs (if my mom or I make them).

I don’t eat corndogs. Didn’t like or eat, even as a child when they were served in the school lunchroom. Even in those days, I often carried my lunch from home, in a Bugaloos metal lunch box.

I’ve also never eaten a McNugget. I’ve tasted a tater tot–not sure what those are, but they aren’t food.

Never had a Hostess Twinkie. I do remember eating a few of those devils-food-cake-filled-with-white-stuff things when I was a kid. But not the Hostess Twinkie brand. What I ate was round, wrapped in cellophane packaging, and sold individually. I looked for a photo but couldn’t find anything identical. You could buy them at the store for 50 to 75 cents back then. I didn’t like the white stuff in those, though, and so I stopped eating them before I got to high school.

Never had a gummy bear or any of those other plastic-like foods that come in colors only found in nature on peacocks and butterflies.

This isn’t a complete list. Just some items I could think of quickly.

I Don’t Totally Abstain From Junk Food

As a kid, I liked fudgsicles and ice cream sandwiches. And I still do. I bought an ice cream sandwich from the ice cream truck a few years ago when I lived in the Forest Lake neighborhood in Tuscaloosa. Next time I’m home when the ice cream truck rolls through my neighborhood, I think I’ll have another.

I used to keep a bag of Snickers bars in my office for emergency situations. But it seems to me that something changed in the formula over the past 6-7 years. I don’t like them as much as I used to, so I rarely eat Snickers any more. Payday and Mounds bars are my other preferred candy bars, not that I eat them monthly or anything. But I will eat them, on occasion.

I will eat potato chips when I eat certain barbecue sandwiches. And sometimes with deli sandwiches. I don’t buy potato chips for home consumption, though. Unless I’m at the beach.

I bake cookies and deserts at home pretty regularly.

So What Do I Eat When There’s No Time To Prepare My Own Meals?

When I’m stuck in a situation that I must have food and haven’t anything on hand, I almost opt for a bag of peanuts. For less than a dollar, I can get a food product that’s natural and will usually keep me going for a couple of hours until I can get to a real meal.

And PBJs, of course, when I plan ahead. If I know I’m going to be out and about all day, I might make peanut butter and crackers. Those carry well and  don’t need to be refrigerated.

When I travel on trips that are longer than 2-3 hours, I usually take a cooler with yogurt and/or some other healthy snacks or sandwiches. I’ll pack a Coke or two, as well. Much less expensive to take my own than to pay $1 or more for a Coke at a convenience store.

The Big Why?

I don’t think there’s a single specific reason that I gave up fast food. Here are the best reasons I can think of:

  • I never particularly “liked” the taste of fast food. Just not how my taste-buds developed (Thanks, Mom and Dad).
  • I’ve always had healthy eating habits.
  • When I ate fast food, I noticed that I felt groggy, lethargic, fuzzy-headed, less energetic, less productive at work. I like to feel good so I avoid what makes me feel less good.
  • I save money by not eating fast food meals. Peanuts, PBJs, and yogurt are much less-expensive than a burger, fries and Coke (even compared to $1 fast food meal, I still come out ahead).
  • I don’t want to support industrial farming practices and fast food restaurants are one of the reasons we have centralized, industrial ranching and meat-processing in this country.
  • I take care of my body, I’ve always had excellent health and I want to keep it that way.

The Benefits

I haven’t needed (or taken) an antibiotic since December 2000. I had an extremely-intense case of influenza in late January 2001, and I haven’t been sick since then. No kidding. Once or twice (around 2003-04), I thought I might be coming down with a cold. On both occasions, I opted to go to sleep early and woke up fine the next day. That’s it.

I can’t prove that I’ve avoided the usual colds and sinus problems by giving up fast food. But I think my overall commitment to health has made a huge difference in avoiding the petty illnesses that everyone else deals with several times each year. It’s not as if I’m not exposed. College students must be second only to kindergarden-and-elementary school kids in the number of colds and sinus problems they experience each year. I’m not bragging, just very, very grateful. And I intend to do my part to avoid getting sick in the future.

I have excellent cardiovascular health. Healthy eating habits and exercise will do that for you.

Weight has never been an issue.  I’ve added a few pounds in the past few years and if I were hanging out at a pool everyday in a swimsuit, I’d prefer to weigh 10 pounds less, but I’m well below the unhealthy BMI/weight levels. And I eat anything I want. No limits. So I can’t complain.

I think my eating habits also contribute to my very good memory. I’ve had people ask: How can you remember all those details about what you eat. I have no idea. I guess it’s because food matters to me. I care about what I eat and so I’m attentive. I remember it.

So that’s my fast food story.  What’s yours?

Related Posts:

My Food History: On Restaurants & Home-cooked Meals: The 1960s & 70s

Food, Health & the I-Want-It-Now Mindset

On Running: When A Turtle Soars

Where Food Comes From: June 16, 2011 Edition

External Links That Provide Support For My Philosophy on Food

Why Fast Food Isn’t Cheaper Than Healthy Food

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