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Episode
218

The Rise Of Fast Food Part 3: Today & Tomorrow

Dec 10, 2021
How Stuff Works
-
16
minutes

In the space of fewer than 100 years, fast food has fundamentally changed the global culinary landscape.

In this episode, we explore how it has managed to grow so much and what it is doing to our societies, world and bodies, and ask ourselves whether we'll ever kick our fast-food addiction.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our three-part series on fast food.

[00:00:28] In part one we talked about the early history of fast food in America, how giants like McDonald’s got started, and how they took over America.

[00:00:39] Then in part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about how fast food companies went global, how American fast food companies conquered the world, when this worked and some of the times it didn’t.

[00:00:53] And in today’s episode, part three of this mini-series, we are going to look at the state of fast food today, how much of it we actually eat, how it has adapted over the years, what it is doing to our bodies and ask ourselves what the future might look like for fast food. Ok then, fast food today. 

[00:01:17] Let's start with a few statistics, to remind ourselves of just how large a part of our lives fast food plays. 

[00:01:27] All around the world billions of people eat fast food every single day, and 1% of the world’s population, 68 million people, will eat at McDonald's today.

[00:01:39] In the US alone one single burger, The Whopper, is eaten every 15 seconds, and globally the consumption of fast food is growing every single year.

[00:01:51] And staying in the United States, on any given day a quarter of the population will eat at a fast-food restaurant.

[00:02:00] We heard how we got here in parts one and two. 

[00:02:04] Fast food is convenient, it is a cheap source of energy, it is easy, it is satisfyingly familiar. American fast food companies successfully exported this formula across the globe, and we are now a world, and this is particularly true for the developed world, a world addicted to eating fast food. 

[00:02:28] Everywhere fast food companies have gone, they have had a huge impact. 

[00:02:33] Let's first talk about people. 

[00:02:35] In the United States, almost 5 million people are employed by the fast food industry, that’s 3% of the adult working population, or 1 in 30 working adults in America, or, to put it another way, it’s as if the entire population of Scotland, were flipping burgers, preparing tacos or serving you french fries.

[00:03:00] An even larger proportion of the population have worked in a fast food restaurant at some point in time. 1 in every 8 Americans has worked at McDonald’s at some point in their life, including the singer Pharrell Williams and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

[00:03:19] And indirectly, in terms of all of the people involved in everything from the raising of the chickens that go into the KFC Zinger Tower burgers, the potatoes that go into French fries or even the companies that build the retractable windows used for drive thrus, there are millions more whose livelihoods depend on people gobbling down burgers, pizza and fried chicken, whose lives depend on the fast food industry.

[00:03:50] One of the consequences of this is that the fast food industry is very powerful when it comes to negotiations with government. 

[00:04:00] In the US, for example, the biggest fast food industry in the world, the lobbying groups related to fast food are some of the most powerful in Washington. 

[00:04:11] They have successfully played a part in lobbying for subsidies, government financial aid, for some of the key products of the fast food industry, such as corn, soy and beef, which either go directly into the food you eat, in the example of beef, or indirectly, by being used to create food for animals.

[00:04:33] Essentially the U S governments via taxpayer money is keeping down the cost of Big Mac meals in America. 

[00:04:41] When it comes to the future of the fast food industry, industry analysts can't seem to see a future where the industry is much smaller than today. 

[00:04:52] It is remarkably recession proof - by that I mean that people visit fast food restaurants in good and bad times. They are cheap, so in a recession people might go to them as an alternative to traditional restaurants. They don’t stop going to fast food restaurants altogether.

[00:05:12] Indeed, during the financial crisis of 2007-2009 sales at McDonald’s actually went up by 18% and the entire fast food industry grew by 4%.

[00:05:26] Even during the COVID pandemic, most fast food restaurants continued to grow.

[00:05:31] At the start of the pandemic, as many were forced to close, sales plummeted but they soon started to pick up

[00:05:40] Indeed, the global fast industry is predicted to grow at an average of 7.35% from 2020-2027, faster than the 5% that it was growing annually from the period 2015-2019, before COVID hit.

[00:05:59] But, COVID has had a large impact on our dining habits, with the line between fast food and restaurant food now a little more blurry than it was before.

[00:06:12] Pre-COVID, if you wanted takeaway or delivery food, in the majority of restaurants in Europe and the US that is, your options were limited mainly to fast food restaurants.

[00:06:26] Whether this was calling up your local pizza delivery restaurant, walking into a McDonald’s or going to a drive-thru, if you wanted to eat outside a restaurant fast food was the dominant option.

[00:06:40] COVID forced traditional restaurants to start offering a take-away or delivery service, and it also got customers used to the idea of ordering restaurant food to eat at at home, especially from apps such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Glovo, GrubHub or any of the hundreds of other options that have emerged.

[00:07:02] Many of these options already existed before the pandemic, but it was a trend that was accelerated by COVID.

[00:07:11] People are getting more used to being able to order ready to eat food through an app, and now fast food isn’t the only option. 

[00:07:20] Fast food might be cheaper than traditional restaurants, but for many people it is not so much cheaper that they are willing to compromise on taste.

[00:07:29] And even for the biggest fast food lovers, it is hard to deny that the quality is not the same as you would get at a traditional restaurant. 

[00:07:39] So, when faced with the decision about paying a little bit more and having a higher quality meal delivered to your door or having to go out and buy a cheaper option but lower quality fast food meal, well consumers now have this different option that wasn't so readily available before. 

[00:08:00] There’s also an increasing consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly options, vegan or plant-based burgers for example. 

[00:08:09] You can now get the famous plant-based Impossible Burger at Burger King, and McDonald’s is currently testing its own version of a plant-based burger, called the PLC.

[00:08:22] And although these plant-based burgers have proved to be just as bad for you from a health perspective as regular burgers, there is this increasing demand with some consumers, especially younger consumers for both greener and healthier choices. 

[00:08:41] Combined with all of this, and partly as a result of it, there has been a large increase in what’s called “fast casual” restaurants - restaurants that offer better quality food, often healthier options and charge higher prices, so the division between what is fast food and what isn’t is less clear than ever before.

[00:09:04] This leaves the original fast food chains with a bit of a conundrum, a bit of a dilemma. Do they try to embrace these new trends or do they stick to their guns, stick to what originally made them successful: cheap, unhealthy comfort food?

[00:09:22] Burger King, for example, is sticking to its guns, offering some new items but broadly sticking to what it knows best: burgers and fries.

[00:09:33] On the other hand the biggest fast food brand in the world, McDonald’s, has branched out into all sorts of new things, with up to 100 options available on its menus. Wraps, salads, fancy coffees, and a huge variety of options compared to when it launched in 1948 with only 9 options, burgers and fries for the most part.

[00:09:58] There are all sorts of news headlines about how McDonald’s has lost its mojo, how it has lost its identity, how it is trying to be everything to everyone, how it should go back to what it knows best, and that people eating at McDonald’s aren’t doing so because they want healthy options - they know exactly what they want, and that’s a burger, fries and a fizzy drink.

[00:10:23] They know that it’s not healthy, but that’s ok - people aren’t stupid, they know exactly what they’re getting.

[00:10:31] Now, on that subject it would be irresponsible if we didn’t touch on what this rising addiction to fast food has done to us. The simple answer is it has been very bad news for our bodies. 

[00:10:46] In the 1950s less than 10% of Americans were overweight or obese. By 1975, which was the same year McDonald’s launched its first Drive-Thru service, that number was 15%. Now it’s around 32%, and not one state in the United States meets the Healthy People Guidelines of obesity at 15% or less.

[00:11:13] The result of this is that heart disease has for years been the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

[00:11:23] And it’s not just the United States. 

[00:11:26] Globally, 39% of all adults are overweight and 13% of the world’s population is obese.

[00:11:35] Heart disease is now the biggest cause of death worldwide, responsible for 16% of all deaths, and diabetes is now in the top 10 list of cause of deaths worldwide.

[00:11:48] Of course, not all of this can be attributed directly to fast food, but if we continued to eat and drink as we did in the 1950s, without Big Macs, fries and cokes, then these numbers would be significantly lower. 

[00:12:04] It’s abundantly clear that eating fast food regularly is not healthy. If you’ve seen the 2004 documentary, Supersize Me, you’ll remember that its director eats only McDonald’s for 30 days in a row, and ends up putting on 13% of his body weight and having heart palpitations.

[00:12:27] Now, as to the future of fast food, it is an industry that shows little sign of slowing down. Despite all of the warnings about the health dangers of eating lots of fast food and the competition from healthier options, we eat more and more of it every year. 

[00:12:46] Fast food chains are very good at adapting to customer demands, whether that’s regional varieties or changing tastes. And for all of the articles that you might read about people opting for healthier lifestyles, when it comes to fast food that data suggests that most people are very happy to eat what they have always eaten. 

[00:13:08] We might know that it’s bad for us, and it might be healthier and probably cheaper to eat a salad at home, but when it comes down to it, it is very tempting to pop into a McDonald’s or Burger King, to have that familiar smell, knowing you’ll have a familiar warm meal that will certainly fill you up, it will stop you being hungry, and it won’t break the bank, it won’t cost very much.

[00:13:34] So for as long as more and more of us continue to do this every year, and fast food restaurants get better and better at finding ways to make us come back, fast food isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:13:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on fast food, today and tomorrow, and with that comes the end of this three-part mini series on fast food.

[00:14:01] As a reminder, in part one we talked about how the fast food industry got started, how giants like McDonald’s transformed the American dining experience, and some of the characters that were involved.

[00:14:15] In part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about when and how fast food went global, how American fast food chains conquered the world and some of the times that it didn’t quite go to plan.

[00:14:29] I hope you enjoyed this mini-series, and that you learned something new. 

[00:14:33] Literally hundreds of millions of people eat at American fast food restaurants every single day, and whether you are a fast food lover, someone who will never set foot in a fast food restaurant, or you’re somewhere in between, I hope that this mini-series helped shed light on this industry that touches on so many of our lives, either directly or indirectly.

[00:14:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series overall.

[00:15:03] For the fast food lovers, what is your favourite chain and why, and how has it adapted to the tastes of the country you live in?

[00:15:12] And if you are the sort of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food restaurant, why is that? Can you understand the appeal of fast food, or is it just a mystery to you?

[00:15:23] I would love to know. 

[00:15:25] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:15:34] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our three-part series on fast food.

[00:00:28] In part one we talked about the early history of fast food in America, how giants like McDonald’s got started, and how they took over America.

[00:00:39] Then in part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about how fast food companies went global, how American fast food companies conquered the world, when this worked and some of the times it didn’t.

[00:00:53] And in today’s episode, part three of this mini-series, we are going to look at the state of fast food today, how much of it we actually eat, how it has adapted over the years, what it is doing to our bodies and ask ourselves what the future might look like for fast food. Ok then, fast food today. 

[00:01:17] Let's start with a few statistics, to remind ourselves of just how large a part of our lives fast food plays. 

[00:01:27] All around the world billions of people eat fast food every single day, and 1% of the world’s population, 68 million people, will eat at McDonald's today.

[00:01:39] In the US alone one single burger, The Whopper, is eaten every 15 seconds, and globally the consumption of fast food is growing every single year.

[00:01:51] And staying in the United States, on any given day a quarter of the population will eat at a fast-food restaurant.

[00:02:00] We heard how we got here in parts one and two. 

[00:02:04] Fast food is convenient, it is a cheap source of energy, it is easy, it is satisfyingly familiar. American fast food companies successfully exported this formula across the globe, and we are now a world, and this is particularly true for the developed world, a world addicted to eating fast food. 

[00:02:28] Everywhere fast food companies have gone, they have had a huge impact. 

[00:02:33] Let's first talk about people. 

[00:02:35] In the United States, almost 5 million people are employed by the fast food industry, that’s 3% of the adult working population, or 1 in 30 working adults in America, or, to put it another way, it’s as if the entire population of Scotland, were flipping burgers, preparing tacos or serving you french fries.

[00:03:00] An even larger proportion of the population have worked in a fast food restaurant at some point in time. 1 in every 8 Americans has worked at McDonald’s at some point in their life, including the singer Pharrell Williams and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

[00:03:19] And indirectly, in terms of all of the people involved in everything from the raising of the chickens that go into the KFC Zinger Tower burgers, the potatoes that go into French fries or even the companies that build the retractable windows used for drive thrus, there are millions more whose livelihoods depend on people gobbling down burgers, pizza and fried chicken, whose lives depend on the fast food industry.

[00:03:50] One of the consequences of this is that the fast food industry is very powerful when it comes to negotiations with government. 

[00:04:00] In the US, for example, the biggest fast food industry in the world, the lobbying groups related to fast food are some of the most powerful in Washington. 

[00:04:11] They have successfully played a part in lobbying for subsidies, government financial aid, for some of the key products of the fast food industry, such as corn, soy and beef, which either go directly into the food you eat, in the example of beef, or indirectly, by being used to create food for animals.

[00:04:33] Essentially the U S governments via taxpayer money is keeping down the cost of Big Mac meals in America. 

[00:04:41] When it comes to the future of the fast food industry, industry analysts can't seem to see a future where the industry is much smaller than today. 

[00:04:52] It is remarkably recession proof - by that I mean that people visit fast food restaurants in good and bad times. They are cheap, so in a recession people might go to them as an alternative to traditional restaurants. They don’t stop going to fast food restaurants altogether.

[00:05:12] Indeed, during the financial crisis of 2007-2009 sales at McDonald’s actually went up by 18% and the entire fast food industry grew by 4%.

[00:05:26] Even during the COVID pandemic, most fast food restaurants continued to grow.

[00:05:31] At the start of the pandemic, as many were forced to close, sales plummeted but they soon started to pick up

[00:05:40] Indeed, the global fast industry is predicted to grow at an average of 7.35% from 2020-2027, faster than the 5% that it was growing annually from the period 2015-2019, before COVID hit.

[00:05:59] But, COVID has had a large impact on our dining habits, with the line between fast food and restaurant food now a little more blurry than it was before.

[00:06:12] Pre-COVID, if you wanted takeaway or delivery food, in the majority of restaurants in Europe and the US that is, your options were limited mainly to fast food restaurants.

[00:06:26] Whether this was calling up your local pizza delivery restaurant, walking into a McDonald’s or going to a drive-thru, if you wanted to eat outside a restaurant fast food was the dominant option.

[00:06:40] COVID forced traditional restaurants to start offering a take-away or delivery service, and it also got customers used to the idea of ordering restaurant food to eat at at home, especially from apps such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Glovo, GrubHub or any of the hundreds of other options that have emerged.

[00:07:02] Many of these options already existed before the pandemic, but it was a trend that was accelerated by COVID.

[00:07:11] People are getting more used to being able to order ready to eat food through an app, and now fast food isn’t the only option. 

[00:07:20] Fast food might be cheaper than traditional restaurants, but for many people it is not so much cheaper that they are willing to compromise on taste.

[00:07:29] And even for the biggest fast food lovers, it is hard to deny that the quality is not the same as you would get at a traditional restaurant. 

[00:07:39] So, when faced with the decision about paying a little bit more and having a higher quality meal delivered to your door or having to go out and buy a cheaper option but lower quality fast food meal, well consumers now have this different option that wasn't so readily available before. 

[00:08:00] There’s also an increasing consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly options, vegan or plant-based burgers for example. 

[00:08:09] You can now get the famous plant-based Impossible Burger at Burger King, and McDonald’s is currently testing its own version of a plant-based burger, called the PLC.

[00:08:22] And although these plant-based burgers have proved to be just as bad for you from a health perspective as regular burgers, there is this increasing demand with some consumers, especially younger consumers for both greener and healthier choices. 

[00:08:41] Combined with all of this, and partly as a result of it, there has been a large increase in what’s called “fast casual” restaurants - restaurants that offer better quality food, often healthier options and charge higher prices, so the division between what is fast food and what isn’t is less clear than ever before.

[00:09:04] This leaves the original fast food chains with a bit of a conundrum, a bit of a dilemma. Do they try to embrace these new trends or do they stick to their guns, stick to what originally made them successful: cheap, unhealthy comfort food?

[00:09:22] Burger King, for example, is sticking to its guns, offering some new items but broadly sticking to what it knows best: burgers and fries.

[00:09:33] On the other hand the biggest fast food brand in the world, McDonald’s, has branched out into all sorts of new things, with up to 100 options available on its menus. Wraps, salads, fancy coffees, and a huge variety of options compared to when it launched in 1948 with only 9 options, burgers and fries for the most part.

[00:09:58] There are all sorts of news headlines about how McDonald’s has lost its mojo, how it has lost its identity, how it is trying to be everything to everyone, how it should go back to what it knows best, and that people eating at McDonald’s aren’t doing so because they want healthy options - they know exactly what they want, and that’s a burger, fries and a fizzy drink.

[00:10:23] They know that it’s not healthy, but that’s ok - people aren’t stupid, they know exactly what they’re getting.

[00:10:31] Now, on that subject it would be irresponsible if we didn’t touch on what this rising addiction to fast food has done to us. The simple answer is it has been very bad news for our bodies. 

[00:10:46] In the 1950s less than 10% of Americans were overweight or obese. By 1975, which was the same year McDonald’s launched its first Drive-Thru service, that number was 15%. Now it’s around 32%, and not one state in the United States meets the Healthy People Guidelines of obesity at 15% or less.

[00:11:13] The result of this is that heart disease has for years been the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

[00:11:23] And it’s not just the United States. 

[00:11:26] Globally, 39% of all adults are overweight and 13% of the world’s population is obese.

[00:11:35] Heart disease is now the biggest cause of death worldwide, responsible for 16% of all deaths, and diabetes is now in the top 10 list of cause of deaths worldwide.

[00:11:48] Of course, not all of this can be attributed directly to fast food, but if we continued to eat and drink as we did in the 1950s, without Big Macs, fries and cokes, then these numbers would be significantly lower. 

[00:12:04] It’s abundantly clear that eating fast food regularly is not healthy. If you’ve seen the 2004 documentary, Supersize Me, you’ll remember that its director eats only McDonald’s for 30 days in a row, and ends up putting on 13% of his body weight and having heart palpitations.

[00:12:27] Now, as to the future of fast food, it is an industry that shows little sign of slowing down. Despite all of the warnings about the health dangers of eating lots of fast food and the competition from healthier options, we eat more and more of it every year. 

[00:12:46] Fast food chains are very good at adapting to customer demands, whether that’s regional varieties or changing tastes. And for all of the articles that you might read about people opting for healthier lifestyles, when it comes to fast food that data suggests that most people are very happy to eat what they have always eaten. 

[00:13:08] We might know that it’s bad for us, and it might be healthier and probably cheaper to eat a salad at home, but when it comes down to it, it is very tempting to pop into a McDonald’s or Burger King, to have that familiar smell, knowing you’ll have a familiar warm meal that will certainly fill you up, it will stop you being hungry, and it won’t break the bank, it won’t cost very much.

[00:13:34] So for as long as more and more of us continue to do this every year, and fast food restaurants get better and better at finding ways to make us come back, fast food isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:13:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on fast food, today and tomorrow, and with that comes the end of this three-part mini series on fast food.

[00:14:01] As a reminder, in part one we talked about how the fast food industry got started, how giants like McDonald’s transformed the American dining experience, and some of the characters that were involved.

[00:14:15] In part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about when and how fast food went global, how American fast food chains conquered the world and some of the times that it didn’t quite go to plan.

[00:14:29] I hope you enjoyed this mini-series, and that you learned something new. 

[00:14:33] Literally hundreds of millions of people eat at American fast food restaurants every single day, and whether you are a fast food lover, someone who will never set foot in a fast food restaurant, or you’re somewhere in between, I hope that this mini-series helped shed light on this industry that touches on so many of our lives, either directly or indirectly.

[00:14:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series overall.

[00:15:03] For the fast food lovers, what is your favourite chain and why, and how has it adapted to the tastes of the country you live in?

[00:15:12] And if you are the sort of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food restaurant, why is that? Can you understand the appeal of fast food, or is it just a mystery to you?

[00:15:23] I would love to know. 

[00:15:25] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:15:34] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our three-part series on fast food.

[00:00:28] In part one we talked about the early history of fast food in America, how giants like McDonald’s got started, and how they took over America.

[00:00:39] Then in part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about how fast food companies went global, how American fast food companies conquered the world, when this worked and some of the times it didn’t.

[00:00:53] And in today’s episode, part three of this mini-series, we are going to look at the state of fast food today, how much of it we actually eat, how it has adapted over the years, what it is doing to our bodies and ask ourselves what the future might look like for fast food. Ok then, fast food today. 

[00:01:17] Let's start with a few statistics, to remind ourselves of just how large a part of our lives fast food plays. 

[00:01:27] All around the world billions of people eat fast food every single day, and 1% of the world’s population, 68 million people, will eat at McDonald's today.

[00:01:39] In the US alone one single burger, The Whopper, is eaten every 15 seconds, and globally the consumption of fast food is growing every single year.

[00:01:51] And staying in the United States, on any given day a quarter of the population will eat at a fast-food restaurant.

[00:02:00] We heard how we got here in parts one and two. 

[00:02:04] Fast food is convenient, it is a cheap source of energy, it is easy, it is satisfyingly familiar. American fast food companies successfully exported this formula across the globe, and we are now a world, and this is particularly true for the developed world, a world addicted to eating fast food. 

[00:02:28] Everywhere fast food companies have gone, they have had a huge impact. 

[00:02:33] Let's first talk about people. 

[00:02:35] In the United States, almost 5 million people are employed by the fast food industry, that’s 3% of the adult working population, or 1 in 30 working adults in America, or, to put it another way, it’s as if the entire population of Scotland, were flipping burgers, preparing tacos or serving you french fries.

[00:03:00] An even larger proportion of the population have worked in a fast food restaurant at some point in time. 1 in every 8 Americans has worked at McDonald’s at some point in their life, including the singer Pharrell Williams and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

[00:03:19] And indirectly, in terms of all of the people involved in everything from the raising of the chickens that go into the KFC Zinger Tower burgers, the potatoes that go into French fries or even the companies that build the retractable windows used for drive thrus, there are millions more whose livelihoods depend on people gobbling down burgers, pizza and fried chicken, whose lives depend on the fast food industry.

[00:03:50] One of the consequences of this is that the fast food industry is very powerful when it comes to negotiations with government. 

[00:04:00] In the US, for example, the biggest fast food industry in the world, the lobbying groups related to fast food are some of the most powerful in Washington. 

[00:04:11] They have successfully played a part in lobbying for subsidies, government financial aid, for some of the key products of the fast food industry, such as corn, soy and beef, which either go directly into the food you eat, in the example of beef, or indirectly, by being used to create food for animals.

[00:04:33] Essentially the U S governments via taxpayer money is keeping down the cost of Big Mac meals in America. 

[00:04:41] When it comes to the future of the fast food industry, industry analysts can't seem to see a future where the industry is much smaller than today. 

[00:04:52] It is remarkably recession proof - by that I mean that people visit fast food restaurants in good and bad times. They are cheap, so in a recession people might go to them as an alternative to traditional restaurants. They don’t stop going to fast food restaurants altogether.

[00:05:12] Indeed, during the financial crisis of 2007-2009 sales at McDonald’s actually went up by 18% and the entire fast food industry grew by 4%.

[00:05:26] Even during the COVID pandemic, most fast food restaurants continued to grow.

[00:05:31] At the start of the pandemic, as many were forced to close, sales plummeted but they soon started to pick up

[00:05:40] Indeed, the global fast industry is predicted to grow at an average of 7.35% from 2020-2027, faster than the 5% that it was growing annually from the period 2015-2019, before COVID hit.

[00:05:59] But, COVID has had a large impact on our dining habits, with the line between fast food and restaurant food now a little more blurry than it was before.

[00:06:12] Pre-COVID, if you wanted takeaway or delivery food, in the majority of restaurants in Europe and the US that is, your options were limited mainly to fast food restaurants.

[00:06:26] Whether this was calling up your local pizza delivery restaurant, walking into a McDonald’s or going to a drive-thru, if you wanted to eat outside a restaurant fast food was the dominant option.

[00:06:40] COVID forced traditional restaurants to start offering a take-away or delivery service, and it also got customers used to the idea of ordering restaurant food to eat at at home, especially from apps such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Glovo, GrubHub or any of the hundreds of other options that have emerged.

[00:07:02] Many of these options already existed before the pandemic, but it was a trend that was accelerated by COVID.

[00:07:11] People are getting more used to being able to order ready to eat food through an app, and now fast food isn’t the only option. 

[00:07:20] Fast food might be cheaper than traditional restaurants, but for many people it is not so much cheaper that they are willing to compromise on taste.

[00:07:29] And even for the biggest fast food lovers, it is hard to deny that the quality is not the same as you would get at a traditional restaurant. 

[00:07:39] So, when faced with the decision about paying a little bit more and having a higher quality meal delivered to your door or having to go out and buy a cheaper option but lower quality fast food meal, well consumers now have this different option that wasn't so readily available before. 

[00:08:00] There’s also an increasing consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly options, vegan or plant-based burgers for example. 

[00:08:09] You can now get the famous plant-based Impossible Burger at Burger King, and McDonald’s is currently testing its own version of a plant-based burger, called the PLC.

[00:08:22] And although these plant-based burgers have proved to be just as bad for you from a health perspective as regular burgers, there is this increasing demand with some consumers, especially younger consumers for both greener and healthier choices. 

[00:08:41] Combined with all of this, and partly as a result of it, there has been a large increase in what’s called “fast casual” restaurants - restaurants that offer better quality food, often healthier options and charge higher prices, so the division between what is fast food and what isn’t is less clear than ever before.

[00:09:04] This leaves the original fast food chains with a bit of a conundrum, a bit of a dilemma. Do they try to embrace these new trends or do they stick to their guns, stick to what originally made them successful: cheap, unhealthy comfort food?

[00:09:22] Burger King, for example, is sticking to its guns, offering some new items but broadly sticking to what it knows best: burgers and fries.

[00:09:33] On the other hand the biggest fast food brand in the world, McDonald’s, has branched out into all sorts of new things, with up to 100 options available on its menus. Wraps, salads, fancy coffees, and a huge variety of options compared to when it launched in 1948 with only 9 options, burgers and fries for the most part.

[00:09:58] There are all sorts of news headlines about how McDonald’s has lost its mojo, how it has lost its identity, how it is trying to be everything to everyone, how it should go back to what it knows best, and that people eating at McDonald’s aren’t doing so because they want healthy options - they know exactly what they want, and that’s a burger, fries and a fizzy drink.

[00:10:23] They know that it’s not healthy, but that’s ok - people aren’t stupid, they know exactly what they’re getting.

[00:10:31] Now, on that subject it would be irresponsible if we didn’t touch on what this rising addiction to fast food has done to us. The simple answer is it has been very bad news for our bodies. 

[00:10:46] In the 1950s less than 10% of Americans were overweight or obese. By 1975, which was the same year McDonald’s launched its first Drive-Thru service, that number was 15%. Now it’s around 32%, and not one state in the United States meets the Healthy People Guidelines of obesity at 15% or less.

[00:11:13] The result of this is that heart disease has for years been the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

[00:11:23] And it’s not just the United States. 

[00:11:26] Globally, 39% of all adults are overweight and 13% of the world’s population is obese.

[00:11:35] Heart disease is now the biggest cause of death worldwide, responsible for 16% of all deaths, and diabetes is now in the top 10 list of cause of deaths worldwide.

[00:11:48] Of course, not all of this can be attributed directly to fast food, but if we continued to eat and drink as we did in the 1950s, without Big Macs, fries and cokes, then these numbers would be significantly lower. 

[00:12:04] It’s abundantly clear that eating fast food regularly is not healthy. If you’ve seen the 2004 documentary, Supersize Me, you’ll remember that its director eats only McDonald’s for 30 days in a row, and ends up putting on 13% of his body weight and having heart palpitations.

[00:12:27] Now, as to the future of fast food, it is an industry that shows little sign of slowing down. Despite all of the warnings about the health dangers of eating lots of fast food and the competition from healthier options, we eat more and more of it every year. 

[00:12:46] Fast food chains are very good at adapting to customer demands, whether that’s regional varieties or changing tastes. And for all of the articles that you might read about people opting for healthier lifestyles, when it comes to fast food that data suggests that most people are very happy to eat what they have always eaten. 

[00:13:08] We might know that it’s bad for us, and it might be healthier and probably cheaper to eat a salad at home, but when it comes down to it, it is very tempting to pop into a McDonald’s or Burger King, to have that familiar smell, knowing you’ll have a familiar warm meal that will certainly fill you up, it will stop you being hungry, and it won’t break the bank, it won’t cost very much.

[00:13:34] So for as long as more and more of us continue to do this every year, and fast food restaurants get better and better at finding ways to make us come back, fast food isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:13:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on fast food, today and tomorrow, and with that comes the end of this three-part mini series on fast food.

[00:14:01] As a reminder, in part one we talked about how the fast food industry got started, how giants like McDonald’s transformed the American dining experience, and some of the characters that were involved.

[00:14:15] In part two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about when and how fast food went global, how American fast food chains conquered the world and some of the times that it didn’t quite go to plan.

[00:14:29] I hope you enjoyed this mini-series, and that you learned something new. 

[00:14:33] Literally hundreds of millions of people eat at American fast food restaurants every single day, and whether you are a fast food lover, someone who will never set foot in a fast food restaurant, or you’re somewhere in between, I hope that this mini-series helped shed light on this industry that touches on so many of our lives, either directly or indirectly.

[00:14:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series overall.

[00:15:03] For the fast food lovers, what is your favourite chain and why, and how has it adapted to the tastes of the country you live in?

[00:15:12] And if you are the sort of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food restaurant, why is that? Can you understand the appeal of fast food, or is it just a mystery to you?

[00:15:23] I would love to know. 

[00:15:25] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:15:34] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]