fast food

How One Tweet Landed Arby’s the Top Spot in Social Media



In 2012 Josh Martin, Arby’s Manager of Social Media asked this question:

presented to The Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga

from a presentation to the Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga


Arby’s was then losing the battle for the coveted millennial customer.
It had recently retired the slogan Give In To Your Grown-Up Tastes whose words proved all too prophetic. Arby’s had truly become the restaurant chain of grown-up tastes. It had lost relevance and even recognition among younger diners and was patronized by the oldest customer base in all of fast food. The company had no social media department until Martin joined in 2010, a mere 40,000 Facebook followers, and zero presence on Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Linkedin, and YouTube.

On January 26, 2014 one tweet changed everything.arbys 40731_54_news_hub_35119_656x500Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams showed up at the Grammy Awards wearing an oversized hat that bore a striking resemblance to the Arby’s logo. It was a high profile appearance; Williams was a nominee, a presenter, a performer, and went on to take home awards in two major categories (Best Solo Performance and Best Music Video). Arby’s Martin, who was watching the show, seized the moment tweeting Hey @Pharrell can we have our hat back?  and Williams tweeted back Y’all tryna start a roast beef?
This little exchange was a big deal. Really.

A media sensation was born.
Arby’s extended the dialogue for weeks, offering a winning bid of $44,000 for the hat in a charity auction, and then exhibiting it at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. as an artifact of social media history. They grabbed headlines every step of the way including exclusives with the Washington Post and the Today Show. By the time the hat landed in Washington, the story had appeared in more than 1,400 publications and Arby’s Facebook fanbase had gone from 40,000 to 2.5 million and its Twitter following grew to more than 200,000 from a pre-hat level of fewer than 3,000. At its peak, the story garnered more than 120 million media impressions in a single day.

By the end of 2014 Arby’s was widely hailed as the king of social media.
The Wall Street Journal recognized Arby’s tweets to Pharrell Williams as the second best pop culture moment of the year, lagging only the phenomenon of the celebrity selfie. Variety Magazine said that if Academy Awards were given for marketing then Arby’s would surely take home a statuette, and the Shorty Awards, which kind of are the Oscars for short form promotional content, cited the Grammy tweets as 2014’s Best Real-Time Response and gave top honors to Arby’s social media team as Best in Food & Beverage.

Most importantly, Arby’s social media success has had a positive impact on the brand’s bottom line. The company is on a tear, opening 60 new stores this year and remodeling dozens of older ones. Same-store sales are up more than 8% for the year and some newly introduced menu items are the most successful in the chain’s history. And it’s doing this at a time when the rest of the fast food industry is slowing down as it loses sales and market share to fast-casual brands like Chipotle, Panera, and Five Guys.

Clearly social media is a powerful tool for restaurants and food brands. That’s why when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry. Read on to see what happens when good tweets go bad.

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Read ’em and Weep: 100 Salads that are Worse than a Big Mac



CCF_BarbequeRanchChickenSaladimgresimagesimages   images-3images-2

Just a few members of the salad hall of shame

Salad is never going to win a popularity contest against a hamburger.
Or a burrito or a plate of pasta or a waffle. There’s really only one reason to order an entrée salad at a burger chain or a pancake house or a Mexican restaurant—because it’s healthier than the fat and calorie-laden specialties of the house.

Of course salad has its faults. Everyone knows to look out for cheese and croutons and to go easy on the creamy dressings. But worse than a Big Mac in terms of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories? The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine analyzed the nutrition data for salads at popular chain restaurants like Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Denny’s, and IHOP. The group chose the Big Mac as a nutritional yardstick believing it’s a kind of shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the American diet. They found more than a hundred salads, both side and entrée-sized, that are worse for you than McDonald’s iconic sandwich. You could even top off the burger with a couple of donuts and still not come close to the dietary damage done by some of these seemingly good-for-you choices.

Here are some of the worst offenders according to PCRM data:

Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad
Applebee’s describes it as: Tender spinach, crisp bacon, roasted red peppers, red onions, toasted almonds and hot bacon vinaigrette topped with grilled shrimp.
PCRM defines it as a sodium disaster.

California Pizza Kitchen’s Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad
CPK says it’s: One of a kind, with roasted butternut squash, dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, red peppers, chopped egg and cranberries. Tossed with housemade Champagne vinaigrette.
PCRM says it’s more like three of a kind, if the three are the calories in a Big Mac.

IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad
IHOP dubbed it: The most satisfying salad. With crispy chicken, smoky bacon, hard-boiled egg, juicy tomatoes & tangy blue cheese crumbles all tossed in a tasty buttermilk ranch dressing.
PCRM calls it the most cholesterol—more than eight Big Macs put together.

You’ll find the complete list at the website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Maybe you’d like a side salad with that burger? See why salad is just a gateway to french fries.


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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

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McDonald’s: Savior of Diverse Food Cultures?


I’m the last person you’d expect to praise McDonald’s.
I hold the fast food chain responsible for childhood obesity, animal cruelty, environmental degradation, union busting, and the decline of the family dinner. 
Not a bite has crossed these lips since I read Fast Food Nation, and short of a gun to my head, it’s unlikely that one ever will again.
Still, credit where credit is due.

McDonald’s first steamrolled its way into overseas markets as an exporter of American culture. Its standard-issue menu of burgers and fries famously transcended boundaries and borders so that customers everywhere were assured of the same Quarter Pounder whether they were in a McDonald’s in Mozambique, Malaysia, or Minnesota. It was seen as the worst form of globalization, corrupting cultures, adulterating diets, and trampling on local culinary traditions. And it did those things. The hamburger has truly become a global food, and you can find them not just at McDonald’s but on menus everywhere, from Greek tavernas to Egyptian mataams.

McDonald’s is truly a victim of its own success. Now that you can find burgers at cafés, cantinas, brasseries, and biergartens, their own version doesn’t register the same excitement it once did. When McDonald’s brought its first restaurant to Kuwait in 1994, the opening day line of 15,000 customers stretched for seven miles; when the 70th Kuwaiti outlet opened this year, it elicited a yawn.

McDonald’s has shown itself to be surprisingly mutable.
They’ve abandoned their goal of standardized globalization for one of internationalization. Instead of bringing the same cookie cutter menu items to every foreign locale, the chain adapts its offerings to local tastes, preferences, and available ingredients.

While America’s McDonald’s adhere to a proscribed menu of commoditized, mass-produced burgers, foreign franchisees are only required to stick with a short list of standard items and are encouraged to tinker with the rest of the food. Hamburgers come on patties of sticky rice in the Philippines and on flatbread in Greece. In India, where much of the population doesn’t eat beef, there’s a potato-patty McAloo Tikki burger and Israel has the kosher McFalafel. You can order cheese quiche in Brazil, red bean pie in Hong Kong, and traditional Caldo Verde soup (made with cabbage, kale, onion, potato and chorizo) in Portugal.

The overseas McDonald’s are often held to a higher standard.
They conform to local laws and sentiments by sourcing GMO-free ingredients, and beef is often lean, grass-fed, and hormone-free. They source locally, buy cheeses with no artificial dyes, soft drinks with no added corn syrup, and grill meats over charcoal fires. Even the workers’ pay is often better than in the U.S.

Ironically, McDonald’s, the world’s best exporter of American culture has become a champion of global food cultures.
But make no mistake about it, this is still fast food. It’s loaded with sodium, preservatives, and cheap fats, pre-cooked and kept wiltingly warm under the glare of heat lamps, and served in an excess of packaging. 
It’s a cold comfort to think that the world’s culinary traditions are being preserved at food court kiosks. 

The 26 year old Canadian author of  McDonald’s Around the World has eaten at McDonald’s outlets in more than 50 countries (the trick, he says, is to cram as many layovers as possible into every travel itinerary). His blog chronicles the highs and lows of global eating at the Golden Arches.


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French Fries are Not the Enemy



We top everything that doesn’t move with bacon and trip over cupcake bakeries at every corner.
So why are french fries the nutritionists’ whipping boy?

Yes, they are made from high-glycemic, low fiber white potatoes. Yes, they are high in fat and sodium. No, they do not belong on the lunch trays of our school’s cafeterias. But enough with the demonizing.

The french fries are not, in themselves, the problem.
The real problem is the ubiquity of french fries. Back when we had to wash, peel, slice, deep fry, and clean up the mess ourselves, french fries didn’t stand a chance of becoming America’s favorite ‘vegetable’. Return them to special occasion status.

And no super-sizing. Your mother was right all along: everything in moderation.

Everyone loves french fries, even though some people do ungodly things to them.

  • Albania Albanians eat their patatis lukewarm in a puddle of congealed grease. Albania only comes first only alphabetically.
  • Australia French fries, aka chips, are usually eaten with ketchup (known as tomato sauce), gravy, barbecue sauce, or vinegar. Most restaurants offer a choice of regular table salt and a seasoned but poultry-less blend known as chicken salt. Between neighborhood chip shops and french fry vending machines (fried to order in 90 seconds), Australia is plagued by American-style overload.
  • Belgium Ahh, the mother ship, creator of the french fry, known here as frites, and the country with the most deeply ingrained fry culture. Frites stands, stalls, and trucks blanket the country dispensing freshly fried potatoes in paper cones. When it comes to condiments, mayonnaise rules.
  • Bulgaria They call their french fries persiski kartofi (persian potatoes) and like them gaggingly salty.
  • Canada Let’s talk about that poutine. Fries are topped with cheese curds and brown gravy; perhaps its popularity can be attributed to poutine’s ability to set Canadians apart from the rest of us North American’s. It is otherwise inexplicable.
  • France (and Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain, and most of the rest of Europe) They eat their frites pretty much as we do: thin and crispy with salt and sometimes ketchup.
  • Mexico Lemon juice and hot sauce, singly or in combination, beats out ketchup.
  • Namibia Namibians call their french fries slap chips. No one seems to know why.
  • Poland When it comes to their frytki, it’s all about the garlic: Poles top their potatoes with garlic cream, garlic sauce, and minced beef with garlic.
  • United Kingdom The Brits do love their chips, usually with salt and malt vinegar and a few newspaper-wrapped slabs of fried fish.
  • United States Regional variations abound: gravy fries, thick-cut steak fries, cheese fries, chili fries, curly fries; in Utah the fries come with a Russian dressing-like fry sauce; Minnesotans like to dip theirs in sour cream; Oregon fries come with Miracle Whip; and mid-Atlantic states will serve boardwalk fries with Old Bay seasoning.

Let’s celebrate the wondrous treat that is the french fry. Sparingly. And be thankful that we don’t live in Albania.

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National Burger Survey: The Results are In

How do you want your burger?
Burgers are our national craving. We love the flat, griddled old-school style patties of classic burger joints and the fresh grinds of prime beef dressed up on high-end menus. Last year we purchased 50 billion of them served every-which-way—that’s about a burger a week for every man, woman, and child. The Zagat survey took a recent look at what’s between our buns.

$295 Guinness record holder for priciest burger served at New York’s Serendipity Restaurant


How much are you willing to spend on a burger?

less than $10: 29%
$10 – $14.99: 50%
$15 – $19.99: 14%
$20 or more: 8%




How do you like your burger cooked?
Medium Rare: 38%
Medium: 36%
Medium Well: 16%
Well Done: 6%
Rare: 4%





image via The Burger Joint, New York

Where do you typically go for a burger?

Specialty Burger Restaurant: 15%
General Restaurant: 18%
Fast-Food Spot: 14%
Diner: 3%
Make at Home: 14%

69% reported that they have at least once indulged in a super-premium burger with ingredients like truffles or foie gras


Toppings menu via 5 Guys, recently named America’s Favorite Burger Chain in Zagat’s survey of fast food customers

Which Toppings Do You Like Best? (choose multiple): 

Cheese: 82%
Lettuce: 59%
Tomato: 59%
Onions— Grilled: 56%; Raw: 43%
Bacon: 54%
Pickles: 48%
Mushrooms: 33%

And Your Least Favorite Topping? (choose one):

Jalapeños: 20%
Raw Onions: 15%
Mushrooms: 13%
Guacamole: 12%
Pickles :12%

60% of diners say they  prefer a specialty  roll while 23% prefer a standard bun

Another survey from the market research firm Technomic found a generation gap in burger customization with nearly twice as many 18-35 year olds willing to pay extra for premium toppings than those who are 35+.

vintage condiment set via Etsy

Favorite Condiment (choose multiple):

Ketchup: 66%
Mustard: 47%
Mayonnaise: 44%
Barbecue Sauce: 27%
Thousand Island Dressing: 17%

Least Favorite Condiment: (choose 1):
Relish: 20%
Mayonnaise: 19%
Hot Sauce: 18%

When it comes to cheese, cheddar is the clear favorite at 38%. American is second at 15%; blue cheese is a surprisingly strong third at 13%, followed by Swiss (12%, and Monterey Jack (6%).

image via SnackoClock


 Do You Mostly Eat Burgers for…? (choose 1 or 2):

Dinner: 75%
Lunch: 60%
Late-Night Snack: 9%
Breakfast: 2%




image via University of Pennsylvania Vegan Society

Pick your patty:

Beef: 85%
Bison: 5%
Turkey: 4%
50% of women and 33% of men also said they occasionally opt for a vegetarian patty

Grass-fed and/or organic beef registered as an important choice for just 15%; another 43% said it’s a consideration, and 42% said it’s not a factor.

6% prefers little sliders to full-size burgers.

image via Side A Fries, Detroit, MI


Favorite side:

French fries: 63%
Onion rings: 16%
Tater Tots: 6% 

(note that Tater Tots were favored at the same rate as sliders. Mere coincidence or overlapping survey populations?)

Posted in diversions, fast food, sandwiches | 1 Comment

Slower than a Canadian, Faster than a Swede

image via Harvey Ralph

Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.

A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the U.S. our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French.



Most of us have been hearing about this correlation for decades. Doctors and diet books have always warned us about the health hazards of eating too quickly;  your own mother probably used to plead with you to slow down at the dinner table. Now we see it playing out on a global level.

With hunger and fullness, like every other sensation and experience, we need our brains to tell us what our bodies are feeling.
It turns out that it’s not our stomachs telling us when we’re full, but our intestines. It takes a while for food to work its way down there—about 20 minutes from the time we start eating until the fullness trigger is tripped. The faster we eat, the more likely we are to overshoot the point of satiety. By the time our brains catch up, we’re stuffed.

Our bodies have a second mechanism built in to prevent overeating. It’s a hormone called leptin that drops when we’re hungry and rises when we’re full, also with a lag before the signal reaches the brain. When we eat quickly, the leptin hits our bloodstream too late to control our appetites; do it enough and we become resistant to its effects. The problem is that we still respond to the hunger cue of low leptin levels, so it becomes a constant cycle of overeating.

Breakfast to go, fast food drive-throughs, lunch at the keyboard, dinner in front of the television. It’s not that our brains  are out of synch with our bodies. The problem is that our lifestyle is out of sync with healthy eating.

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Kudos and Criticism for Chipotle’s Farm Ad

It’s been 2 weeks and the buzz still hasn’t died down.
Fast food marketer Chipotle Mexican Grill ran a doozy of a commercial during the Grammy Awards. The company went all out for its first national ad buy, a 2 minute spot during which it screened a short film celebrating sustainable agriculture.

Back to the Start uses stop-motion animation to tell the tale of a small-time farmer who transforms his family farm into an industrialized animal feeding operation, then sees the error of his way and returns to his former small-scale methods. It starts out as a sweet little Fisher-Price playset of a farm, green and lush with a single red barn and open pastures where a handful of spotted cows and plump pink piggies roam freely. Then it scales up to a gray landscape of bloated animals, crowded warehouses, and mechanized feeding lines with sludgy feed and a rainbow of chemical supplements. The soundtrack comes from Willie Nelson singing a mournful rendition of the Coldplay tune The Scientist: “Science and progress/Don’t speak as loud as my heart/Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard/I’m going back to the start.”

The film succeeds on many levels.
It’s playful but unsettling. It confronts the horrors and pitfalls of concentrated, mechanized agriculture, but does so without the stridency and gory shock tactics of most animal rights messaging. It’s simple but not dumbed down.

The critics began chiming in while the final frame was still flickering on TV screens.
Proponents of Big Agriculture blasted the message as a ‘prescription for worldwide hunger,’ claiming that they make the tough calls regarding animal husbandry on our behalf. In a New York Times opinion piece, Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst warned that our political correctness actually backfires because it drives small farmers out of business because only “big multistate operations will also be able to afford to make the changes, or will at least have the political sway to resist them.” He also questions Chipotle’s assumption that a pig would prefer a pasture to a warehouse. Have there been “porcine focus groups,” he wonders, with “response meters designed for the cloven of hoof?” “… for all we know, pigs are ‘happier’ in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. And either way, the end result is a plate.” [If Mr. Hurst’s name is ringing a bell, perhaps it’s because he first made a name in the food world as the author The Omnivore’s Delusion, the anti-foodie screed he penned in response to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma]

Chipotle also drew criticism from members of the food reform community. Chipotle, whose motto is “Food with integrity,” has demonstrated a deep commitment to the humane treatment of animals, but has come under fire numerous times for ignoring the unethical and abusive labor practices of some of its vendors. Some also have a cynical view of a corporation that has co-opted a movement and turned it into a marketing tool.

It’s true that we can’t presume to truly know what’s inside a pig’s mind. It’s also true that Chipotle mixes self-interest with the environmental message. But ultimately, it’s the message that matters. Back to the Start addresses deep and important issues about the food supply, and Chipotle succeeded in bringing them to the attention of a broad national audience.


Posted in entertainment, fast food, sustainability | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Is Access to Healthy Food a Basic Human Right?

Is access to healthy food a basic human right?
That’s the question being asked by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Not just food, but healthy food.
Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. At the end of that war, vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual’s right to food.

Back in 1948, nobody thought to specify the type of food. When those words were written, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc’s eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It’s like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are surrounded by cheap and abundant processed foods, with little access to healthy foods. This landscape has been dubbed ‘food deserts,’ to describe low-income communities with plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets, but little or no fresh food, and the nearest supermarket is one mile away if it’s an urban community, and 10 miles away if it’s rural.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that this is a reality for more than 20 million Americans, and 1.7 million of them are living in California. The bill on Governor Brown’s desk would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It enables the state to collaborate with public, private, and philanthropic entities to bring loan and grant financing to the under-served neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage existing businesses to expand their healthier offerings, and to attract grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and other fresh food retailers.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The State Assembly and the Senate in California think so; in fact they have thought so twice. The previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inclined to believe that healthy food is a privilege earned by the state’s wealthier residents who own cars or live within striking distance of farmers markets; last year he vetoed a similar bill after it passed both houses of the legislature. Once again, it sits on the governor’s desk where it is a signature away from becoming law.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

The Food Environment Atlas lets you go deeper into a community’s statistics, looking at factors like restaurant expenditures and meals cooked at home.



Posted in community, fast food, health + diet | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Can You be Green and Eat Fast Food?

That’s the question that went through my mind when this year’s Greenopia fast food ratings crossed my desk.

Each year, the green-living website rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but doesn’t this beg the question? Can you be green and still eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? Jamais Cascio breaks it all down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.


Posted in fast food, sustainability | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Tasty Cartography

funny food photos - Food Map


Google unleashed a beast when it gave the public access to the code for the Google Maps interface.
All of a sudden anything and everything could be turned into geography with a mash-up of data overlaying a map.

A Google Maps mash-up brought us a map of farm stands to shop for locally grown produce. A mash-up pinpoints every fast food hamburger from coast to coast, and another tells if a locality has more strip clubs, pizza parlors, or guns. There’s a map of happy hour specials for every day of the week, a  food truck location spotting map, and a map that can guide you through a multi-state burrito roadtrip, complete with reviews.

If it’s edible and mappable, it’s been mapped. […]

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China: They Love Cars and Fast Food

image via Financial Post


Combine China’s burgeoning car culture with its love for American-style fast food, and what do you end up with?
That’s right—the drive through.
In 2010, China became the world’s largest market for cars.
It’s not tops for fast food–yet–the U.S. still lays claim to that distinction, but China is well on its way, with American chains on an expansion tear, changing China’s 5,000-year-old culinary tradition in a country where privately owned restaurants were virtually nonexistent 30 years ago. […]
Posted in fast food, food business | Tagged , | 2 Comments

How Much of Your Life is Spent Eating?

image via Harvey Ralph


Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.

A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the US, our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French. […]

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, health + diet | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Fake Beef in Taco Ball Tacos. Why all the fuss?

A class action lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging that Taco Bell misleads its customers.

The lawsuit challenges Taco Bell’s practice of representing to consumers, on menus and in advertisements, that its restaurants serve beef-filled tacos and burritos. The lawsuit seeks to require Taco Bell to properly advertise and label food items, and to engage in a corrective advertising campaign to educate the public about what’s really in its food.

It seems that the filling in Taco Bell tacos and burritos contains just 36% beef, falling too far below the USDA definition to call itself ‘beef.’ According to the lawsuit, the other 64% of the filling is rounded out with water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch, sodium phosphate, and seasonings. […]

Posted in fast food, food trends | Tagged , | 5 Comments

French Fries Make Me Insanely Happy

image via DazeyChic


Deep golden brown, crisp on the outside and fluffy, oh so fluffy, on the inside. Fat, starchy batons, crispy, salty shoestrings, crinkle-cut, double-fried, and oh-my-god duck fat fries. I’ve met a few that I didn’t like, had my heart broken a time or two, but my ardor is unabated. It’s not exactly a romance for two: the rest of America joins me in eating 2 billion servings of french fries a year; that’s 30 pounds of fries for every man, woman, and child. […]

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The Year of Eating Dangerously


was not a year for the faint of heart.
We saw an environmental disaster of unprecedented scale devastate one of the country’s richest and most diverse food sheds. We watched college-aged kids get liquored-up and wired– simultaneously– as they flocked to a new breed of caffeine-laced alcoholic beverages. We were stunned by the scale of an egg recall that opened our eyes to a new set of factory farm horrors. And a bit of food news hit where it really hurts when Kaiser Permanente reported that the BPAs found in everything from Coke bottles to green bean cans are implicated in low sperm counts and overall poor semen quality.

Here they are: the disturbing trends, the troubling reports, the scandals, and the travesties that defined a year in food. […]

Posted in fast food, food safety, food trends | 1 Comment

Starbucks or McDonald’s Coffee? Fair-trade begins at home.

            image via B.S. Report


The coffee beans were fairly traded back in Guatemala, but what about the person who poured you a cup on your way to work?

There are more than 30,000 McDonald’s outlets employing 4 million workers just in the United States. Nearly 1 in 8 American workers has spent time, at some point in their careers, toiling under the Golden Arches.

Burger-flipping at its finest.

A shift behind the counter at McDonald’s is everything it’s cracked up to be. The pay is low, few work skills are demanded or acquired, turnover can approach 100%, and there is little chance for advancement. The meager benefits include a much-criticized employee health plan that requires most participants to pay annual premiums of $728 for coverage that maxes out at $2,000—an amount that would be eaten up in the first hours of a typical hospital visit.

With a mind-numbing work environment of vinyl and fluorescent lighting and stultifyingly proscribed behavior, it’s the definition of low status minimum wage labor. Literally. The term ‘McJob,’ defined as low-paying dead-end work, was added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003, over the objections and threat of litigation from McDonald’s legal team. The 11,000 U.S. Starbucks employ 105,000.

Despite paying most of its hourly workers little more than minimum wage, Starbucks consistently ranks among the best U.S. employers. Training is extensive, benefits are relatively generous, and there are very real opportunities for advancement. While McDonald’s health plan is a joke, Starbucks spends more on health care for its U.S. employees than it spends for coffee bean purchases.

Starbucks has been beaten up by the global recession and underwent a few years of corporate retrenchment that scaled back compensation, prompting some recent employee grumbling. But overall, the company retains its commitment to a warm and fuzzy, healthy work environment that will attract and retain an enthusiastic corps of workers.

Your coffee can be fairly traded and organic. It can be shade-grown, carbon neutral, and bird-friendly. You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.

We understand how our coffee choices impact global warming, the rain forest, and the working conditions of coffee pickers in Latin America. Let’s pay attention to how they impact the economic lives of the people that brew it for us.


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Gourmet. Upscale. Hot Dogs?

Hot Dog by Roy Lichtenstein

Fancy hot dogs have arrived.

It sounds like a contradiction in terms.
But it doesn’t have to be.

The so-called haute dogs don’t interest me.
These are the gimmicky, stunt dogs that are beloved by restaurant publicists; the can-you-top-this Kobe beef and foie gras concoctions that attract media attention for their outrageous pretensions and price tags, but that nobody really orders.

What does interest me are hot dogs that are elevated by virtue of careful preparation and quality ingredients; that bring freshness to the genre while hanging on to an essential hotdogginess. […]

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Food Courts Go Upscale


From this…..

… this


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A Salute to Ramen.


Moses: Whatcha eating?
God: Ramen.

(from the Urban Dictionary) 


Perhaps ambrosial is a bit of an overstatement, but ramen is hard to beat. There are foods out there that are tastier; plenty that are healthier or more convenient; and maybe there’s even something cheaper. But all those things at once? Instant ramen is in a class all its own.

Friend to the college student. Sustenance and comfort in an uncertain economy. We pay tribute to the ubiquitous squiggly noodle brick with its foil packet of powdered flavoring. […]

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