Fast-Food’s Image Problem
Organic fast food takeaway? When one thinks of fast-food takeaways or ‘convenience food’ then the image conjured up is not typically one of the best produce prepared in a healthy way – in fact, for the health-conscious, the first reaction is likely to be ‘junk-food’; typically fried and heavy on saturated fats and MSG (albeit with an occasional bit of damp lettuce in the burger – if you are ‘lucky’!). This image problem is exacerbated by fast-food’s more recent comparison to ‘slow-food‘, the movement which champions sustainability and small-scale, local/regional, and often artisanal food production and consumption. Granted, before the advent of 20th Century ‘chemical farming’ and the prevalence of sythetic food additives, roadside stalls around the world provided convenient and nourishing (pesticide-free!) street food. A number of factors, though, have led to a wariness for many of modern ‘street-food’ – especially in the developed world (and especially when sober!).
A common suspicion of convenience food is that ‘bottom line’ considerations will lead to compromises on the quality or freshness of ingredients – although why this should be the case for fast-food more than for mainstream restaurants/eateries is not often considered (crop nutrients have fallen over the last 100 years, but as commercial outputs, sit-down and takeaway meals are surely equally likely to use lower-nutrient mass-produced inputs that arise from industrial scale farming practices, unless of course the business uses provenance of ingredients as a point of difference as part of a ‘higher-end’ offering. Industrial non-organic agriculture typically uses multiple treatments of toxic pesticide/herbicide on crops whose growth is promoted using synthetic fertiliser. Contrast this with the organic farming and growing approach that relies on more steady growth and higher uptake of minerals and other nutrients from a naturally fertile and healthy soil). Depending on how deeply these issues are reflected on, and not withstanding the occasional healthier options such as baked potatoes to go, it all adds up to an image problem for ‘fast food’ and takeaways. At a time when extended supply chains have distanced us from the sources of many of our foods it is easy to see how the reassurance offered by organic certification of ingredients might be appealing for convenience meals: bring on the organic fast food takeaway!
Organic Fast Food Takeaway on Main Street
Just as the market for organic produce is growing at an encouraging rate in both the UK and US, a new trend has emerged: growing numbers of mainstream organic fast food takeaway outlets are starting to pop up. If you have attended any type of alternative festival or gathering around the world over the last few decades then you may well have come across a small independent stall offering takeaway meals and snacks made with organic produce, but now the phenomenon is hitting Main Street. The Organic Coup is a multi-outlet organic fast food business that is starting to make waves in the US, and which encourages customers to “eat your peaceful protest”. Nic’s Organic, meanwhile has opened an organic ‘Drive Thru’ that offers “classic fast food favourites with a conscience”. Here’s the rub, though: both menus are heavily influenced by your standard meat-burger/chicken/fries fast food temptations (which some might struggle to call ‘healthy’) – although it is heartening to note that Nic’s menu includes a garden salad and The Organic Coup’s menu includes a vegetable wrap.
In catering to mainstream tastes, however, such veggie delights are in the minority for these new players. How, then, does one balance the preponderance of high-calorie/high-protein fare against the promise of no GM, no pesticides, no hormone-injected beef and no chlorine-washed chicken (as well as other organic standards such as higher levels of animal welfare)? The latter has to win out of course, especially if one accepts the logic that such businesses promise to introduce the important issues at the heart of the ‘organic brand’ to children whose parents might otherwise have taken them to less worthy outlets. When the cry goes out for a ‘fast food fix’ it’s great that there is an organic option! It can only be hoped that once switched on to organic, children (and adults) are likely to want a wider range of organic takeaway food, with demand then shaping a broader (and less meaty) range of options.
But Small is Still Beautiful!
It has to be said though, that while the vanguard (for Main Street) role of fast food chains such as those highlighted above can be appreciated – especially insofar as they introduce important food issues to sections of the general public who might otherwise be suspicious of anything ‘alternative’ to the mainstream brands – a thriving ecosystem of small, local, independent organic fast-food enterprises would be the ideal. Personally speaking, the LoopyFood main-man would like to see many more high-street offerings with the tastiness, ethical foundations and friendliness of the Whambam/MotherBhumi organic bhajia and pakora trailer encountered on a recent trip to Lewes for the seed-swap (although we are not 100% confident that we know the difference between tempura -which we thought we were eating – and bhajia/pakora!).
Whether looking for an organic fast-food takeaway or to eat at an organic restaurant, be sure to check out the LoopyFood.net directory of organic places to eat!