8/2/13

We Like Our Fast-Food and Our Religion

Fast Food
Fast Food (Photo credit: SteFou!)
Fast-food restaurant workers in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Flint, and New York City have been striking for better wages and the right to unionize. I do not expect we will see much of this in Mississippi, given that unions seem about as popular as atheists around here. But this is not going to be a pro-union post or any other sort of political post. While I do tend to sympathize with the workers as I hear their stories, the coverage of their strike has led me to do something I haven't done in years: notice the fast-food restaurants which are so prevalent in nearly every town.

I steer clear of fast-food and have done so for years. I have two related reasons for doing so. First and foremost, much of the food they serve is unhealthy. As I get older, I have been making a more deliberate effort to take care of myself. I'm far from a health nut, but avoiding fast-food is one of the easier things I can do. As much as I used to love some of it, I rarely miss it. The second reason has to do with the people I knew in my youth who worked at fast-food restaurants and shared one too many horror stories about what went on out of the customers' sight. Combined with the frequent notices about unsanitary practices issued by the state health department, I'd prefer not to take the chance.

With news of the striking workers, I've realized that I really don't know very much about fast-food restaurants, who works at them, and who eats at them regularly. For example, I was surprised to hear recently that the median age of a fast-food worker is 28. This suggests that plenty of adults are working at these restaurants. No wonder they are seeking better wages. And based on the number of cars I see in their parking lots, it is safe to assume that virtually everyone is eating at them.

I know many adults who do not cook and eat at least two meals out every single day. I am not sure how they afford this, either financially or health-wise, but many seem to do so. For them, fast-food is cheaper than nicer restaurants, far more convenient, and their children seem to like it better than many of the alternatives. They know the food is unhealthy, but they eat it anyway.

There was a time when I might have been surprised that so many people eat fast-food regularly in spite of how bad it is for them. This no longer surprises me. People still smoke, still refuse to wear seat belts, still ride motorcycles without helmets, and still devote considerable time, energy, and money to supporting religious organizations. They still pray, and they still erode their children's capacity for critical thinking through faith. And none of this is going to change anytime soon.

We like our fast-food, and we pay for it through obesity, diabetes, and increased health care costs. We like our taxes low, and we pay for it through poorly funded schools and inadequate social services. We like our fundamentalist Christianity, and we pay for it in more ways than we can count.

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