Lunch Literature Book Club #FastFoodLover

I’m attending BlogHer Food at the moment. Having a great time and learning a lot. I speak later today about food blogging for change. Regular posts will be a bit delayed…

One of the people I met used to work with fast food companies. He told me about this segment of the population that the marketers refer to as “fast food lovers.” These are people who eat fast food 50 times per month.

Oh. My.

I guess marketers and fast food companies really love these guys. I can’t even imagine how bad things would have to get for me to eat fast food thirty times per month. I think it would be incredibly expensive, but I have encountered people who believe that the dollar menu is affordable. The problem is that many folks enter a fast food establishment (or drive up in their car) planning to order off of the “value” menu and walk away with $10 worth of burgers, fries, soft drinks, and random desserts.

So for the month of June I want to challenge all of us to tally up how often we consume fast food. It’s a great tie-in with our book club choice. First, I’d like you to make a prediction about how frequently you think that you and your family will be eating fast food. Since June is a summer month, I’m thinking that our consumption of fast food might be different in June than a different month of the year. For example, maybe you’ll be traveling more or doing more activities in comparison to your average spring/fall/winter month, which means you’ll have to eat out more often. Or maybe because it’s the summer you’ll be in less of a hurry; you’ll have more time to eat at home, maybe even grill out. Consider those factors when making your prediction.

Second, let’s define “fast food.” From Wikipedia, “Food that can be prepared quickly and easily and is sold in restaurants and snack bars as a quick meal or to be taken out.” The top ten fast food purveyors in the United States are:

1. Subway
2. McDonalds
3. Starbucks
4. Pizza Hut
5. Burger King
6.  Dunkin Donuts
7. Wendy’s
8. Taco Bell
9. Kentucky Fried Chicken
10. Domino’s Pizza

I don’t know where Chipotle falls on the list, but we occasionally eat there because they control ingredients so well I can eat there now that I’m gluten free. My husband also enjoys Potbelly’s, which is a Midwestern chain and don’t make the top ten national list. I’m sure Potbelly’s would be higher on a local list. Keep that in mind.

Third, tally it up in the month of June. You can use a home calendar to keep track. You can share this information with me on Twitter with the hashtag #fastfoodlover about the book and about tallying your eating out and on the blog project’s Facebook page too!

Two caveats:
1. Being non-judgmental — I admit that I’m judging the person who eats fast food 50 times a month. That seems extreme. I don’t understand how that happens. If you are the kind of person who eats fast food that much, I want to hear from you. How does that happen? How can you afford it? But if you tell me that you found out that you eat fast food 30 times per month, I’m not going to judge you. My husband works in an office and goes out to lunch a lot. Is he eating out 20 times per month? I’m really interested to track how often we eat out as a family. I want the data and as my husband always says, “Numbers don’t lie.”

2. Local establishments — My husband has a soft spot for a local greasy spoon. There’s just one store and it’s one guy behind the counter. I will include count purchases there in my tally list (it’s fast food after all) but I’m going to leave it up to you whether or not you want to count non-franchised fast food. It’s fast food (not a sit down restaurant) but it’s super local and what I like is all the money my husband spends there stays in the community. Maybe you can tally it with an asterisk…thoughts on this?

Back to a regular blog discussion of Fast Food Nation next week Friday…

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36 Responses to Lunch Literature Book Club #FastFoodLover

  1. Mallory May 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    This is interesting. I have complete faith that I could tally up a big ZERO during any school month. I'm not sure my husband could ever do that, since he seems to sneak in fast food lunches while he's working and not tell me.

    However, we're moving 400 miles away at the end of the month, so I know that our trek will involve a few stops at Arby's or Subway. Moving is difficult enough without worrying about packing food for the road.

  2. Stepshep May 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I'm predicting about 10 times….will be interesting to see all the results in July!

  3. Em May 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I know how people end up eating fast food so often. I have a roommate who seems to lack all basic life skills besides doing laundry. He cannot cook, he cannot clean, he can't even load the dishwasher after we've shown him several times. Lately I have been mad at him because him social skills are less than stellar. (Making a "joke" by saying my cooking is awful after I've worked all day, came home, and made dinner all by myself while he has slept all day and got up at 6pm puts me a little over the edge.) He does not help, and when the rest of our roommates are gone I refuse to cook for him. This always results in a trip to taco bell, or Davanni's, a local pizza chain. When he is tired of eating snack food and doesn't like my cooking, or I haven't made something that has leftovers( he frequently get up after we've eaten dinner, and pulls all nighters for no reason), he goes out. He has been to taco bell every day this week. Some people cannot cook, and in my roommate's case are uncomfortable grocery shopping. These people have little choice when they want a hot meal, and those value menus look like a pretty good deal. (btw I have tried to teach him how to cook, he refuses to learn.)

  4. MemeGRL May 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Oh, Em, you have my sympathies on your roommate.

    And I don't think I ever went for fast food 50x/month but when I was working, and in a different city every day, and with appointments at random times…I ate from drive-throughs a lot. I tried to keep it on the healthier side (meat-free salads, and thank you BK for your apple fries) but sometimes the french fry craving overcame. When I was in a city for more than a day, I'd get to a market for apples, oranges, etc., but I was often "parachuted" in, given a car and an appointment schedule, then off to the next town at night to do it all over again. And I felt a little ill turning in those receipts sometimes.

    I'll have to think about June. I track my receipts so I can tell you: January was once, February none, March 6 (we have a family member who loves shamrock shakes). So I'll think about what comes up. But I can also tell you: we know lots of senior citizens who meet at McD's every single morning. That adds up to 20/month if you take out weekends (which some do) and occasional skips.

  5. Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Do we count each time we visit a fast food place if we only order something to drink and not any actual food (I'm thinking of a place like Starbucks)? Because I hardly ever eat at a fast food place, but I sure do love my coffee!

  6. Shereen May 21, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    For me, even though I know they are technically "fast food," I think places like Chipotle and even Subway count a lot less, because it's real food! You can see the ingredients and know that it's fresh and made to order and something you could make at home. I rarely eat fast food. When I eat out, it's usually an actual restaurant, and if I need to be quick, it's something like Panera or the local Indian buffet. Of course, who knows how healthy those places really are? They just seem better to me.

  7. Meg May 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    At first, 50 sounds astronomical. But when I think of some of my coworkers, who hit Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for coffee at LEAST once a day, plus maybe Subway for lunch a couple of times a week, and pick up dinner on the way home twice a week, and there you have it–50 "fast food" (and drink) purchases a month. Scary!

  8. Nicolette @ Momnivore's Dilemma May 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    I read this book back when it was published. Since then I've eaten very limited fast food. In the past year, since I am gluten, casein, and soy free I cannot eat out without issues.

    Fast food has sucked the life out of what eating really means. Eating should be a time to linger, nourish, and relax. Not rush on the way to work, stuffing your face with the puke from a drive-thru window.

    Like Dr. Hyman says, Food should be thought of as a relationship, not as a product.

    Hope all your readers enjoy Fast Food Nation. It changed my mind about food when I was in my early 20s. Now, in my 30s, it's even more relevant.

  9. J May 21, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    I will track… I may blog. lol … I have no qualms about admitting that it could … quite honestly… be about 50 for me in the month of June.

    I do enjoy cooking… my passion is baking and desserts. But… I hate cooking for myself and I despise leftovers and my eye is not as refined as it should be to keep there from being leftovers. I'm single, live by myself and therefore, do not make strong food choices all the time.

    And it is easy to get to 50 a month – breakfast counts.. and that can be 2 times a week. I am saying 50 but am trying to commit to seeing it be a smaller number.

  10. The Table of Promise May 22, 2011 at 2:49 am #

    I agree, 50 times a month sound ridiculous. But of course there are people who do just that.

    I have given up all fast food in the last couple of years, but I have had my problems in the past. When I was pregnant with my first child I think I ate at Mc Donald's once or twice a week, and I loved their stuff so much more than anyone else's that when I worked outside the office (which was a couple times a week)I would plan my driving route around it. I knew that there was a string of McDonald's along the Garden State Parkway for example, but none along the NJ Turnpike. Sad right?

    But your mentioning your husband's lunches out got me thinking. Many of the people in my office eat out every day. And especially if you aren't eating fast food from one of the folks on your list, it adds up quickly. I bring my lunch just for the reason that I can save $50 a week by bringing from home!

    I hope that you will anonymously relay what you learn from this challenge!

  11. varanid May 22, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    I'm traveling in June 2x-once for work, once for my brother's wedding on the other side of the country. I expect to eat fast food 8-10 times. I'll try to stick with the regular old chicken salad, sans dressing…

    usually I only eat fast food 1-2 times per month

  12. Monica May 22, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    I do eat out fairly often, when catching dinner between work and an evening event, or lunch when I don't have time in the morning to pack it (or, more often, when I haven't had time to go grocery shopping after work in long enough that there's nothing packable left). A lot of what I get out would probably qualify as "fast food", but it's rarely junky/greasy fast food – mostly sandwich shops (Panera and Subway, mostly) or local places – there are a couple local chains whose schtick is essentially "fast food, but good for you!" One's a burrito/wrap place, one has burgers. The ingredients are a lot fresher than national chains, and they actually have vegetable options beyond iceberg lettuce. Everybody eats out sometimes, and "fast" food doesn't have to be bad (and sit-down restaurants can be even worse) – it's all about the foods you choose, not the speed with which they're served.

  13. Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Our family eats McDonald's maybe once a month, when we're going on long car trips. Here's how to voluntarily cut back on fast food: If you only visit the ones with the kiddie play rooms, eat whatever you order on the premises, and use their bathrooms, I guarantee you will not want the experience too often. Places where lots of little kids congregate often have that faint pee smell and even though the bathrooms seem reasonably clean, they have this icky dankness that creeps me out. I bet the people who eat the most McD's are probably drive-thru customers, because they are spared the whole sensory experience.

  14. Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Also? I have this weird irrational hostility toward Subway because their sandwiches are not special or good in any way, and I just don't understand why its mediocrity is so successful. Can people really not make their own mediocre sandwiches? My kid could go to the grocery store, pick out way better ingredients and assemble a sandwich more to my liking than could Subway, and for probably less money. And I don't have fancy-pants tastes, either. I'm talking like a turkey sub.

  15. Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    Our local McyDs in when we were in college had cheap cheeseburger night. On Yuesday you could get 29 cent hamburgers and 39 cent cheeseburgers. We had a friend who would buy a bagful and freeze them for the week.

    Since June is harvest time for us it won't be much. By the way are we the only ones who hate chipoltes. My husband is totally tunred off by the whole happy cow thing.

  16. Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    I'm with Shereen. I saw Subway and thought to myself, but they have so many healthier options compared to the rest (Chipotle, too). i guess in comparison to like, jimmie johns or those hero sandwich shops subway is also fast food…all that bread, meat and cheese. still…

    very interesting…

  17. May May 23, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    I'm almost certain I won't be eating any fast food at all, but I can't say I'm completely certain because I really like the Subway Veggie Delight and if I get a new job in the town centre it might hard to resist. At the moment I have no money and am packing lunches, so it's not even a matter of resisting! If I eat any at all, it won't be more than twice. Helps that Subway and Costa are the only places in town.

  18. Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    I think it is a little unfair to only bash fast food. I hardly ever eat fast food, but what I hate even more than fast food is all these franchised sit down restaurants like unos and applebees etc. etc. I think they are even worse than McDonald's. Their food – which isn't cheap- is low quality, high sodium, detracts business from locally owned businesses, is leading to the monotonization of american culture. And while I can avoid places like McDonald's, I occasionally do find myself in a sit down chain restaurant with a group of people because you can't herd the masses with out coming off as a preachy snob.

  19. Emily May 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Well, if we're including Starbucks in this tally, I know that mine will be pretty high. I don't get their food (generally), but, as a college student, I do go there to study quite a bit and feel obliged to buy at least one drink while I use their free internet 🙂 My estimate would be right around 30…maybe more depending on how finals treat me at the beginning of the month.

    In regards to more "traditional" fast food, however, I'd to estimate one or two times max. I generally only get these foods when I'm driving alone to visit family out of state and need something quick.

  20. Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    One of my past roommates ate mostly 3 things for dinner: corn spaghetti, cooked sausage, and burgers ordered from a restaurant. Like "Em", I offered to teach her about cooking — but no interest.

    As to your challenge, I probably guess twice, but have to revise that to 6-7 when I travel.

  21. the rabbi's wife May 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    What is Corn Spaghetti? sounds…not nice.

  22. Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    I'm a little dismayed that you would include Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in your list of judgmental bitchery.

    Coffee, ever hear of it? I'm sure you'll make this whiny and ill-informed argument (a speciality of yours, and how are YOU a teacher) that people only buy the high calorie drinks. Based on marketing v. actual trends (something I do for a living so please shut your mouth for a change), the typical Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts daily customer buys a regular cup of coffee and then keeps it moving.

    Additionally, places like Chipotle (home of the 5k calorie burrito) are no better for you compared to Taco Bell. And word to whomever mentioned Applebees, Uno's, Chilis etc. Those places are horrendous if you really look at calories and nutrition.

    But you just sit right there and judge the coffee lovers because god for-fricking-forbid you actually stop doing something that you're good at.

  23. Anonymous May 24, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    "Judgemental bitchery"? Hoo-boy! Sounds like cranky-pants might need to love the coffee a little bit less, if you get my drift.

  24. Anonymous May 24, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    When I was pregnant, I had a crazy hankering for KFC and made a special trip to the bad part of town where KFC is, across from a sad little strip joint.

    That was 5 years ago. I haven't been back. But I do remember it tasting insanely good.

  25. Katie May 24, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    I understand, based on the definition provided, why Starbucks is on that list; however, if I stop for an Americano (espresso + water) before work, I don't consider that "eating fast food". Now, if I added a muffin, or got something like a grande mocha java chip frappucino with whip, that would be different! I think to some extent there needs to be some leeway, though.

    How is a regular coffee from Starbucks different from a coffee made in the office? Or, is the coffee I make in the office fast food too? Just putting it out there.

    Besides my 1-2x per week Starbucks run, we probably do Chipotle about once a month, and Subway maybe once a month or every other month. We have a limited "eating out" budget, and I don't like to use it on fast food!

  26. Blemish Balm Cream May 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    I agree Katie, I was actually surprised when Starbucks is on the list when they take about 10 minutes to make a simple coffee…

  27. Rommel Peter Fernandes May 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    This junk is actually destroying us.
    Serviced apartment at Goa

  28. Anonymous May 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    And to you, Miss Judgemental Bitchery…. I was the one who posted about Applebees etc. and if you had actually read the post instead of making a whiny and ill-informed argument, you'd have noted that my point was that they are just as bad if not worse than the places that are generally considered fast food. Not only that, but the grammatically correct word is who ever not whom ever since the answer to WHO mentioned Applebees? is he or she did, not him or her did. I don't know how YOU are in marketing.

  29. Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    It's people like Anonymous above (who is the one with the bitchery) that make me vomit in my mouth. First of all, it's her blog. She can write what she likes. If you don't like it, shut the F#%^ up, get your own blog or stop reading it. You are a complete a$$hole–what is the point of saying that stuff?? You are a good for nothing piece of elephant dung. And you don't really have a right saying that stuff because it's false. If you actually read the blog you would see that she is an amazing teacher that really cares about her students, unlike many of the people out there working from day to day. We need more people like her and less like you.

  30. Kim May 25, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    The list of 10 fast food chains is based on the # of locations that each one has. It's not based on Mrs. Q's opinion at all. It came from a list posted on ezlocal.com. Mrs. Q provided a link at the end of the paragraph that precedes the list.

    Mrs. Q, you said you wondered where Chipotle falls on the list. I was curious, too. It turns out they're a long way from making the top 10 list but they're a young company. They opened their 1st restaurant in 1993 and went public in 2006. It likely will be several years before their location count approaches that of #10 on the list (Domino's) with 4,927 locations. According to Chipotle's 1st Qtr 2011 financial results (press release is on their Web site under Investor Relations), they had 1,095 locations at 3/31/11.

  31. Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    It really depends on the situation. With older kids now (my 3 are almost 5, 7, and almost 9), our schedule gets a bit hectic and I have a partner whose job sometimes requires long hours and travel.
    Our kids also go to an extended day school so they don't get out until 4:30 (or home until 5:30 if they take the bus). I already pack lunch so I am not packing dinner too!

    Now, it's soccer season for 2 kids. This means 3 nights a week of that. One of those nights also includes music lessons after school.

    thankfully, girl scouts is just about done for the older 2!

    All this means sometimes, we are indeed eating fast food 1-2 nights a week. Probably not 50 times a month but maybe 10-20.

  32. Jill May 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    How would you feel about typical non-fast food items being bought in fast food locations. For instance, I love going to Wendy's and getting a baked potato and a small chili, with no drink or added items. Also, when I go to Subway, I usually get a veggie sub. I think that fast food establishments can offer good items, but it is the consumer choice to pick them. Although, I must admit, sometimes they are not available. I used to work at Panera bread, and I would get the black bean soup (very low cal, fat, and vegan) and top it with a pico de gallo I made myself (we always had tomatoes, onions, and cilantro). The pico de gallo made the meal delicious, but was not available to customers, and in the few times they saw my plate, would want what I had, but I could not serve them non menu items.

  33. Christine W. May 26, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    I hardly ever eat fast food — except for coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. But this morning I did get a breakfast sandwich at DD. I would project that my Fast Food patronage falls around 2 – 3 time per month.

  34. lauren_015 May 26, 2011 at 4:03 am #

    "…because you can't herd the masses with out coming off as a preachy snob."

    Ugh. Story of my life.

    I am generally and unwillingly dragged to fast food restaurants less than five times a month. I like going to Culvers for frozen custard, but I hate the burgers-and-fries thing. I can't eat fast food without experiencing a physical meltdown an hour later. Bleh. Bloating, fatigue, etc.

  35. Maria May 27, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I think that the fast food equation has two sides: what you're actually ordering and why you're going to a place that serves food quickly as opposed to either preparing it yourself or going to a sit-down restaurant. In the beginning of the post I thought to myself, "Well I can tell you right now that my typical count is 0!", but then I saw Starbucks on the list and thought. "Umm…maybe not." I go maybe once or twice a month and usually just get a coffee and sometimes a cuppa perfect oatmeal. I think that in the spirit in which the question is intended, that does not count as a "fast food" stop because I got something that I could have prepared at home in a similar amount of time because it happens to be a whole food that *can* be made quickly. (Of course, oatmeal cook times can vary, etc. etc.)

    I just stopped at Chipotle last night. I looked up everything online before I went in order to get calorie counts so that I knew exactly what to order when I got there. It's a judgment call–you can order up something quite healthy, or you can make a guacamole-cheese-sour cream calorie bomb.

    There's a small franchise out here in San Diego called Surf Brothers Teriyaki and it's extremely fast, however, all they serve is steamed white or brown rice with either chicken or beef skewers, and a light slaw that isn't made with mayo. So if read one way, it's fast food, but when you get down to the content, it's not.

    It just depends. Make a judgement call.

  36. SkippyMom June 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    I was aghast at the number 50! 50 times a month is ridiculous but after reading Em's comment about her roommate now it makes sense.

    My 18 year old daughter is on her own, in an apt. for the first time doing an internship for college. She menu planned, shopped and cooks/makes all her meals in order to save money and eat healthy. I have no worries about her, her brother or their little sister when her time comes. Teaching your kids basic life skills like how to shop and cook is every bit as important as raising them to be polite and kind I think.

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