Like us humans, fast food has also evolved rapidly in the past two hundred years. An industry worth billions, let us see how did fast food get introduced and what made it so popular.
In this fast, moving world, fast food has occupied a prominent position. In the past few decades, we have seen fast food evolving as per the consumer's requirements. Now people are becoming more aware about their health and as a result there has been a significant shift in consumer preferences. Fast food franchisees have understood the drastic shift and accepted it with open arms. This is the reason why you would see a very different menu in your famous fast food franchises now as compared to what you would see 5 to 10 years ago. Let us look at how fast food was introduced to people and the journey it has covered so far.
Also Read: How fast food can lead to dementia
History of Fast Food
If we look back in time, then we can easily analyse that even during the period of Kings, different street vendors used to sell ready-to-eat food items. Initially, the fast food trend in India was only limited to Indian snacks like samosas, kachoris and chaat. Popularly known as the street food of India, the population of the country relished these flavourful snacks for the longest time. But fast food as we know it today started taking its shape in the early 20th century in the United States of America. We can trace the birth of drive-in restaurants in the early 1920s. This was post World War I and the concept of being able to enjoy your meals without leaving your vehicles was being popularised. However, the true outburst of fast food chains only happened after World War II.
The economy of the US was booming just after World War II and there was also a rise in the car culture. This led to the setting up of many fast-food chains in the United States of America and Britain. Entrepreneurs across the countries understood the concept and got the first mover advantage by establishing some of the most famous fast food chains in the world that still exist. Fast food was not only affordable but it was also a speedy meal that one could get within five minutes just before starting their work. The whole process of preparing breakfast for yourself could now be eradicated as fast.
Fast Food was a good and inexpensive option. The production of food was also quite streamlined which led to its massive popularity. Fast food chains not only relied on cooking tasty food but also ensuring faster services for customers as that was one of the major USPs. As industrialisation was on the boom and women also started to work, there used to be no one at home to prepare meals. Industrialisation can also be attributed to the growth of the fast food industry.
Junk food is a term that became very popular in the 1970s when Michael Jacobson, who was the then Director of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, used it for the first time. Junk food is the word used to describe food that is low in nutritional value and has high amounts of sugar, salt, calories and fat. Although unhealthy food is not a new term and people have been eating unhealthy food for centuries, the junk food of the current day started to become more popular in the late 20th century.
As food with high levels of sugar and sodium content became more popular, franchisees started using low-quality materials to make more profits. Cheaper ingredients with very little nutritional value were used. Many other junk foods like packaged chips, gums, candies, and other sweet desserts became very popular among children. Initially, these candies and chips were distributed among children along with toys to make the products more popular.
After establishing a stable consumer base, these brands used to introduce new flavours from time to time. The junk food industry relied heavily on advertisements. For example, in the 1960s and 70s, twice as much money would go into the advertisement of cereals, than into its manufacturing. These advertisements were specifically aired during children's shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Variou food items were sold under the banner of ‘Healthy’ even if they had high contents of sugar and sodium. Due to lack of awareness, people used to believe the advertisements and buy the products.
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Vending machines are another example of fast food. All you have to do is put a coin in the machine and you will get a snack or drink of your choice. These machines first started appearing in Britain the 1880s and the first vending machine came to the US in 1888. The concept became so popular that by 1926, there was one vending machine in the US for every hundred citizens.
These machines often contain highly processed chips and drinks like coffee and processed juices. These machines were strategically placed near bus stops, and offices in schools. People on the go would just put a coin and get something of their choice out of the machine. Also, since the technology was not very developed at that time, using a vending machine was a very fascinating process for people.
Modern Day Junk Food
The early 21st century saw a massive rise in the popularity of junk food. Thousands of franchisees of famous fast food brands like McDonald's, Domino's, Dunkin, and Taco Bell were established throughout the world. McDonald's had opened more than 40,000 franchisees worldwide by 2022. The net worth of the global fast Food market was USD 972.74 Billion in 2021. Modern-day studies have found that junk foods put humans at higher risks of getting a heart attack, diabetes, obesity, BP-related problems, and even cancer.
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The availability of the internet and widespread information about health has led people on the road to awareness. People have started adopting vegetarianism and veganism for health purposes. Instead of eating processed food, the younger generation is more inclined towards eating healthy food that provides all the nutrients. Although there is still a long way to go, we can say that the current generation has the required information that the previous generations lacked. At the end of the day our health is in our hands and what we eat is a subjective choice that we make regularly. We may not see immediate repercussions of eating unhealthy food on our body but it is something that destroys us in the long run.