Global Perspectives on Fast-Food History
The acts of eating and drinking encompass more than the mere satiation of biological needs. What we consume, and how we eat our food, is a reflection of our culture. Conversely, what we do in our daily lives molds and shapes culture. Soft drinks and fast-foods are both reflections of our American life-style as well as contributors to our growing pop culture.
Carbonated drinks were sold commercially before the 19th century as a "tonic" or medicine, but it was not until a Frenchman began adding fruit syrups to the soda water that soft drinks became popular. Soft drinks, as opposed to "hard" or alcoholic drinks, were sold in soda fountains, which became important during the late 19th century. Several factors contributed to the rapid expansion of soft drink enterprises in America: 1) the growth of the temperance movement encouraged "soft" drinks; 2) the development of "soda fountains" in drugstores competed with saloons as social meeting places; 3) women's groups, such as the Women' s Christian Temperance Union, supported the growth of soda fountains; 4) prohibition laws against alcohol were passed, particularly in many states in the South; and 5) finally, in 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, soft drinks and soda fountains were well established American institutions. The wedding of soft drinks and fast-food began with the rise of the first fast-food chain; and subsequently the complimentary relationship has flourished.
While fast-food stands began to pop up during the 1920s, the 1950s first witnessed their rapid proliferation. Several factors that contributed to this explosive growth: 1) America' s love affair with the automobile; 2) the construction of a major new highway system; 3) the development of suburban communities; and 4) the "baby boom" subsequent to World War II.
During the depression and World War II, Americans were unable to afford many automobiles. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the burgeoning American economy made car ownership possible for most middle class families. A sharp increase in the birth rate after World War II, known as the "baby boom," encouraged middle class families to purchase homes. Suburban development began shortly after the end of World War II, and dramatically increased as middle class families fled the inner cities for the suburbs. What made suburban living possible was frenetic highway construction during the 1950s. Without highways few Americans would have been able to live in the suburbs and work elsewhere. Life in the suburbs also would have been impaired without the means to feed those who lived there. Drive-in fast-food restaurants jumped in to meet this need.
Fast-food chains initially catered to automobile owners in suburbia. The notion of "fast" food reflected our American culture in which speed and efficiency are highly prized. Other cultures do not share these values. Some cultures prefer long lunch hours and they close their businesses during this time. With reference to food, many people prize the quality of the food, its unique preparations, and its unrushed consumption.
Soft drinks and fast-food chains, however, did not just reflect American values. They helped shape our life-styles. When one quaffs a Coke or Pepsi, thirst quenching is not the only matter at stake. Advertisements have associated soft drinks with new tastes and new status. You must drink a certain beverage because it makes you feel young, sexy, strong, smart, cool, athletic, and fun-loving. Soft drink manufacturers have spent as much as 25 percent of their entire revenues on advertising to help fashion these images.
Likewise, in the fast-food arena, the "Big Mac" alone is not the enchantment of McDonald's.
Consumers have come to appreciate the whole McDonald's experience: the drive-thrus; the
playlands; the smile at the front counter; the toys and movies sold at the counter. McDonald' s
happens to spend $ 1.4 billion a year advertising its services. Often these advertisements rely on
sports figures to encourage potential customers to take advantage of their services. The
experience of eating at McDonald' s is a way of life: an ideology of consumerism that is intrusive
and subtle. What are other aspects of consumerism in America?
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