The Fast Food Story

During quarantine, many people in Canada are ordering food through drive-thru. It is a great way to effectively social distance while satisfying our cravings for fast food. But it is not just us, our American counterparts have also flocked towards fast food like bees to honey. 

 Although the side effects of fast foods are commonly known to everybody, it has been mainly been argued on the point of view of human health. Today, Oxygenate is going to scrutinize the impact fast food has on us, animals, and our planet.

The effects of fast food on people

A study conducted by the University of Michigan in partnership with Tulane University shows how climate-friendly diets that lead to lower carbon footprints are much healthier for the human body as well. The study used real-world data about what Americans are eating and compared foods’ nutritional value with their climate impact.

It, too, stated that eating less red meat, foods that are high in saturated fat, and dairy will lead to good health. Along with that, these diets contribute to a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions since food production is a significant contributor to climate change.

1. Depression

Studies show that pigging out on junk food is directly linked to depression, even in small quantities. Affecting an estimated 121 million people worldwide, results reveal that consumers of fast food are 51 percent more likely to develop depression or some form of mental illness.

2. Premature Aging

Forget botox and ditch the fast food instead. The sugars, trans fats, and starches found in fast food cause insulin levels to spike, triggering an inflammatory response in the body. The end product? Glycation. This speeds the aging process and destroys the body’s own natural age-fighting antioxidants making you more prone to skin damage and premature aging.

3. Aspirin Dependency

Tyramine, a chemical found in food colorants, dyes, and nitrates (nitrates are common in hot dogs and other processed meats) is a known headache inducer. Experts believe that Tyramine increases blood flow to the brain which in turn causes vascular changes that result in headaches, leaving you reaching for the aspirin.

Effects of fast food on animals

If you already know these effects of fast foods for your body or aren't that concerned about your health, at least think of nature. Here is how fast food affects animals and on our planet.

1. Factory Farming

Most, if not all, meat, eggs, and dairy products used in fast food is produced at factory farms. In factory farms, animals are forced to endure inherently cruel and inhumane conditions that deprive them of all their basic instincts. The vast volumes of animal products have been met by putting crowding animals together to conserve space like cages or crates. Cows, chickens and pigs raised to make fast food endure lifelong pain and suffering on factory farms, where they are treated like interchangeable production units.

2. Hormones

In efforts to make the fast food industry more profitable, animals are fed non-therapeutic antibiotics and artificial growth hormones that increase growth, milk, and egg production which can lead to painful inflammation of the udder known as mastitis, as well as crippling and debilitating conditions for poultry. 

3. Assembly Lines

In the fast food industry, profit margins are slim and volume is everything, meaning workers are pressured to kill more animals in less time. Most facilities operate 24 hours a day seven days a week, slaughtering and processing hundreds of thousands of animals every hour.

Effects of fast food on the environment

It is not really a surprise that unhealthy foods are bad for the environment. It came into being as a necessity because we lead fast and busy lives. However, the processes are not natural, and the ingredients aren’t healthy in most cases.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock sector represents “14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions” and “plays an important role in climate change” with “beef” and cow milk production accounting for the majority of emissions.

The recent UN recommendations also suggest that we should eat more plant-based foods, which will lead to sustainable farming and limit worsening climate change. Healthier and sustainable food choices can prevent environmental degradation.

1. Packaging

Fast food places use tons of packaging. From the wrappers and straws to the boxes and bags, fast food packaging counts for an estimated 40 percent of all litter. Also, to prevent grease leakage, many fast-food companies coat their paper packaging with perfluoroalkyls, which are toxic compounds that harm the environment and human health.

What’s more, Styrofoam, being the most common food waste, takes an unbelievable 900 years to breakdown in landfill!

"Because they are so light, the styrofoam containers can easily be blown away, contributing to urban and marine litter. So, despite their lower life cycle environmental impacts relative to the other containers, styrofoam containers cannot be considered a sustainable packaging option unless they can be recycled at a large scale."

Dr. Joan Fernandez Mendoza

2. Greenhouse Gases

You probably wouldn’t think eating a Big Mac is contributing to your carbon footprint but the intensive resources required to make just a standard cheeseburger, from growing the wheat to make the buns to feeding the cattle, and eventually their slaughter, and even the energy required to pickle the cucumbers, the resulting consumption is phenomenal converting to CO2 emissions of somewhere between 1 – 3.5 kg (and that’s not taking into account the methane produced by the cow itself).

Moreover, the waiting time for drivers sitting in the drive-thru, drumming their fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for their toasted bagels with cream cheese and their iced coffees is three minutes per car on average, from order to pickup. That translates to nearly 20 grams of pollutants emitted per car, on average, per visit — about the same as driving for a mile and a half. This figure doesn’t even include time spent idling before ordering, which actually happens a lot.

3. Transportation

It’s not just burgers and chips that play a role in the effects that fast foods have on the environment. Ready meals and other prepared food is equally to blame for damaging our precious planet. Distributing trucks add to the pollution, emissions, and congestion, all of which contribute to climate change.

Reports suggest that ordering online and having groceries delivered to your door can actually cut carbon costs (If you want to learn more, see our post about “Should you shop online during the pandemic?”), but an even better idea is to buy locally and always car share or walk when possible(Refer to our blog “4 Best Zero Waste Shops in Toronto” to learn more information about shopping greener products).

3. Water Contamination

Thanks to all the pathogens, hormones, drugs, and fertilizers that are used to produce fast food, seeping into our water supplies, water quality has suffered dramatically. Outbreaks of waterborne illness including E. Coli, marine life dead zones, and numerous other hazards all derive from fast food.

As you can see, fast food is definitely far from the best choice for you, animals or the planet. The transportation, packaging, and emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) during the preparation of fast food, along with the high percentage of wastage involved in junk food, are too high for us to ignore.

So instead, opt for a home-prepared meal of locally-grown foods, for maximum resource reduction and the best health benefits! Foods that have the lowest ecological impacts include whole-grain cereals, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and olive oil — all foods associated with improved health outcomes. Let’s just keep this mind and try to pick more green products when we shopping. :)

Or, if you fancy eating-outside, choose more conscious eateries through a quick browse on Yelp, Happy Cow, or a humane eating app for suggestions prior to stepping out the door.

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The Fast Food Story