Is Fattening Fast Food a Thing of the Past?

The secret to the success of fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Taco Bell, isn’t exactly shrouded in mystery. Quickly serving up the most indulgent foods American cuisine has to offer at obscenely cheap prices is a recipe that has lead to billions of dollars in profits for several companies that have become mealtime institutions around the globe.

One may believe that a burger joint titan like McDonald’s, who, according to QSR Magazine, generated over $1.5 billion in profits in 2012, would have such a stranglehold on the market that it would be able to dictate trends rather than follow them. This is not the case.

What consumers have seen, and will continue to see in 2014, is fast food chains moving away from the dollar menu deals and grease-stained bags that worked so well for them in the past and toward “fast casual dining.”

The rapid emergence of fast, casual dining establishments such as Chipotle, Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain has shown the industry that consumers are becoming more conscious about what they’re putting into their bodies and that they value more than just expediency and cheapness.

“It’s definitely more expensive to eat healthy, but it’s getting more affordable these days, and I think it’s worth it to know what you’re eating,” senior Megan Wolff said.

Companies know that the more transparent they are about where their ingredients are coming from, the more trust and loyalty they’ll build with their customers.

“It seems like every week there’s a new rumor online about the shady places that McDonald’s or Taco Bell get their meat from, but whether they’re true or not, you don’t read those things about Chipotle,” said another student, Peter Pagano.

Buzzwords like “locally grown,” “organic” and “hormone and antibiotic free” have all become major selling points for a new, healthy-minded generation that lacked confidence in the pre-prepared, chemically-modified food that is gradually becoming a thing of the past.

While it’s hard to imagine a world where Big Macs and fries are no longer the Rockwellian portrait of the American meal, the country is developing a more sophisticated palate that demands creativity and diversity in the kitchen, which means less beef and cheese and more exotic grains and vegetables.

“It’s kind of interesting to look at a menu that piques your curiosity as much as your taste buds,” said Daniel Starr, a student.

To really see where we’ve come and where we’re headed with our fast food, look no further than Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me.” In it, we see Spurlock scouring several McDonald’s restaurants in search of nutritional information on their food, only to find befuddled employees and managers who had apparently never fielded that request before.

Today, 10 years later, look no further than the containers your food comes in to find the (alarming) details on what customers are taking in, and a trip to their website will readily provide visitors with FAQ on the sources of everything from their poultry to the oil it’s fried in. It all adds up to more conscious diners and more conscious options.