Not-So-Happy Meals

Fast Food Means Good Prices and Bad Health

I have been researching food all year for my seventh-grade science class, and it led me to my biggest question: What are we really eating? I noticed that, nowadays, so much “food” is processed to Timbuktu, but many businesses are transitioning to whole foods. The problem is that the price of real food is extremely high compared to fast foods. And though certain foods may have similar nutrition facts, what is really inside them? Why do so many who eat them become obese and get diabetes?

When I was younger, I loved going to fast food restaurants, mostly because of the Happy Meals and the toys we got. I loved the bouncy houses and the restaurants’ characters, but most of all, I loved the food. I now realize I never noticed the clues that something was wrong. First of all, each of the foods tasted the same in each of the restaurants. This is because of a little thing called corn. Corn is infused throughout fast food and our supermarkets; it’s in the drinks, the food, and even our hair! It is like a fly in the summer; you can’t kill it, and you can’t make it go away. As Michael Pollan says in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Suddenly that happy meal of hamburger and fries looked a lot less happy.” That same happy meal made me happy until I took Science 7, and my eyes were opened to a new life.

For instance, the french fries in the Happy Meal are from potatoes treated with an unbelievable amount of pesticides. Too much of these pesticides could kill a human. Then there is the burger. Tens of thousands of cows are killed every day in the same place, and they are fed corn and antibiotics all day. After learning these horrors, I began looking for corn-free, grass-fed, more natural options for meat.

I also began to look up what else they do with corn. First of all, there are more different types of corn than meets the eye. Corn is “modified starch, unmodified starch, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, crystalline fructose, lactic acid, MSG, caramel color, xanthan gum,” says Michael Pollan, and hundreds of others. So now the search is on.

David Freedman, a journalist, compared the nutrition of some whole food meals to that of fast food meals. “What the stuff does contain, though, is more than three times the fat content per ounce as the beef patty in a Big Mac,” which for some natural foods might be true. Freedman says that the fat content from his Vegan Cheesy Salad is much more than the Big Mac’s. The trouble with this is, you can track where the salad came from. For the Big Mac, what is unknown are the cow’s condition, what part of the cow it is, or where the cow is from.

Businesses perpetually compete for new standards and prices. Whole-food vendors argue they have real food that’s better for you; processed-food makers argue their food is cheaper, which it is. But what if we could mix healthier and lower prices?

Ron Finely has become one of my food heroes. He comes from South Central Los Angeles, and he has started a string of gardens there. In case you didn’t know, South Central L.A. is home to a food desert in which the only choices for food are gas stations and fast food outlets. He says of where he lives, “Home to the drive through and the drive by, but the drive through is killing more people.” To start these gardens, he created L.A. Green Grounds, a group that has been putting in fruit and vegetable gardens in small spaces around inner city Los Angeles. Now these gardens are all over and are extremely accessible to the people. If you work in them, you get the food from them.

Finely is one example of how the future is hopeful. Whole food can’t solve all problems of obesity and diabetes, but affordable whole foods would promote better health. The fight over food is vast and will not be solved soon. If food companies work together, if the public knows what’s going on, the fight might have a chance of ending well.


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