Originally, fast food was served by roller-skating waitresses at drive-ins, then the McDonald brothers revolutionized the industry by focusing on efficiency and speed. They adopted factory production principles (one task for one employee/the assembly line) and served a few simple meals that were easily eaten without cutlery and packaged in simple paper packaging.
Other fast food chains imitated McDonald's model, leading to the rapid growth of the industry.
Fast food chains use advertisements that target children and teenagers as they are more impressionable and they can influence their parents to buy fast food. Fast food chains also build playgrounds and bundle free toys with meals to attract kids, and this approach is highly effective, with 90% of American children between three and nine visiting McDonald's every month.
The fast food industry has infiltrated schools through contracts with soda companies and fast food chains. Many schools use corporate-sponsored materials, and even textbooks can be sponsored by corporations. One study guide sponsored by the American Coal Foundation claimed that carbon dioxide is beneficial to the planet.
The industry has serious impacts on the environment, including the destruction of rainforests, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and the pollution caused by factory farming.
The industry mainly hires vulnerable members of society, such as teens and migrants, who suffer from poor working conditions and are often overworked.
Fast food jobs have high turnover rates due to their assembly line method and lack of intensive training.
A larger percentage of fast food workers in the United States receive minimum wage compared to any other industry in the country.
Fast food restaurants are frequent targets for robberies, with many committed by former or current employees driven by low wages and poor conditions.
The industry continues to worsen worker care, developing machines to further reduce the need for training and using anti-union practices to prevent union formation.
The popular franchise model used by fast food companies involves allowing individuals to purchase a license to open up their own restaurant as part of an already existing chain. The corporation provides the brand and business model, while the franchisee provides the initial capital and operation. The franchisee must follow the corporation's rules and guidelines, but it operates as an independent business.
The franchise model is marketed as offering both independence and security for individuals wanting to start their own business, but in reality, franchisees bear more risk than the corporations. Franchisees invest a lot of money and must follow strict corporate rules. Franchise corporations also have better legal protection than franchise owners.
Studies have shown that a fast food franchise is more likely to go bankrupt than other enterprises.
Artificial flavoring is used in most fast food consumed in the United States. The fast food industry heavily relies on artificial flavoring to drive customer choices.
Artificial flavorings are made from a combination of numerous chemicals, many of which are also used for industrial purposes. They can be used to create a specific taste or smell, from the aroma of grilled hamburgers to the flavor of artificial strawberries.
The use of artificial flavorings is a key factor in the homogenization of food culture and the decline of quality in American food.
Processed foods, like canned goods and frozen meals, contribute to 90% of US food expenditures. Processed foods are artificially flavored because they lose flavor during production.
Artificial flavoring is labeled as "natural" or "artificial," but they can contain the same components and be produced in chemistry labs. The distinction is based more on how the flavor was made than on what it contains. Therefore, natural flavors aren't always healthier.
The fast food industry's dominance has led to monopolies in the food markets, including potato, poultry, and beef. This has made farmers more dependent on their buyers, resulting in contracts that leave them with little bargaining power. Farmers often earn very little, which leads to many going out of business and being forced to sell their land to the same big companies that dominate the market.
Similarly to the fast food industry, the meatpacking industry's use of cheap labor and assembly line production has led to poor working conditions for employees, who are often illegal migrants, homeless people, or refugees. The industry's move to small towns to avoid unions has resulted in poverty and increased criminal activity in the area.
The meatpack industry often saves money by not paying employee health insurance and paid holidays because most workers do not stay long enough to become eligible.
Working in a slaughterhouse is the most dangerous job in America. The injury rate in the meatpacking industry is three times higher than in a normal American factory due to the varying size and weight of the cattle, inadequately trained workers using dangerous tools, and the fast pace of the assembly line.
Workers commonly abuse drugs to keep up, making them less careful and further increasing the risk of injury.
The industry pressures workers to either not report their injuries or to come back to work before they've recovered, and compensation for injuries is minimal ($2,200-$4,500 for a lost finger).
Fast food production has led to a rise in foodborne illnesses in the United States. Deadly bacteria, like E. coli, can spread when beef is contaminated with cattle feces, a common occurrence due to unsanitary working conditions and unskilled workers, or when livestock is fed dead animals.
Centralized meat production means that one contaminated batch can affect millions of people. Around 200,000 Americans get sick from food poisoning every day.
The increase in foodborne illness is a direct result of the fast food industry's push for cheap meat. Despite some improvements in industry standards, meat quality in American households remains poor.
The fast food industry is a symbol of Americanization and Western-style capitalism worldwide. It is normally the first industry to enter a foreign country when its market opens to international investors.
Globalization of fast food contaminates local agriculture by importing new agricultural techniques and food supplies.
Prior to opening its first restaurants in India, McDonald's trained local farmers on lettuce farming and provided them with lettuce seeds designed for the Indian climate.
The health consequences of consuming fast food, including the rise of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, has spread along with the globalization of the industry.
As the number of fast food restaurants doubled in Great Britain between 1973 and 1993, so did the adult obesity rate.