Stop It With Your Anti-Fast Food Moralizing

A new health report suggests that people who eat fast food are "more impatient" than others, and therefore tend to spend money unwisely. But critics say this isn't science — it's just the latest round of anti-fast food moralizing that's been around for over a century.

Writing in The Guardian, Kathryn Hughes says that fast food may be a twentieth century invention, but moralists have been spouting off about the eating habits of the working classes for a lot longer. Interestingly, the debate has always centered on whether slow foods help people delay gratification and become better financial planners. In the Victorian Era, moralist William Cobbett wrote "penny cookbooks" that Hughes says were "aimed at stopping the working classes from squandering money in the pie shop."

Mrs. Beeton's famous British cookbooks were explicitly about encouraging slow food over fast food for the working class. "She wanted to lure husbands away from the clubs and taverns into which they were apt to dive at the end of a long working day, desperate for a quick supper," writes Hughes. She wrote cookbooks for housewives that involved dishes that took hours to make, and dozens of ingredients. The idea was that these slow dishes would be so much more delicious than a quick pastie that men would come home without stopping by the pub, and become more sober breadwinners in the long run.

In these food prescriptions of previous ages, Hughes sees strong forerunners of today's slow food movement. Such moralizing culminates in dubious health studies like the one from the University of Toronto that suggests there's a causal relationship between eating fast food and being unable to balance your checkbook.

Hughes concludes:

What all those Victorian moralists missed – just as the Toronto report ignores – is that fast food is the emblematic product of maturing and late capitalism. Urban workers, forced to work longer and longer hours, do not have the time to invest in cooking from scratch. Those who are obliged to live in shared accommodation and rented digs may not have the right equipment for making real food slowly (Agas don't fit into bedsits; microwaves do). When you are exhausted after a 10-hour shift, then soup is fiddly to consume on the way home. Burgers and kebabs, by contrast, are easy to eat with one hand and require neither plates nor knives. Far from being the refuseniks of capitalism, unable to master its first principle of delayed gratification, the people who rely on fast food outlets are its honourable foot soldiers. We should salute them.

Read more at The Guardian