The pace of modern life is fast, and nowhere is it faster than in America. We want fast transportation, fast communication, fast computers, fast photos, fast music, fast repairs, and fast service from the businesses we patronize. It is from the last of these that we got fast food.
At first, it was a matter of fast service. Fountain and Fast Food Service was the title of a trade magazine, which published statements like this from 1951: "The partners have become old hands at spotting the type of conventioneer that will patronize their fast food service." Gradually service disappeared, and in 1954 we find fast food by itself in the title "Fountain and Fast Food." Incidentally, the trade magazine renamed itself Fast Food by 1960. In February of that year, the magazine noted, "Delicate scallops are really fast food...because they come ready to cook." And in July it remarked, "Fast food type restaurants do the lion's share of business for breakfast and noon meals eaten out."
The fast food revolution was a quick success throughout the land, and two decades later it was conquering the world. "The U.S. outcry against infiltration from the south is matched in vehemence by our neighbors' outcry against fast-food imperialism and the gradual Americanization of their own societies." noted the Christian Science Monitor in 1982.
Thanks to fast food, families that formerly ate home cooking now eat out or bring back take-home fast food in record numbers. Its virtue is speed, not quality. Its less than ideal nutritional value may have influenced the coining of another term twenty years later, one that also puts a four-letter epithet in front of food: junk food (1973).
Gale Encyclopedia of US History: Fast FoodTop
Home > Library > History, Politics & Society > US History Encyclopedia Fast food is what one eats in the vast majority of America's restaurants. The term denotes speed in both food preparation and customer service, as well as speed in customer eating habits. The restaurant industry, however, has traditionally preferred the designation "quick service." For hourly wage earners—whether factory hands or store clerks—take-out lunch wagons and sit-down lunch counters appeared at factory gates, streetcar stops, and throughout downtown districts in the late nineteenth century. For travelers, lunch counters also appeared in railroad stations nationwide. Fried food prevailed for its speed of preparation, as did sandwich fare and other fixings that could be held in the hand and rapidly eaten, quite literally, "on the run." Novelty foods, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, came to dominate, first popularized at various world's fairs and at the nation's resorts. Soft drinks and ice cream desserts also became a mainstay. Thus, "fast food" also came to imply diets high in fat and caloric intake. By the end of the twentieth century, the typical American consumed some three hamburgers and four orders of french fries a week. Roughly a quarter of all Americans bought fast food every day.
The rise of automobile ownership in the United States brought profound change to the restaurant industry, with fast food being offered in a variety of "drive-in" restaurant formats. Mom-and-pop enterprise was harnessed, largely through franchising, in the building of regional and national restaurant chains: Howard Johnson's, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Tico. Place-product-packaging was brought forcefully to the fore; each restaurant in a chain variously shares the same logo, color scheme, architectural design motif, and point-of-purchase advertising, all configured in attention-getting, signlike buildings. Typically, fast food restaurants were located at the "roadside," complete with driveways, parking lots, and, later, drive-through windows for those who preferred to eat elsewhere, including those who ate in their cars as "dashboard diners." Critical to industry success was the development of paper...
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