From Valencia to Istanbul, from Beijing to Moscow, from Budapest to Olot, anywhere in the world, in large, medium and small cities, we find food establishments that we can conceptualize within what is meant by fast food, and that we usually translate by “fast food”. American naturalized pop artist Andy Warhol said - it seems without irony - that "the only interesting thing in any city in the world is to find a McDonald's": we could say that his dream has already been fulfilled.

El fast food or fast food, as a style of food (and even of life), is –under the most common and well-known parameters– of North American origin. It begins, in the mid-XNUMXth century, with the collaboration of prepared meals –such as, for example, the manufacture of pre-cooked cereals for religious communities with vegetarian food–, it strengthens with industrialization and reaches its peak from the Second World War . From those moments the culture of the hamburger spread, based on minced beef, which replaces pork in the culinary preference of the North Americans and, since the sixties, approximately, begins its international expansion that has , we can say, an exponential growth. And that, despite the wrath of anti-globalization protesters or José Bover and his followers. For example, in cities recently freed from anti-American suspicion - like Budapest - the proliferation of McDonald's and other fast food establishments is highly surprising; We can transfer this to most European cities and the rest of the world, including China or Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore ...).


From America to the Universe: Today, as Andy Warhol would like, you can find fast-food hamburgers, fried chicken shops, or pizzerias anywhere in the world, even in areas of culinary traditions quite different from Western or confronted (for religious reasons) , such as Islamic countries.

The Cassel Food Dictionary by Sonia Allison (London, 1990) defines the term fast food as follows: “Prepared food that can be brought hot from establishments and restaurants and food immediately (fish and chips, for example) or pre-cooked dishes that are sold in supermarkets or food stores and that only need to be reheated before serving them. ” Let's note that this definition includes “street” food (such as fish and potatoes characteristic of England; we could add the universe of street food from Turkey, the Maghreb or Southeast Asia) and a more debatable notion, than for us It would be the one of “prepared” food to take away. And, possibly, not enough emphasis is placed on the more “canonical” concept of fast food, which is that of hamburgers and similar establishments. If we were to expand the definition, within this context we could even add the Spanish culture of tapas, that of half from the Middle East or dimsum Chinese.


Understood in this broad sense, as a form of execution and even, partially, of feeding, the kitchen rapid (or, at least, separated from the rituals of the table) has always existed: Francesc Eiximenis already speaks of it in the fourteenth century (Terç del Christià) when referring to the Germans and verifying that they eat when they are hungry - which still happens today - not according to pre-established times, according to a typically Mediterranean ritual.

The first characteristic, then, of fast food is that it destroys the Mediterranean or Eastern ritual of the regular and codified schedules: in fact, this is more important, perhaps, than the type of food served in these establishments.
On the other hand, the concept of fast or street food is part of the traditional culture of regions with a great gastronomic reputation, such as Turkey, the Maghreb and the countries of Asia. Others have suggested that Turkish-style fast food -xix kebabs, döner kebabs, böreks- widely spread throughout all the areas occupied by the Ottoman Empire, it has a military origin: fast food and without hindrance, indeed, are the needs of an effective army. Certainly, in the countries of the Middle East, passing through Egypt and even the Maghreb, there is a tradition - surely more than a millennium in the second case - regarding the consumption of fast street foods, such as faláfels (vegetable dumplings), xavarmes (equivalent to Döner kebab Turkish or Al gyros Greek), boreks (borekas in Israel) and up you ask, lahmakums or pizzas; foods that, incidentally, are also being introduced in the western Mediterranean as an alternative to fast food of the American type, along with pasta establishments, salads or sandwiches that stand up to them, often with an advertising speech based on “healthy” eating ”And“ Mediterranean ”.

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It is a common mistake, in my opinion, to focus criticism of this food model on the hamburger. This, in fact, is innocent: its environment, the type of alternative food culture that the kitchen fast, which entails, from the outset, that one eats when hungry, not when it is socially necessary, according to a ritual and pre-established cultural norms. So at McDonald's in the Disney Park in Paris, the accounts do not go well: they expected people to start parading around him from 10 in the morning, as in the United States, and not all at once, more or less at noon, causing unexpected queues. As some anthropologists and other scholars - such as Claude Fischler - say, the North American way of eating constitutes a kitchen "Nomad": the car is your ally. You eat and drink walking down the street, or in the car itself. Until now we only saw this in the movies, but this rather pathetic image is already becoming common here, starring both tourists and indigenous people. The fast foodIt is an individual rite: we face the small “sarcophagus” that contains the hamburger, which spills deliquescent and rotten-looking sauces, in solitude, despite the fact that someone else sits at the table. We do not share, and, in a way, we undo the social and socializing aspect of the rite of eating as it has been practiced for millennia. Already the aforementioned Francesc Eiximenis - counselor for the city of Valencia - said that "food should be received with great pleasure, peace and joy", adding that "inviting someone and being invited by another is a sign of friendship". And this despite the fact that the strategy of the multinationals in the field - which even have their universities, as happens with McDonald's - consists of occupying historic buildings in the old cities and visibly putting the name of “restaurant" Only some unwary here uses the name of fast food! To the point that in the United States the word restaurant It has been devalued in such a way - when associated with fast food establishments - that another word (not Anglo-Saxon) had to be introduced to define them (cafe, which is not equivalent at all to cafeteriaor cafeteria).

Commentators argue that the reasons for the success of fast food are diverse: the price, the standardization ..., but, above all, the positive, "youthful", "modern" image that the fast food. In Istanbul, for example, the McDonald's on duty are frequented by the posh youth and the new rich, laden with jewelery and fur coats. The model of the empire is seen as a positive model, of modernity, of being up to date. I could see it in the first establishment of this class, about fourteen years ago, and I have seen it recently (summer 2003), without a doubt the proliferation of these places is already a plague. The way they are received by Turkish consumers - who undoubtedly have their own incomparably better, more varied and cheaper fast food than that offered by the Americans - has deserved a study by Holly Chases in Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. In it he remarks - as is evident everywhere - that despite the acculturation that this model implies, there are timid attempts to adapt to local taste. Thus, as beverages, along with American soft drinks, it offers traditional ayran (yogurt diluted with water); In Budapest, on the contrary, McDonald's offers, in accordance with local taste, garnishes and chilli-based sauces; in China, dimsum autochthonous; and in Russia, some local specialty of stuffed pasta; instead, we have not seen this multinational offer a blanc i negre (sausage and black pudding sandwich) in Valencia or a Pa Amb Tomàquet (bread with tomato) -pa amb oli (bread with oil), in Mallorca–, in Catalonia!

What if we talk about the quality of food, or its adequacy to the most reasonable food traditions? Despite everything, and despite the aforementioned showcase policy, it matters little; This style of eating, in some cases, can be an attack against the rational or pleasant norms of eating in the Mediterranean or the East. It is "junk food", with sauces that mask everything because the product, as such, is even irrelevant. A book as "qualified" as Foods that Harm, Foods that Healpublished by Reader's Digest (Spanish translation, 1997), says that the term “junk food is applied to a wide variety of fast and takeaway foods, from instant desserts and sweets to hamburgers and fries or similar, sodas and instant soups” . It is the culture of the devastator ketchup, of the harsh mustard or of the lackluster mayonnaise: real rivers of sauce cover pancakes with minced meat, sausages, things that look like fish, pasta with supposed chicken and salads with more sauces and fats than green. It is a model that, repeated (most Americans go to a fast food establishment two to three times a week), causes obesity and, above all, a perversion of the palate since natural, simple dishes, without sauces, fruit, vegetables, etc., are no longer liked by the followers of this food and, above all, by children. Thus, simple McDonald's potato chips have a slight taste of meat, thanks to the addition of beef fat or a flavoring. So Paul Ariès (The end of mangeurs) even speaks of the infantilization of “modern foods”. In turn, Erich Schlosser, in his documented and devastating essay Fast Food, demonstrates that this food not only meets desirable dietary principles, but not even sanitary. Not to mention the merciless labor exploitation to which their workers are subjected.


The strategy of the multinationals of fast food consists of creating infant-adepts-addicts to this religion. Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics declared in 1995 that "advertising directed at children is intrinsically misleading and exploits children under the age of eight," all you have to do is go to any fast food establishment, or watch its advertising on television, to realize that this principle is systematically violated. Gifts, promotions, menus are, explicitly, an inclement and addictive grass offered to children ... and their parents, of course. Future clients are insured: especially if one does not "grow" (from the perspective of taste) and remains faithful to this children's and adolescent meal when it is already somewhat grown up.


If we talk about "fast" food, naturally, it is in contrast to "slow food". I mean, the kitchen traditional –from the historical or popular to the haute cuisine of the creators: from the cuisine of the grandmothers to Ferran Adrià. But we have already seen that under this concept we must understand more a style of eating than not certain foods: at home, throughout the Mediterranean, we have always eaten meatballs, meatball, Russian balls, balls, steaks or minced meat croquettes, and that was not why they were "fast food".

A smart alternative is the one we find in Italy. Some old establishments of cafeteria (literally, "hot table") have reopened the doors collecting some organizational aspects of fast food: absence of waiters, Prices and reasonable standard presentations, single-use plates, containers, cutlery and glasses… where traditional dishes of any kind are served mum cuisine: refreshing antipasti, delicious pasta dishes and even succulent recipes for fish or meat.

Also of Italian origin is the movement called slow food. Born towards the 70s, and already fully consolidated and with ramifications in other countries, through publications, from the magazine Slow: Messaggero of taste and culture, from an important fair that takes place in the capital of Piedmont, Turin, of the search and promotion of traditional or endangered products - vegetables, legumes, sausages, cheeses - has managed to create a brand back to food traditional and at the time it takes to taste it. Well removed, then, from the patterning and pathetic "planet fast food"That some want to sell us.
This article was published by Jaume Fàbrega. Historian and professor of Gastronomy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has published more than thirty books in his specialty.
Ariès, P. (1997): The end of mangeurs, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer.
Fàbrega, J. (1997): He was born and swallowed. Films and fòbies of the culture of taste, Lleida, Pagès Editors.
Fischler, C. (1995): The (h) omnivore. the taste, the kitchen and the body, Barcelona, ​​Anagrama.
Goody, J. (1995): Cuisine, cuisine and class, Barcelona, ​​Gedisa Editorial.
Schlosser, E. (2002): Fast Food. The dark side of fast food, Barcelona, ​​Grijalbo Mondadori.
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I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"
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