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Origin of fast food
Words nearby fast food
Definition for fast food (2 of 2)
Origin of fast-food
ABOUT THIS WORD
What does fast food mean?
Fast food is food quickly prepared and served, often at chain restaurants and typically associated with less expensive and less nutritious items like hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks.
Where does fast food come from?
The term fast food dates back to at least 1951, an industry term describing the new, and now ubiquitous, trend of restaurants providing food—fast. Its earliest use characterized service (e.g., fast-food service) before extending to the food served itself.
A prototype for fast-food restaurants were fish-and-chip shops in the U.K. starting in the 1860s. These provided quick, portable, and filling food on the go for dock workers and other city dwellers. In 1921, White Castle opened the first modern fast-food restaurant selling the now-familiar hamburgers and fries. In the 1950s, the term fast food emerged to describe this kind of grab-and-go meal available at new car-friendly restaurants such as McDonald’s, now synonymous with fast food across the globe.
Fast food had become so familiar, as a term and phenomenon, by the 1970s that fast food was used metaphorically for any mass-produced, cheap product (e.g., a fast-food education or the fast food of medicine).
How is fast food used in real life?
Fast food is widely used in speech and writing to refer to a meal or food item that is made and served quickly. It can be a noun (e.g., we ate fast food on our road trip) or adjective (e.g., fast-food fries are greasy but delicious).
Fast food typically connotes hamburgers and fries, as vended, often through drive-throughs, by leading brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. But, fast food also includes sandwiches (Subway), burritos (Chipotle), fried chicken (KFC), pizza (Pizza Hut), Chinese food (Panda Express), desserts (Dairy Queen), and even coffee (Starbucks). Especially in Europe, fast food notably includes kebabs, gyros, and fish and chips.
Because fast food has been historically unhealthy, it sparked a backlash movement in the late 1970s that advocated for slow food. The idea is that food that takes longer to prepare—and is not ultra-processed—is healthier. Today, fast-food companies have taken steps to make their offerings healthier by offering options like salads.
Given historically low wages and challenging work conditions, fast food has also been used to connote a mindless, dead-end job (e.g., He’ll end up flipping burgers at a fast-food joint).
More examples of fast food:
“Today is National Fast Food Day! Did you know Robert C. Baker, the inventor of the chicken nugget, was a Purdue alum?
—@LifeAtPurude, November 2017
“America’s fast-food desserts straddle two very different categories: our country’s most horrific edible disasters and our most cherished culinary treasures.”
—Daniela Galarza & Ryan Sutton, Eater, April, 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for fast food
It was one of the fast-food treats on the menu at an international conference for the Culinary Institute of America.
For years the need to push patties took the form of thin-cut ground beef served in fast-food joints and backyard barbecues.Have We Reached ‘Peak Burger’? The Crazy Fetishization of Our Most Basic Comfort Food|Brandon Presser|July 31, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Fast-food workers are calling for nationwide strikes on Thursday to protest low wages.
During the recession and the recovery, fast-food more than held its own because of its sheer cheapness.Burger King Introduces Big King to Taunt McDonald’s and Stagnating Overall Sales|Daniel Gross|November 6, 2013|DAILY BEAST
Fast-food innovation is a favorite topic around these parts.