The Food Issue: Freedom from fries – Can fast food be good for you?

Sweetgreen, Lyfe Kitchen, Chipotle, Smashburger, Five Guys, Shake Shack, Dig Inn now occupy the middle ground between restaurants with tablecloths and giant fast-food chains.

Fast food was hardly invented in the US. Most impoverished citizens of ancient Rome unable to store supplies or afford cooking oil, often ate at booths that served what would now be called pizza. 12th century London also had for travelers on the river bank

“all things desirable are already to their hands”.

Today people in the US spend half their food budget on meals prepared away from home.

McDonald’s shift from margarine to butter will increase its dairy use by 5 or 600 millions pounds of milk each year – each to have produced all of last year’s domestic butter exports. Although McDonald’s introduces healthier options, these are not what consumers go there for: Big Mac, Quarter pounder with cheese and French fries remain the holly trinity.

Lyfe Kitchen, started in 2010 by Donahue and Roberts – ex-McDonald’s Chief Communication Office and Chief Operating Officer –  is en enlighten business. Its approach is “fast fine dining”: no paper plate, customers eat on china. There are cocktails, wine, craft beer. E (Everything), V (Vegan and Vegetarian) and G (Gluten free) menus where food is baked, grilled, steamed or boiled but never fried. Original menu was created in part by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef Art Smith. Most meals costs less than $20 (can get away for $10) and dishes are less than 600 calories. There are electrical outlets at every table to encourage people to stay as long as they like.

The main highlight of the article is the insurmountable obstacle to better food in the US: the American agricultural system, set up to distribute many calories at low cost.

To offer fresh produce, sell only humanely raised meat, wide variety of dishes under 600 or 800 calories will require an agricultural system that rewards regional farming networks.

Sweetgreen is a movement, selling a set of values in addition to its food. There’s no Chipotle-style assembly line, no sandwich, no breakfast or coffee. Salads are meant to be a whole meal and cost between $10 and $12. Menu varies every few months depending on the city, season and farmers. Their ultimate goal is to

“raise a generation that understands the difference between cheap fast food and healthy fast food”.

Steve Case from AOL is an major investor and pushed for marrying culinary experience to technology: Sweetgreen’s mobile apps allow you to order on your phone, walk to the counter, wave the phone and be gone in a minute. They sponsor an annual music festival and created a special ‘Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe’ salad where 10% of the profit where donated to to FoodCorps which educates children about agriculture and nutrition.