For Canadians looking for a cheap and easy meal, fast food presents a plethora of options. Between those who will only pull into a drive-thru out of dire necessity, and others who have an establishment’s entire menu board committed to memory, most Canadians have some sort of consumer relationship with the easy food outlets. Even our national publications reflect a culture that loves cheap, easy eating. In their recent “Fast Food Week”, the National Post published pieces that extolled the virtues of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, and dug deep into the best and worst food court meals in Canada. But conspicuously missing was an acknowledgment of the elephant in the drive-thru: cheap fast food comes at a high cost to our health and the environment.
The idea of what kind of foods are bad for us tends to evolve and change over time. In previous decades, all fats have been painted with the same vilifying brush, but recent science has led to updated knowledge about the particular dangers of saturated and trans fats, due to their roles in raising cholesterol and increasing the risk of heart disease. In fast food favourites like french fries and cheeseburgers, and even the fish and veggie burgers marketed as healthier alternatives, saturated and trans fats abound. High levels of sodium in fast foods pose additional health risks by significantly increasing the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Health Canada recommends that adults aged 14–50 consume an upper limit of 2300 mg of sodium per day, and most signature fast food meals bring consumers more than halfway to reaching this number.
When compared with the immediate gratification of cheap fast food, the costs to health can seem abstract, especially to consumers with significant time and budget constraints. But the lifestyle-influenced health crises that Canadians continue to face suggest that our eating habits eventually catch up to us. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada, and rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes indicate that cardiovascular illness will continue to claim many Canadian lives.
There is an argument to be made that choosing to ignore scientific wisdom about the dangers of fast food diets is a matter of free will, and that making unhealthy choices falls under the rights of the individual. But under the regime of cheap food served up in mere minutes, the health of the planet is also suffering. The factory farms that produce massive quantities of cheap meat are responsible for considerable greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollutants, and deforestation. Piling up in high concentrations, the waste produced by livestock contaminates water sources with nitrogen and phosphorous, leading to algae blooms that quickly destroy aquatic ecosystems. This waste also often contains significant concentrations of the hormones and antibiotics that are fed to livestock, meaning leached waste will disrupt the reproductive cycles of aquatic animals, and create antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose future health risks.
Science continues to provide us with compelling arguments about the true cost of fast food consumption, but convenience in the moment will usually trump long-term concerns regarding the health of individuals and the environment. Purchasing fresh, whole foods and using them to prepare meals is the ideal situation, but lack of time prohibits many Canadians from consistently choosing to eat better. Perhaps only when fresh food options become as convenient as cheeseburgers and french fries will it be easy enough to make the right choice.
Accessible, reasonably priced meals are important, but compromising nutrition to save a buck is a troubling reality for many. Fed's model solves this conundrum by offering meals, designed by experts, that don't compromise on nutrition. By prioritizing access and nutrition, Fed's model targets the problems in the food industry head-on.
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