One summer a few years ago, before having our daughter, Karen and I were taking a road trip to visit some family. We left late, after she had finished teaching her night class, and neither of us had eaten dinner. We didn’t want to stop and take time, as we were hoping to arrive at our destination before it could be called tomorrow, so we decided to do something that was quite unusual for us: utilize a drive-through.
We chose Sonic, because, we reasoned in our hungered state, that it was at least slightly better than the evil golden arches and, if eat fast food we must, then it should at least be of some semblance of freshness.
We concluded our road trip with the feeling that we had bricks sitting firmly in our stomachs. And perhaps some concrete. Bleh.
Our family eats out with some degree of regularity, but generally not at fast food places. Part of the reason is that I worked at one (I’ll leave it nameless), and I’ve seen what happens behind the scenes. I’ve seen and handled the frozen burgers before they’re thrown onto the grill for a few moments and then placed on a burger. I seen the grease in which the fries are cooked. I’ve seen the chicken nuggets before they’re cooked. I would have to be pretty desperate to put that garbage into my system, and that’s something upon which Karen and I firmly agree.
When I read the scurfuffle regarding the enormous discrepancy in pay between the CEOs and the front-line workers in the fast food industry a few days ago, I, of course, felt a reaction. I don’t want to talk about the political issue here, though I certainly have my opinion on that. My thought was actually of a conversation that I had with a family member some months ago about how ridiculously fast-paced our lives have become since having children, and how the professional space insists upon consuming more and more of our time. We’re propelled through life at a warp speed that no starship of science fiction stories could ever hope to match. There’s no time to breathe, no time to think, no time to ponder and consider life, and…no time to prepare real food. So, to a window we drive.
The country that gave us the drive-through window, I reasoned, couldn’t ever be accused of being a patient culture.
One of the reasons that these CEOs make such a ridiculous amount of money (and please note that I’m not saying this is the only reason…I’m just leaving the politics out of this space) is that there’s a demand for a quick and easy solution to food. We have no time to cook, so we need something fast. And since so many of us need exactly that, the businesses that provide that fast alternative need a way to provide more of it…you guessed it…faster. That speed, of course, is mutually exclusive of quality.
As I sat down with family over the recent Easter holiday, I was reminded of how important an interpersonal event sharing a meal is. How spiritual an experience. Eating together…which means taking the time to savor the food before us and let our lives weave through each other for an hour or two…is a huge part of the human experience, and always has been. The more of our meals that occur in a car or involve throwing away a bag afterward, the less we get to engage in that experience. That experience is not a pleasure reserved for the wealthy, or the intelligentsia. It’s a part of who we are…a part that we’ve forsaken.
People are very wealthy because our culture can’t take the time to connect, to pause, to enjoy, to socialize.
That’s a part of this story that I fear we’ve overlooked…and a part that makes me quite, quite sad.