Fast Food: An Addiction to Nostalgia

On the way home from errands today, Andy and I decided to get some fast food.

The only food that made it home were the drinks. The whole experience made me think about why Americans in particular love fast food the way that we do. So I came home and journaled my thoughts on an otherwise inane and paltry subject: junk food.

Salt, Sugar, and Starch. They are cheap, they are easy, and they are everywhere in American food. If you grew up eating American food, these three ingredients were entrenched in every meal. They were in the spaghetti and garlic bread our parents made when they were stretching pennies. They were in the barbecued burgers we had in the summer. Every thanksgiving a third of our plate was mashed potatoes and other salted starches. Every pudding and pie was filled with sugar. Every birthday cake was made with the cheapest bleached white flour and white granulated sugar. Whether it was our parents making these foods or if it was us trying to care for ourselves in a disorganized apartment with the dishes piling up and a constant fear that everything might fall apart if we did the wrong thing: these foods were with us. They were literally part of us. They nourished us in times of trouble. They comforted us when it felt there was nothing left. And the simple wholesome flavors that these ingredients brought to our palate tends to bring us back to a different time. In the end, these foods feel safe to us when nothing else does.

Salt, sugar and starch are also in the cheap, easy, fast, and undoubtedly unhealthy meals we can buy from the dollar menu at fast food eateries. Every time we eat there, the nagging angel on our shoulder reminds us that heart disease and diabetes are killers and that we should be at home cooking meals instead of being “lazy”. We are cruel to ourselves when we are usually just trying to find some quick comfort.

Society celebrates self cruelty and emotional punishment for doing the things that make us happy for a myriad of reasons. The world is unforgiving. Rock bottom calls to us as the days drag on and existing becomes more and more impossible. And sometimes the one thing keeping us in the eye of the storm is that crinkly bag filled with steaming hot salted french fries. The ice cold soda enrages the soft tissue in our mouths as the carbonation seemingly moves through our minds. It’s a rush, even if it’s a simple high fructose corn syrup and artificially flavored syrup infusion. Technically the cup costs more than the soda. But even if we aren’t thinking about it, the limbic system processes our tastes and smells and gives us a rush of euphoria when we consume the things that remind us of our happy place.

The food is simple and unless we drizzle our burgers, fries, and chicken with hot sauce, it’s typically a little bland. But somehow it feels like home, even if it is purely subconscious. It seems unfair to brutalize our self-esteem when we indulge in something like fast food when it reminds us of things that make the world seem less soul crushing. The abuse seems in poor taste. Fast food is in no means healthy and classic American eateries are on average not the perfect model of healthfulness. But that doesn’t mean we should be so cruel to ourselves for trying to find that little bit of peace in a traumatizing existence.

It seems better to make space in your life for fast food rather than to punish yourself for having it when you feel vulnerable. Whether or not it is ideal or even healthy shouldn’t be as much of a consideration when making space once a week or once a month to indulge when it will improve your emotional quality of life. Guilty pleasures are valid. Having the space to dissociate and drift through time while you eat something that may or may not give you some horrible disease according to Web MD is much more vital to a high quality of life than people seem to realize.

So have a date with the thing that brings comfort when you can, you deserve a break from this dystopian hellscape.