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Thoughts on breaking the fast food habit


Last Sunday was Earth Day and in honor of that I will remind readers of this wonderful quote from legendary media analyst Marshal McLuhan:
“On spaceship Earth there are no passengers. We are all crew.”
Apropos of that, I offer this small example of another change in my lifestyle in support of sustainability.
Every other week for six months during the winter I drive from my flat in Toronto’s west end to a condo I rent in Collingwood, Ontario. My two sons live in Collingwood with their mom and I host them up there when it’s my weekend so they can stay in their winter ski programs at Blue Mountain (where one teaches).
In the warm months my kids often take the bus to Toronto to visit me, and I sometimes visit Collingwood midweek and have the kids over to my friend Linda’s place; she lets me use it while she’s in the city every Tuesday through Thursday.
It’s a lot of driving back and forth, two hours each way, but long ago I made the trip managable by stopping for lunch or coffee at the midway point, which is usually Orangeville. I got in the habit of going to a fast food outlet close to the highway: a Tim Horton’s on one side and a Wendy’s on the other. I would often have a hamburger and fries at Wendy’s, and get my coffee from Timmy’s. Sometimes I’d eat a bagel with cream cheese at Tim Horton’s, with a donut and a tea.
As I started shifting to a healthy diet a few months ago, I eventually realized this was a pattern I had to break. Wendy’s food is no worse than most fast food, but like the other outlets, many of the selections are high in salt and fat, and empty carbs. The staff at the Orangeville outlet are perfectly nice, but one is always aware of the factory-like kitchen in which they work, and it’s always go-go-go at Tim Horton’s because counter staff are also dealing with drive-thru customers. Nowadays there’s very little on the menu at Tim Horton’s that fits with my dietary preferences, and I received a petition recently from a group that claims the coffee ship chain continues to buy pork products from industrial-scale producers whose pigs are raised in cruel “gestation crates” whose metal bars prevent almost any physical movement. (Apparently some other fast food restaurants like McDonald’s have ceased buying from such producers.)
Here’s a URL for the campaign:
http://sumofus.org/campaigns/tim-hortons/?akid=396.713134._EvaEe&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=4
Last week I drove “off the beaten path” in search of an alternative; as luck would have it, just five minutes west on Orangeville’s main street I found a terrific small coffee shop-style family–run restaurant that serves specialty fruit smoothies and all kinds of organic treats, fresh soup, salads, and gourmet coffee. Settling into the warm and cozy atmosphere, I realized I had found my new rest stop on the drive between Collingwood and Toronto. Over a beet salad and a delicious coffee I checked email on my laptop, and lingered longer than usual because it was so nice. And the bill was about the same as I had paid for several years each time I stopped at the fast food places. In fact it might have been a little cheaper.
But the thing that spoke to me more than the health aspect was the quality of the human interaction. I had a nice chat with the proprietor, who is a nutritionist (who, it turned out, had written out some useful information on a white board in the restaurant about the different enzymes in the body and how the work – something ya ain’t gonna see at Wendy’s!). I noticed different regular patrons coming in and out and having lively chats with the proprietor and other staff. The whole experience was much more “humanized” at this establishment, and I vowed to step up my game further, and stop patronizing corporate restaurant chains and fast food places. I might wander into one from time to time for lack of other options, but I’m making a concerted effort to spend my money on small, local family-run businesses that serve healthy food and provide a warm and enjoyable environment. If we all did the same, we’d have a very different society in many respects.
As a final note, I’m reminded that on several trips to Vermont over the years – sometimes for skiing, other times just passing through – I noticed that this philosophy has been embraced by the residents of that state for a long time. There are not so many fast food outlets there, but there are many family-run restaurants, with lots of home-cooked healthy choices on the menu, and things like artisan local beers, etc. So if you’d like to see what a whole society looks like when it embraces this concept, take a trip to Vermont!


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