Burgers, french fries, pizzas, fried chicken, you know the drill. A burst of satisfying gratifying fulfilling satisfaction, gratification, and fulfillment with every bite. Every sip feels so…actually scratch that, most of their drinks are the regular version but more expensive and with less content. I mean they are called “fast food,” not “fast drink.” But at least the “fast” in fast food almost never disappoints! Quick, easy, and accessible to the four corners of the globe. The only limits in fast food are the capacity of your stomach and the size of your wealth.

While the king of clownery, Ronald McDonald, was the one that popularized the “fast-food system,” the concept isn’t exactly as new as a loaf of bread. You know, many historians say that humanity would be 700-1,000 years more advanced if it weren’t for the repeated destruction of the most technologically advanced civilization out there. The Minoans were the peak of evolution and technology before the Greeks arrived and tore down large portions of, well, everything. The Greeks then built up their own empire with even more futuristic advancements, and then the Romans came and burned the Library of Alexandria. The destructive cycle continued with few carryovers of the previous society. Selling pre-cooked or ready-made food was one of those unlikely survivors. 

Originated by the ancient Romans over 2,000 years ago to cater to the urban population that lived in kitchenless multi-story apartment blocks, a wide selection of foods was made readily available. Some even speculate that it could date even further back in history based on a Han Dynasty text from the 2nd century. 

Wherever it came from, the 1940s-80s was when the fast-food market bloomed into the frozen pre-cooked rose blossom we know today. Giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut, along with several others, were born and evolved during this period. Who knew that those little shacks would soon grow to have thousands of branches across the world? 

Fast Food, Fast Life

It doesn’t rival the experience of a Michelin-star restaurant or a superb family-owned local food joint, but it’s not trying to be one. It’s not meant to be handing out new experiences like free samples at the grocery. It’s the consistent reliable familiarity that draws you and your grandma into that guilty pleasure. And it is that very pleasure that seduced us, metaphorical sailors, to the metaphorical siren to a literal demise. We all die, just at different speeds. Fast food makes you the Usain Bolt of dying.

Starting from the very moment that burger or pizza touches your tongue, the brain instantly reacts. A reactionary signal is sent that activates the reward system. Feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine surge throughout your body giving you that sense of excitement, euphoria, bliss, and relaxation. 

15 minutes later, that fast food gets on the bullet train to your body’s bloodstream thanks to some carefully refined carbohydrates. Wash your meal down with the usual cold sugary drink, and the process can even start earlier. Factory processing reduced the time needed for both the cook to cook and for the consumer to consume. 

These foods, with their near-instantaneous digestive conversion, provide one of the sharpest double-edged swords. On one hand, you can get energy virtually whenever you want. It takes rice up to an hour before you get a respectable 200 or so calories. The average burger can pack 500 or more calories within that 15-minute fuze. This makes “junk foods” the premier choice of fuel for athletes getting ready for a race. When you need all the energy in the smallest package within the shortest timeframe possible, greasy sandwiches effectively become human nitro fuel. 

On the other hand, given that you aren’t engaged in physical activity, the only thing fast food accelerates is death. Because the simple sugars enter the bloodstream so rapidly, the body is flash flooded with an abundance of glucose. Both blood sugar and insulin levels rise rapidly. At first, you enjoy a short boost of energy. Unfortunately, it’s safe to assume that the majority of Wendy’s customers aren’t running an ultra-marathon. Too much glucose and insulin turn it into fat. Too much fat and well…the average consumer knows full well the fear of fat. 

3 hours after the first bite, you will start to feel hungry again and maybe even tired irrelevant of how much you’ve eaten. The sugar high begins to fade away as the body isn’t accustomed to reaching the peak of blood sugar that it can support and will abruptly crash. How does the body respond to this crisis? It goes into panic mode; craving more food until it can somewhat restore blood sugar levels to a sustainable degree. Shaking, nausea, mood swings, irritability, and headaches depending on how severe the insulin in a body responds. A 2009 study even found that those who eat fast food on a regular basis are 51% more likely to develop depression. 

Another hour after that goes by and one of the greatest risks launches into action. The sugar, fat, and salt are now pumping through your veins to supply energy. While the body thinks it’s just following standard protocols, it remains ignorant of the fate of the arterial passageways. Some scientists wanted to observe the effects of what happens to the arteries after binging on oily deep-fried foods. Test subjects were fed these foods and their arms were slipped into blood pressure cuffs 4 hours later. Oxygen starved arteries would normally open up to let blood circulate properly again once the pressure from the arm is released. The subjects’ arteries opened up to 7% when tested before the test and less than 1% after the test. Slowed or restricted blood flow causes more than just drowsiness. Oh no, it immediately increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Just a single trip to a fast food joint per week is more than enough to increase your risk of heart attacks by 20% or more. 

But, not everything in fast food goes as quickly as the name claims to be. Fatty burgers, deep-fried french fries, and creamy dressings digest briskly and not at all. Those sweet, salty, and greasy delights effortlessly convert themselves into energy and sit in the digestive system at the same time. Research shows that it can take up to 36 hours for the fattiest parts of a Big Mac to completely exit the body. This fat manifests in the form of feeling “gassy,” bloated, or stomach pain after eating fast foods. There are even parts that don’t digest like the additives and fillers in all of your favorite orders. Since they aren’t what you would call “natural,” the body instinctually rejects these foreign contaminants; sometimes even recognized by the immune system as a disease. 

Manufactured Happiness

“You are what you eat.” The sentiment was originated in the 1800s but the mindset has clearly been around for far longer. Aztec warriors ate the brains of their enemies because they believed that it would grant them their intelligence and wisdom. Several Indian cultures don’t eat meals with onions and garlic seeing as foods with strong smells supposedly made one “aggressive” and “offensive.” The Nordic Vikings drank the blood of bears and wolves for increased ferocity. China right now eats tiger penises as a cure for erectile dysfunction.

Most of the modern world has disregarded it as another one of that religious nutcase beliefs. However, that couldn’t be further than the truth. Thousands of pages of scientific data have already proved that the gut plays one of the biggest roles in human nature. What you eat determines everything down to your cellular composition. Bones, muscles, organs, all of them are a direct product of your meals. Considering that the average adult replaces 300 million cells lost to aging, what powers those processes becomes supremely important. When we subside on toxic chemically-laden nutritionless food, our body’s cellular manufacturing system is crippled. It’s the same if you’d given rustly scrap metal to some guy and ask him to turn it into a Boeing 747. It is impossible. Eat trash and you become trash.

Though the overall health of the body is jeopardized, the mind has it the worst. Take the fluid away from the skull and a brain made up mostly of fats with a few proteins, amino acids, micronutrients, and glucose is all that’s left behind. All of them serve their own individual roles in survival. Feeling unmotivated after lunch or restless before bed? There’s a high chance that food is there to blame for that. Of those fats in the brain, omega 3 and 6 are the most important. Those are the fatty acids responsible for a lot of our cognitive function. Eat lots of nuts, seeds, and fish, and you’ll barely have any issues with that. Consume trans and saturated fats on a regular basis, well then, get ready to say your brain’s last rites.

Wouldn’t you know it, fast food fits the exact criterium of “bad food” mentioned above. Technically, what you’re eating is food. That being said, it’s not the same kind you can find from the local markets. Flour reduced to fine dust; meats have been ground down to paste; potatoes that have been razor sliced and coated with a sugar called dextrose: Every step in the processing of these “foods” falls into the encyclopedic definition of unnatural fabrication. Every bite of that meal you’re eating has been painstakingly manufactured. The three things our most primal parts yearn for, salt, sugar, and fat, are carefully measured and tweaked according to what’s the most stimulating. The levels of dopamine produced in that Burger King are comparable to extreme stunts and sexual activity. It’s designed in a lab by brilliant scientists, mathematicians, and “flavorists” to be the craved. Millions of trials have been done to show what the optimal levels of salt are; what heats the sugars react the best with; what color makes the customer want to eat more. Superior organic produce comes at a cost, which is why they literally inject and ingrain flavors for an unfathomable boost in synthetic flavor. 

-Juan Sixto