1.) What is “Fast Food?” Explain the nature and logic of this institution and how it relates to decisions as to Prices, Qualities and Quantities Available within the Industry.
Fast food refers to the instantly prepared and served food (Schlosser, p. 1). Their stores or outlets often have a walk up counter or drive-thru panel where people can quickly order and bring out their food. Fast foods are well known and generally patronized because they serve ample amounts of foods and they are relatively cheaper than those foods bought at fine or gourmet restaurants. Good examples of fast food are McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, among others. There are Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, etc.
These fast food companies are considered as an industry because they produce food to make profits. The fast food industry is defined by several powerful companies that aggressively compete in reducing their respective costs of production. It is led by McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell, KFC. Known as food conglomerates, these global food companies dominate the said industry with their huge employment base and their thousands of retail outlets worldwide (p. 2).
Originally, the traditional industry players introduced food machines which can be operated by low grade workers of lower salaries. (p. 3). Their current industry practices continue to involve setting the labor prices low. Fast food corporations also choose cheaper food ingredients such as those with saturated fats, refined wheat, etc. instead of high quality and nutritious ingredients (p. 2). Lower salaries for their workers and cheaper costs of raw materials drive their food prices lower and their profit margins higher.
Since fast food outlets have also introduced the concept of self service, lesser employees were required by their food business operations. This led to stiffer competition since other restaurants followed the concept in order to survive the competition. Mechanization of cooking also reduced the need for high skilled, short order cooks. Groups of small, local fast food business multiplied to become the major component of the American economy. These companies engage in cut throat competition and there is no bottom line for them. They keep on reducing wages and employee benefits to compete with other fast food retailers.
2.) What is “Slow Food?” Explain the nature and logic of this institution and how it relates to decisions as to Prices, Qualities and Quantities Available within the Movement.
Slow Food is a worldwide, grassroot movement composed of real and good food supporters in 150 countries worldwide. They relate good and slow food to quality food, made without abusing the community and the environment as opposed to fast food companies which they believe violate workers and the environment (Slow Food Website, p. 1).
As opposed to an industry, slow food is just a movement since it is not motivated by profits. It is actually a non-profit and member-financed organization. This is very different from the fast food industry, which are highly driven by profits. The Slow Food Movement was founded in Italy in 1989 to defend the local food traditions against the pervading fast food and fast live way of living, and the reduced interests in food - where they are produced, how they are cooked or processed and how the consumers’ food selection affect their well being (p. 1).
As a movement, it has enjoined more than one hundred thousand members worldwide. It has also established a network of 2,000 food communities who sustain the domestic production of quality foods. The Slow Food Movement is also active in the United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Japan.
The movement encourages the direct contact of the food consumers and producers by organizing various food fairs, food events and food markets to feature high quality yet affordable food (p. 1). Foods are directly brought to the consumers and this cut down the additional food costs, as compared to those commercially produced foods which come in the hands of food retailer and which means higher prices for the final consumers. It also teaches the farmers several Slow Food principles to promote clean, good and fair food production so that the communities obtain quality foods on a normal basis (p. 1). Consumers are also oriented to the traditional and quality food production so that they consider food quality in all of their food purchases.
3.) Is the “case for taste” in the Slow Food Movement an elevation of the criterion of Quality to that of Price and Quantities Available?
The Case for Taste is a book by the Slow Food Movement founder Carlo Petrini (Petrini, p. 2). It confronts the question of gastronomic delight against the case of healthy foods. By relating well being and health to the need for eating quality foods, the author aimed to rekindle the desire and the practice of eating quality foods.
While this had a significant effect on the consciousness of eaters about the food they consume, I think it did not have a massive effect on the quality criterion which had affected the prices and the volume of food consumption. The rational choices of the consumers direct them to healthy food alternatives but the way of life and the food culture that they are oriented with (fast food being consumed more since it is accessible, cheaper and very appealing).
The tastes of the consumers can be evaluated through ordinal utility (Weaver, p. 746). An ordinal measurement of utility is pegged on three basic assumptions. Initially, it assumes that when a consumer is confronted with any two sets of foods, the consumer can have either a direct preference of one set over the other or he/she may be indifferent between the two sets of foods, meaning that he/she cannot determine his/her choices right away (p. 747). Secondly, it assumes the consumer’s taste to be consatnt or consistent (p. 747). Thirdly, it assumes that greater commodity will increase his/her utility rather than less of it. These three assumptions are representative of an individual’s tastes with indifference curves.
Various combinations such as price of the food, convenience of the source or where the food is brought, quality fo the food, among others give equal utility to the consumer. These choice criteria defines his/her satisfaction. The case for taste does not influence this as much as price directs consumers to what he/she is going to eat, where he/she is going to eat it, etc. It also does not indicate how much additional utility for a different preference in food selection.
4.) Is an evaluation of “Quality” a unique or social endeavor?
As the documentary film, Food, Inc. has shown, there is no conscious effort on the part of the American consumers to assess the health content of their food intakes. As such, most of their adolescents do not know the real caloric content of the foods they buy from fast food chains (Neale, p. 1). Since eating or cuisine or food is a cultural matter, I think that the criterion of food quality is always a social endeavor. To define a food’s quality also means to highlight the value which is traditionally endowed by food consumers. If, for example, they grew up eating rice, then, the quality of rice will be determined by how much they are willing to spend for quality grains. This also entails how much production of the said commodity is produced in one local community or country and what price are set for this product.
Hence, to assess the quality of American food, one will always touch on the quality of the burgers, fries, pizzas, sodas, etc. that American consumers are eating and drinking. The total experience of eating is also social or cultural. Hence, consumers also judge food by the way it is presented to them. The complete experience of taking fast food has become so ingrained in the local culture that even when there are a lot of researches indicating the poor quality of fast food, many consumers cannot easily take it out of their diet. This is because it has become a social routine for them – to go to McDonald’s or Burger King and have their hunger satisfied as fast as possible.
Hence, assigning quality over various food stuffs means assigning the social value of what people considers as important to them in terms of dietary intake. If apple pie is very important to the consumers, then the quality of apple pie is very much associated by how they eat it, where they eat it and what value they assign to eating it.
5.) In the United States, Do Prices still “Rule the Roost” as to our diet and food decisions? Why not Quality?
Obviously, diet and food preferences are ruled by the prices of these commodities. In basic economic terms, the consumption of food is always determined by its prices, among others. With the current recession, people are not very keen on buying more pricey organic foods than their usual doses of burgers, fries and pizzas. Since foods also have certain substitutes, people choose the cheaper substitutes.
In a way, obesity can be linked with one’s socio economic situation. This is because gastronomical delights are not often available for low or middle income families. These quality gourmet or organic\food are often available to high class groups of consumers.
It seems to most American food takers that the extra sugars and fats are more affordable than the recommended “quality” diets based on special meats, whole wheat and green, fresh fruits and vegetables. Financial differences in the access to quality foods also explain why most obese people are the working groups and the minorities (Neale, p. 1).
Food supplies may also show how quality is not very much considered as compared to the prices of the commodities. For instance, the prices of sugar will be more determinant of the brand of sugar a mother would choice in her grocery shopping. She would often think that sugar is the same and will not deeply contemplate on how the sugar was produced, where it was planted or processed, etc. In short, the price levels of the food commodities are the main deciding factors for the consumers. This is the same with burgers. One will not attempt to buy fine dining burgers even when they are healthier because they can eat a similar burger for a very cheaper cost at any fast food store.
Aside from prices, the way of life or culture is also a determinant of what people will consume. As Schlosser (p. 7) has articulated, most people buy fast food without thinking about its quality, its health implications or any other ramifications, except that they just pull their tray from the counter, look for a table, sit down, and eat the fast food orders.”
Kenner, Robert, director. Food, Inc. Participant Media, 2008. DVD.
Neale, Todd. OBESITY: Teens Clueless About Fast Food Content. October 5, 2011. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Petrini, Carlo. Slow Food: The Case for Taste (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History). 2004. London: Columbia University Press.
Schlosser, Eric. “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal.” 2001. New York: Harper Collins Publisher.
Slow Food Website. “About Us.” 2012. Slow Food Organization. Accessed on 23 June 2012 < http://www.slowfood.com/international/1/about-us>.
Weaver, Robert D. Microeconomics of collaboration and network configuration. 2009. British Food Journal (111:8). pp.746 - 761