Fast Food

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Fast Food a label which came into being in the usa early in the second half of the 20th century, when drive-in eating places were flourishing; Mariani (1994) refers to an example of its use in 1951.

The notion of being able to go into a public eating place and order something which would come almost at once and could be consumed quickly is, obviously, not a new one, but the proliferation of places, in N. America and globally, is a new and striking phenomenon. In its wake may be found the whole debate about globalization and its fast-food manifestation, McDonaldization. Fast food overlaps with street food, but street food was always fast and new-style fast food is usually bought and often consumed under a roof. It need not be limited to such well-established items as sandwiches and hamburgers, french fries (British chips) or pizzas, but it is typical of a fast-food establishment to offer only a few items, of proven popularity. Speed of service is not really the defining feature of fast food, despite its name. A more important factor (aside from the restricted choice mentioned above) is the means of production. Just as escoffier had refined the organization of the haute cuisine kitchen into something resembling factory production, so fast-food outlets break down their processes into discrete operations (each relatively simple so as to take advantage of unskilled labour). At the same time, batch cooking in advance of orders means that service will be the more rapid.