Arielle Greenberg is the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, 2011), and author of My Kafka Century, Given and the chapbooks Shake Her and Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials. She is co-editor of three anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections; and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque. Twice featured in Best American Poetry and the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, she is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv and is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago. She has been trying to follow Mark Bittman's Food Matters eating plan (vegan and macrobiotic until 6 PM!) for the last year or so.
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No Go: A Reflection on Fast Food by Arielle Greenberg
My family simply does not eat at standard fast food joints. Ever.
It’s not really a hardship for us. For one thing, I grew up in a household that kept kosher, so most fast food was off-limits to me anyway and I never really got a taste for it, or got accustomed to it. My husband did eat fast food growing up, but seems not to miss it particularly. My kids, ages 5 and 1, don’t even know what it is. Seriously: they do not know what McDonald’s is. (They are also both vegetarians by choice—neither has ever deigned to eat meat of any kind.) My older child used to think the Golden Arches Ms she saw around town stood for Mama.
When Amanda asked me to write about why I don’t eat fast food for this column, my response was simple: why would I eat fast food? I know this reveals me to live in a bubble made of organic granola, but at this point in my life, it literally does not even occur to me to eat fast food. It’s just not an option I consider.
Maybe it’s because I know too much: I am someone who chooses, for reasons having to do with health and the environment and ethics and politics, not to eat food that is highly processed, who won’t eat fake cheese, who refuses anything that contains artificial sweeteners or chemical preservatives, who avoids trans fats like the plague. (The thought of trans fats clogging up my arteries makes me feel nauseous, which comes in handy when I am tempted with the Dunkin’ Donuts all my colleagues at school bring in at the end of each semester. I find myself reaching for a chocolate glazed, and then it hits me: trans fats! Run away! I actually think I can feel the texture of trans fats in food, now that I typically don’t ingest them anymore.) In general, I buy and bake with only whole wheat flour, not white. I buy organic and local whenever possible. I try really hard not to eat meat unless I know the source, and it’s close by and small and the animals have had a good life. This stuff is important to me.
So, given these constraints, it pretty much rules out fast food restaurants. And because I know what’s in that food, how it’s made, where the crops and meat come from and how they are treated and what widespread damage their production causes, it’s not hard to resist eating it. It’s actually super easy.
Truth be told, my family makes the effort to avoid a lot of American culture that fill the lives of our fellow citizens. We almost never TV or listen to commercial radio. Forget Burger King: my children don’t know what Disney is, either. We hardly ever shop at malls or big box stores or regular grocery stores. We rarely use Western medicine. Some of this mainstream stuff is easier to avoid than others, but I have to say, the fast food thing is on the easy end of the spectrum. I don’t even see the outlets for it anymore: if someone asked me where the closest Wendy’s was, I would have no idea, though I’m sure there’s one somewhere nearby.
Of course, this does not mean we do not eat junk. We really like yummy food, and we are no ascetics. We recently spent a vacation weekend away, and I swear I bought six different flavors of scones for my family to consume over the course of three days. We have a lot of cold breakfast cereal made by natural brands (which is still junk) on our cupboard shelves. (I’d like to wean us off of it.) And our older child goes trick-or-treating on Halloween, and we let her eat most of her take (though only one a night, and we throw out the clearly stale candy and the much-too-chewy items). My husband loves M&Ms, and gets them whenever we go out to see a movie. I love plain pasta with butter and salt. I am known to indulge in the occasional iced chai latte (though I try not to get it from Starbucks, which seems more or less like a fast-food place nowadays). None of this stuff is nutritious. But it’s not quite a Dairy Queen Flurry, either.
If we are starving and on the road and the only option for food is a truck stop, we will buy a bag of peanuts, or a Cliff bar, and we will buy a plastic bottle of water, and even those are politically hard for me to purchase. I swore off colas years ago, though my husband occasionally has a microbrewed natural root beer, or, when desperate, a Coke out at a restaurant. In general, we try to pack more than enough food for ourselves wherever we go on trips, as if we may at any time be caught in a storm and stuck without provisions for days on end, totally without access to real food. Because this is how we think of much of the food that’s commercially available in America: not actually real, not actually food.
I mean, if you are someone who cares about food—really cares about it, and wants it to be high-quality and delicious and well-made—why would you eat that shit? Quarter-pounders with cheese, all those hormones and animal cruelty and artificial colors packed into every bite, not to mention the fossil fuels spent to haul it from wherever to wherever, and the small farms devastated in the wake of the agro-business needed to support all that factory-produced red meat?
Not for me. I’ll keep munching out of my little reusable tin box filled with organic granola, thank you very much.