It's hard to argue with Eric Schlosser's basic conclusion that fast-food chains are insidiously destructive global enterprises. His best-selling Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal shook people's faith in the corporate production of food unlike any book since Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906.
Those still clinging to their McHabit faced a further challenge from Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me, which graphically depicted the way a certain fast-food company's offerings provoked an acute deterioration of the human body. (A truly mind-warping special DVD add-on shows an order of french fries remaining impervious to natural biodegradation for eight solid weeks.)
Getting the message across to the nerdy and health-obsessed is easy. Try telling it to a parent facing unruly, hungry children on the brink of revolt in the back seat. Although Schlosser does well to unravel the strategic rebranding of fast food restaurants as family-friendly, and Spurlock's experience should scare any parents out of putting such food into their children's mouths, there's another side to the equation.
A greater percentage of U.S. parents work longer hours than at any point in our recent history. Consequently, they frequently don't have time to get home and make a meal.
All of this presents a critical question: What choices do people have when fast food is gonna be dinner, regardless of the consequences? The simplest answer is that there are choices, and Schlosser and Spurlock tell us what to look for: independently owned and operated establishments, quality ingredients, some healthy menu items, and an absence of aggressive branding.
Finding a place that meets at least a couple of these requirements beats hitting up one of the national chains. Start with the basic ingredient in the most basic of fast-food staples: beef. Cy's Drive-In and El Taco Rey, among other Springs independents, buy their meat from local purveyor Ranch Foods Direct. This means their burgers and tacos, respectively, will be hormone- and antibiotic-free, if not cholesterol-friendly.
Straying slightly from the typical fast-food model, three places around town offer handmade meals to go that can be quickly heated at home. Garden of the Gods' Gourmet, in Old Colorado City, cooks everything in-house, uses fresh ingredients, and offers choices from haute to hearty.
Located off one of the busiest work-week corridors, Mollica's Italian Deli offers homemade pastas, sausages and sandwiches. Northeast-siders can now buy prefab meals from Ceres' Kitchen, which uses natural meats, organic produce, and offers customers the opportunity to come in and assemble dinners themselves. The menu changes monthly and leans towards balanced, health-conscious creations.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Chipotle merits consideration. Yes, it's a national chain that engages in some branding. But Chipotle uses quality ingredients like naturally raised Niman Ranch pork and Bell & Evans natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken. Their commitment is so serious that when its founders saw onetime majority owner McDonald's corrupting its product, they bought the franchise back. Chipotle also offers ways to cut down on fat, setting your dinner on a pile of healthy lettuce or an empty bowl instead of the traditional tortilla.
In an ideal world, we'd all buy produce from local farmers, know our ranchers, and cook everything from scratch in our own home. But this ain't an ideal world. For many of us, it's not even close.
For students, workers and families, the occasional fast-food adventure may be unavoidable. Going to the big chains, however, is not. You and your family need to eat, and you owe it to them, to yourself and to your community to eat as well as you can.
1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008
Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday,
10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
El Taco Rey
330 E. Colorado Ave., 475-9722
Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Garden of the Gods Gourmet
2528 W. Cucharras St., 471-2799
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mollicas Italian Market & Deli
985-A Garden of the Gods Road, 598-1088
Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
9475 Briar Village Point #158, 266-8202
Open Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations needed to
assemble your own meals. Order pre-assembled meals for
pick-up at cereskitchenco.com.
Various locations, chipotle.com