Fast (and Furious) Food

Although I still eat way too much fast food – I’m a lazy “cook,” sue me – I find most of it gross and unpalatable. It’s more of a convenience than anything. This, of course, does NOT include the Frenchie sandwich at Jimmie John’s…mmmm, love me some Frenchies!

Here are a few of my favorite fast food (and fast food-related) facts:

Fried Chicken  Wild fowl were domesticated about 9,000 years ago in China and the Middle East. It made it’s way to Egypt, where you can see chicken represented in many hieroglyphs. It was also used to feed the slaves who built the pyramids.

Eventually making it’s way to Britain via Greece, it is believed that fried chicken was introduced to the U.S. by Scottish settlers (or invaders, if you prefer). These were pan-fried birds; the South were the first to fry them up in vats of hot oil.

In the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, Harlan Sanders opened a restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky to sell his secret recipe fried chicken. The restaurant bombed out, but Sanders soon hit upon a brilliant strategy. He hit the road, selling his recipe and the rights to use his trademarked phrase “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in exchange for a nickel for every piece of chicken sold.

By 1964, the year 1) I was born, and 2) Colonel Sanders sold his franchising business, there were 600 restaurants nationwide. As of 2014 (the most recent number I could find), there were almost 19,000 franchises around the world. That’s a lot of chicken!

Fast Food Stats  When it comes to fast food, there are a number of common ingredients. Here are a few I found interesting:

1. The most common fast food meat: Chicken. This isn’t by volume (that would be beef), but rather by number of menu items. McDonald’s, for instance, offers almost as many chicken options as burger options. And on average, fast food joints tend to offer more chicken options than beef options – when was the last time you had ground beef on your Caesar salad, for example?

2. The most common fast food spice: Salt.  There is sodium chloride even in things you wouldn’t expect – shakes and ice cream sundaes, for example. It is used in different combinations to add or enhance flavor to a myriad of items. One slice of the American cheese you’d find on a Big Mac contains 250mg of NaCl, making it one of the saltier options available. And that doesn’t take into account all the salt you may dump on your fries.

3. The most common color additive: Caramel.  While Red No. 40 is the most widely used food coloring in the world, fast food places seem to love their caramel coloring. Part of the psychology of eating is that for something to taste good, it must look good, and a nice, rich caramel tone seems to serve the industry pretty well.

Photographer: Greg DuPree, Food Stylist: Emily Neighbors Hall.

Tacos  Before the 1950’s, you would be hard-pressed to find a taco anywhere at any restaurant in the U.S. That’s when a restaurant owner in Southern California noticed the migrant Mexican workers packing tortillas in their lunches, and stuffing them with meats and vegetables from home.

Deciding that might be a good item to add to his menu, he began offering tortillas folded in half and stuffed with food he thought his customers might like – ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese.

One problem in ran into pretty quickly was that flour tortillas didn’t keep for very long, so he couldn’t keep a very large supply of them at any one time. He solved this by shaping and deep frying the tortillas – thereby creating the first hard shell tacos.

This menu item went over so well that he opened a restaurant in 1962 devoted entirely to serving this new menu item.

His name? Glen Bell.

As of last year (2018), there were over 7,000 Taco Bells in 27 different countries. By state, California, then Texas, then Florida have the most restaurants. There is even a Taco Bell in Mexico…well, sort of. It’s actually in Tijuana. Close enough, right?

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