Fast Food Recollections


Yesterday, Josh wrote to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Big Mac while recounting his own fast food experiences:

I used to have a job giving tours at the computer museum in Boston. There was a McDonalds downstairs right between us and where the Boston Tea Party ship (and annoying reenactments) were.

I used to eat at that McDonalds once a week or so. I was still a year away from going vegetarian at that point, but even then I knew McDonalds was a terrible place to get food. I’d be walking around monitoring one of the galleries or giving a tour thinking about where I was going to eat and invariably my brain would say “McDonalds!” Most days I’d give that cartoon bubble thought above my head the smackdown, but once a week or so I’d give in. I even felt sick before I got there and I knew I’d be dragging ass the rest of the day with all that grease and fat in my stomach. (I would add “death” to that list of things in my stomach, but at the time those thoughts were still in the murky unknown part of my brain trying to reach the surface.)

The one thing I always tell people after they find out that I’m vegan and say, “I could never do that!” is that I would regularly eat two (yes, two) Big Macs for dinner when I was in high school. Back then my metabolism was insane and I never topped 115 pounds.  I wasn’t exactly a football player.  I was barely a member of the bowling team.

As I was transitioning to vegetarianism, I had a set number of days a month where I’d have only meatless meals.  During those days, I always ended up going to Subway for lunch on my “vegetarian days.”  I honestly had no idea where else to go for a quick veggie meal in those days. 

After going veggie, I kept up with the occasional visit to Subway and even had a few BK Veggies when I was on the road during those first few years.

Today, though, I can honestly say I eat at a fast food restaurant maybe once a year.  And that would be a place like Subway during the most dire of situations (a 10pm, middle of nowhere, nothing else open, forgot to pack a Clif Bar, and have to to go the bathroom-type deal).  It’s kind of funny to look at the completely different mindsets of High School Ryan and Vegan Ryan even though I still feel like I’m pretty much the same person at my core.   I guess it’s like how your body regenerates all its cells every nine years — you’re technically a whole new person, yet you still feel like the same big collection of bio-junk you were back then.

Anyway, I’m glad to be done with fast food restaurants.  No more dealing with the funny smell that envelopes you after you’ve been in a Subway.  Or the employees not remembering to leave the mayo off of your BK Veggie (back when the burger itself was actually vegan, of course).  Or the sticky floors in McDonald’s bathrooms (actually, I still deal with that since that’s the sole reason I’ll go into a McDonald’s).

But there are so many people for whom fast food is still a way of life.  It seems so foreign to me now, but I remind myself that it’s just as foreign for others think about life without fast food.  It’s a tough gap to bridge without devoting some time and real effort, especially since there are no vegan fast food chains to help ease the transition.

Let’s hear from some long-time vegans: when was the last time you ate at a typical fast food joint?  Did you used to be a fast food junkie?

15 Responses to “Fast Food Recollections”

  1. bazu

    I was never a fast-food junkie, but it’s been 4 years since my husband or I touched the stuff. He’s not even vegetarian and he’s revolted by it- the last time he ate at McD- he got really sick. The last time I ate at In’n’Out burger, I got so violently and grossly ill, I can’t describe it here. But as much as I hate the places, they do have this crazy spell on me. I may never go to another fast food place as long as I live, but I’ll always struggle with fond memories of my parents getting it for me when I was a child- and the irrational desire to relive that…

  2. Becci

    I was never really a fast-food junkie either. The last place I ate fast-food was…um…a Wendy’s in the middle of rural Ontario a few years ago, where I got french fries. We got McDonald’s or Burger King for as a really special treat when I was a little kid though, so I do have a weirdly fond memory of both places, like bazu! All it takes is walking past the McDonald’s on my street now to lose any enthusiasm I have for it–it STINKS!

    They aren’t kidding when they say that places like that get a grip on you when you’re little. Evil!

  3. Hot Librarian

    As a transitioning vegan, fast food is an indulgence my husband and I still allow ourselves once in a great while – usually on the two hour drive home from the airport after a long and taxing trip.

    We regret it every time.

    When will we learn? Maybe NOW thanks to this post.

  4. Chris

    I don’t think I was ever a total fast food junkie but in high school I ate at McD’s maybe a few times a month. One particular time I’ll always remember was when 2 friends and I were coming home after surfing all day. We were famished and broke and the cheap food at the golden arches beckoned. We scraped together 5 bucks or so in change, pulled up to the drive through and asked how many hamburgers we could get for the amount of money we had. Now of course I just feel sad that such crappy food is often the cheapest and most convenient option.

  5. marygrace

    i would often eat fast food when i was younger because my parents took me to places like that a lot. not just burger places, but kfc, taco bell, pizza hut, anything. additionally, i was a super picky eater and wouldn’t touch fruits or vegetables.

    the beginning of my senior year in high school, i went from being a super unhealthy omnivorse to a vegan literally overnight. it took a little while to figure out exactly what to eat, but i became very health conscious and basically lost interest in fast food. three years later, i haven’t stepped foot inside a traditional fast food joint.

    this summer, though, i was in los angeles and came across a vegan fast food-style place. they had veggie burgers and soy hot dogs and fries and soft serve, all kinds of good stuff. my boyfriend and i went there twice on our trip. it was kind of a novelty thing i guess, it was fun to order at the counter and sit outside at the dinky tables. i had a soy hotdog with fries and chocolate soft serve, all pretty tasty, and not really too heavy or sickening.

  6. Eric Prescott

    I’m driving cross-country, so Taco Bell is an evil necessity. We can’t rely solely on Lara Bars! I did have a decent vegan meal at a place in Flagstaff called Mountain Oasis. Highly recommended if you’re passing through.

  7. Eric Prescott

    Oh, that’s right. Someone above mentioned vegan fast food, and might have been referring to Good Karma in Venice Beach. That’s the only fast food I’ve done in the last 2-3 years myself, as recently as AR2007. Other than that, I’ve ended up a lot like you, Ryan. I’d rather eat a Lara bar than suffer through another Veggie Delight. The fast food chains need to work a lot harder to get me to step inside their doors now (I would pay $4 for a vegan Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carls, Jr, though. Before going vegan, that’s what I ate up to two times a week sometimes.)

  8. Marcy

    The problem is, what I find is that parents think the way to reward themselves, and in turn their children, is to take them to somewhere like “Mickey D’s”, esp. with those toys made by Chinese child labor to get. If parents don’t provide an alternative, and stand firm about healthy eating, why are kids supposed to know or do any better? Same goes for teaching your kids to be critical thinkers, period. I grew up learning to distrust ads and politicians, and why. It helps.

  9. Lisa

    I used to be a total fast food junkie. Like Ryan, I had a crazy metabolism and could eat two cheeseburgers, fries, and a milkshake, and was barely over 100 lbs. This went on into early college – I’d regularly stop by Wendy’s after class on my way to my apartment. After reading Fast Food Nation, those trips ended, and not long afterward Diet for a New America effectively killed any craving I could ever have for animal products. Whenever people tell me they could never be veg because they like meat, I bring up the fact that I used to be the cheeseburger queen, and now I’m happier and healthier than I ever was in those days.

  10. Sam

    Not only did I go to fast food restaraunts, I loved it! McDonalds was a treat for me – I gobbled down hamburgers and fries and loved beef-fried rice at the local chinese joints. BK’s Whoppers were great too; the more meat and sauce the better. But after realizing the health issues, I turned away from it all. I wasn’t a fast food junkie, but I really enjoyed the food and didn’t care where it came from.

    The thing is, even though I have gotten myself to love raw fruits and veggies and the plethora of “strange” vegan meals, I still love those tastes. When my band hit Carytown Burgers and Fries in Richmond, VA, it was like the old days all over again. Vegan burgers, fries, and crispy tofu nuggets that tasted amazing. The same with VeggieBite in Chicago, IL. So I wonder if eating those tastes for so long (the first 20 years of my life or so before I went vege/vegan) got it ingrained in my head. After all, I know plenty of long-time vegans who still enjoy mock duck from Vietnamese markets and Lightlife Smart Dogs.

    However, from an environmental, ethical, and moral standpoint, eating at McDonalds should be avoided at all costs. The same with BK and especially any Yum! brand (KFC in particular). I have never understood the allure of vegans to Taco Bell as I feel the food there is terrible, regardless of how cheap and vegan the bean burrito may be. I will defend Subway, however, as it’s worlds healthier, easy to check the vegan-ness (their website + watching the sub be made), and cheap with the veggie sub beating all other sub prices. Tasty, in my opinion, too. But, they are a corporation and I’m sure they buy copious amounts of meat, so a thorn arises again.

    Good blog, Ryan. I’m enjoying my new subscription.

  11. almost vegetarian

    I was never a fast food junkie. certainly I used to eat it, but at less than once a week, I missed out on the junkie category. But my poor husband used to eat it several times a week. Several as in, at least, 3 or 4, if not more, times every week.

    It was easy for me to give it up, especially as I am the driving force behind our eat healthy diet, but it was difficult for him. But now, years since we first started down this path, we are at the point when I can’t remember when junk food was a steady part of our diet. In fact, outside of one fast food visit by my husband in a time of extreme stress several weeks ago, I can’t remember the last time we were in a fast food place. and, boy, are we happier for it.


  12. Peggy

    I was never really into fast food, probably I could just tell that it wasn’t good for me. Really, before I even knew what veganism was, I would be choosing the vegan options if we ever went to a fast-food place (which was verrrrry rarely).

    On a family ski trip in February, we stopped at Subway, but I just ordered one of their salads of iceberg lettuce, gross tomatoes, and dried-out cucumber. Ewie. I asked for no dressing, because I had some Liquid Gold with me. :)

    My family is pretty strongly against fast food in general anyways, so my wanting to avoid big corporations isn’t too tough in that department.

  13. Eve

    I went from meat-eater straight to vegan and I must admit, before going vegan, I relied heavily on fast food. I would eat turkey subs at Subway; cheeseburgers at McD’s, and cheese fries from Wendy’s. My most recent trip to a fast food place was last month, I went to White Castle after a concert and all I ordered was the iced tea (which is yummy). Otherwise, haven’t been in a fast food place for a year. Especially now since I’ve learned to cook delicious healthy vegan food, I don’t have to do the fast food thing anymore.

  14. sarah

    i used to eat a lot of fast food before going vegan. i frequented jack in the crack and taco smell at least two or three times a week. i went vegan overnight and it was a long time before i stepped foot in one of those again.

    i hate to admit it, but occasionally because of unexpected work road trips i’ve had to stop at a taco bell and order a bean burrito. that’s pretty much all i’ll get; just enough to tie me over until i can get some REAL food.

    i also hate to admit but those things still appeal to me. even the worst of the worst; i grew up on it and my tastebuds ask for it. i don’t give in, of course. but it’s there nonetheless.

    my question is, would vegans eat at a fast food restaurant more often if it was all vegan food? i know i would. i am all about the convenience and not having to cook myself if i don’t have to. :)

  15. bernie macs

    bernie macs…

    Thanks for the nice read, keep up the interesting posts…..

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