Fast food is bad for our bodies, but it also harms the earth. From the production and processing of the ingredients to the serving of the finished product to the customer, fast food is the worst food option for the environment. Here are some ways in which fast food pollutes the earth and some suggestions on how to minimize the damage when eating out.
Fast food uses products of commercial agriculture which uses high amounts of herbicides and pesticides on produce. Commercial agriculture growers commonly use genetically modified organisms (meaning GMOs, not hybrids). Ingredients have additional chemicals added during processing to extend their shelf-life, enhance their flavor, and to make them appealing in color or texture.
Video: Michael Pollan discusses how McDonald's potatoes are grown with excessive pesticides.
With little exception, dairy and meat products come from animals given antibiotics, vaccines, hormones and GMOs. Animals are raised on factory farms where they are treated inhumanely and live under conditions that cause them disease. Finished meat and diary products often contain fillers.
The use of herbicides and pesticides pollute land and water. Food additives also pollute the environment by contributing to chemical production and usage. The production of genetically modified crops (Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)) uses high amounts of herbicides and pesticides and causes biological pollution in addition to chemical pollution. Cattle at factory farms give off green house gasses, contribute to E. coli and other food poisoning, and contaminate water and land.
Fast food packaging and preparation creates excessive amounts of trash. Food and condiments are individually wrapped. Fast food drinks are served in a disposable cup with a lid and a straw; the straw also has a wrapper. Silverware is disposable and often is wrapped, too.
Some fast food restaurants hand out lap mats for customers who eat the food in the car. Trays that customers use to eat at the restaurant are lined with paper. Food that is taken to-go is delivered to the customer in a bag. Trash is also generated during food preparation as employees are required to use disposable gloves, hair nets, and other products to meet cleanliness standards.
Not having to cook and clean makes fast food attractive. Often, eliminating clean-up means that disposable items are used. Disposable items contribute to trash which creates litter, fills landfills, and pollutes land and water.
Fast food is made using toxins and non-food additives that are directly bad for our health. Fast food is also indirectly bad for our health because it pollutes the planet. Without clean water, air and soil, the human organism cannot be optimally healthy.
If you are going to eat out, finding a place with clean ingredients may be the hardest part of the battle. You can minimize your trash by going to a restaurant that uses dishes and does not wrap food or line their tables and trays with paper. Tell your server that you do not want items that you don’t plan on using (straws, for example) because they cannot be used for another customer once you have touched them. You can take your own dishes for left overs, or order half-sized portions if you do not think that you will be able to finish your meal.