Marcel Danesi, Ph.D.
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Series: Food Science and Technology
Food, no matter of what kind, is a substance required for survival. Stripped of any cultural meanings, it is a primary means of biological nourishment and sustenance. But in a cultural context, the types of food, how they are eaten, what social rituals are involved in etiquette, and so on, take on a greater value. In other words, outside of a survival context, food is much more than substance for ensuring such survival. It constitutes a meaning system imbued with subtle unconscious cultural connotations of all kinds. We eat, first and foremost, to survive. But in a social ambiance, food takes on significance that transcends this biological function, affecting even our perceptions of edibility.
So where does the fast food phenomenon fit into this line of reasoning, given that it seems to go against historically-based cultural systems of meaning? This book will attempt to answer this question by examining the origin, evolution and meanings of the fast food phenomenon, from its neurological and social meanings to its recreational ones.
The goal in this book is to go in a slightly different, but hopefully significant, direction; namely, to examine the meanings of fast food in relation to the birth and spread of mass consumerist society, and its role in future societies. Fast food originated in amusement and circus culture, but it soon spread to society via urbanization, the automobile, and the need for “quick and easy” solutions to almost everything, including the preparation and eating of food.
The book argues that, in the end, we are what we have made ourselves to be. Fast food is of our own making, not something imposed cleverly by some master capitalist plan. We eat it because it is tasty and easily prepared. The cultural meanings of fast food might even be intertwined with an innate pleasure principle, into which fast foods seem to tap rather effectively. Above all else, fast food is a mirror of the contemporary world’s penchant for a quick-and-easy approach to virtually everything, for better or worse. Given its proliferation to all sectors and levels of society, fast food has changed the social paradigm of eating everywhere. The book will conclude by assessing what the implications of this paradigm for the future are.