Fast Food, Convenience, and Money

Jane Black recently wrote a fascinating article for The Atlantic entitled “Fast Food’s Dirty Little Secret: It’s the Middle Class Buying Burgers“:

For years the conventional wisdom has been that fast food is poor people’s food; that, thanks to government subsidies that ensure cheap calories, the drive-through is where people who can’t afford the “good” stuff — organic, grass-fed, etc. — go to feed their families on a budget. Why else would anyone eat that stuff?

But a new study to be published in the Journal for Population Health Management reveals the dirty little secret of the American middle class: It’s not cash-strapped Americans who are devouring the most Big Macs and Whoppers, it’s us! According to the study, a household earning $60,000 a year eats the most fast food, and one bringing in $80,000 is actually more likely to have it their way than one with $30,000. Suddenly, last year’s news from the Centers for Disease Control makes sense: Nearly half of obese adults in this country are not poor but middle-class, earning at least $77,000 for a family of four.

Why?

What actually drives families to the drive-through are two simple truths. First, it’s convenient. Fast-food hours accommodate odd shifts and offer playrooms to appease screaming children and give moms a break. And, after years of calculated expansion, the restaurants are everywhere we are — in office buildings, department stores, rest stops, schools, Walmarts, airports, even hospitals — which makes fast food America’s default dining-out option. Second, people like the way fast food tastes. No matter how often or how loudly food crusaders preach about the nasty and ecologically disastrous bits that end up in those burgers, fast food’s carefully calibrated mix of salt and fat is hard for many to resist.

To put it simply, people don’t roll up to McDonalds and order a double cheeseburger off of the dollar menu because it’s cheap. They do it because it’s convenient and because it is engineered to taste good.

It’s not even cheap, either. As Mark Bittman points out:

In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28.

I can make a much better meal than that at home for far less than $28.

So, what’s the point of all of this. The point is that convenience is often the driving factor for people when they make spending choices. They will spend more money and sacrifice other factors such as healthiness in order to maximize convenience.

This is actually a completely understandable thing. If you’re trying to manage a busy career, start a side business, have community responsibilities, and have a spouse and children at home (a situation that sounds awfully familiar to me), convenience can be an enormously important factor. If there’s a way to shave some time out of a daily routine, that usually directly translates into a bit more sleep or a bit more quality time with their family or a bit of simple leisure time.

That’s why I believe that one of the best frugality tactics is to heavily incorporate convenience into your frugal methods. Two examples:

One thing Sarah and I often do is make meals in advance. We’ll either freeze them so that they can easily be pulled out and tossed in the oven, or we’ll package them up in such a way that they can just be tossed into a pot (preferably a crock pot) and cooked with minimal effort. We’ll often assemble a bunch of meals for the next week or two on a weekend afternoon. We’ll do similar things with convenience foods like frozen burritos, too.

I often like to use premeasured soap for washing dishes and laundry. It’s actually really convenient to do this. All you need is a squirt bottle that emits a significant volume per squirt. Then, just figure out how many squirts you need for a load using the actual measurements recommended on the package. So, for example, if it takes two squirts to fill up your laundry detergent cup, then you can just use two quick squirts into the washing machine. This saves money in a very subtle but very real way: we tend to drastically overuse laundry detergent, so a squirter helps out with that problem and causes less detergent to be used per load.

I could go on with many, many examples of this: programmable thermostats, online banking, seasoning packets, and so on.

The key thing to remember is that in the midst of a busy day, convenience will usually trump frugality. If you know that in advance and can make it so that the convenient choice on that busy day is also the frugal choice, you’re going to see some significant savings over time.

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  1. Johanna says:

    If you put premeasured soap on your fast food hamburgers, you will eat fewer of them.

  2. Steven says:

    Quite the leap you made there Trent. Your transition left me with a “WTF are you talking about?” moment.

  3. Julie says:

    What does soap have to do with fast food?

  4. Katie says:

    Isn’t measuring soap what the lid of the soap dispenser is for?

    As for food, I agree that convenience is key. Personally, though, I often find full pre-frozen meals pretty unsatisfying and do better when I keep pre-prepared components around. E.g., pasta sauce freezes great and it’s easy to heat that up and mix with pasta. Or plain beans freeze great (as per this morning’s thread) and it’s easy to heat those up and then put them in soup or on rice or on pasta or with eggs or vegetables or bread. That way, you’re not locked into something that (a) will get repetitive, and (b) never taste quite fresh or have quite the right texture.

  5. Julie says:

    Also, it doesn’t take much time to take the cap off of a detergent bottle and measure. It’s better than standing there and counting how many bottle squeezes I’ve made.

  6. Vicky says:

    Just for argument’s sake…

    Let’s say I live alone, and it’s late. And I’m tired, and I’m hungry – so I go into a Taco Bell and pick up two 89 cent burritos. Then, I am full and happy, so I go home, and go to bed.

    I’d say that’s pretty cheap and convenient, if you ask me. I can see how 4 people adds up the cost, but what if you are just one?

    Not healthy, but no one said we were arguing healthy…

  7. jackie says:

    I don’t understand the pre-measured detergent bit at all. How does that save time? Transferring detergent into a pump-bottle & measuring pumps instead of using the scoop/measuring cup for pouring the detergent. And isn’t liquid soap drastically more expensive than powdered (assuming store-bought detergents)? And what on earth does that have to do with fast food?!?!

  8. Kai says:

    Not to mention that it’s a lot of food mentioned. When my family occasionally hit a fast food place, it was a small burger each, and one large fries to split among the five of us. There sure wasn’t a sugary pop per person. If we were lucky, there might be one milkshake to share.
    This was for reasonable portion control – we had the money.

    I second the point for the difference when you don’t have a volume discount (cooking for one).

    Another part is that even food at home requires some planning. I have a lot of meals in my freezer, but I generally need to plan them the night before to make use of that. I’m not going to get home and try to microwave a whole bag of spaghetti sauce. A lot of times if people are going out it is because they aren’t even at home – they’re picking it up on the way between places.

    Planning ahead at home can definitely make things easier, but it’s not quite comparable.

  9. jim says:

    Was there some sort of common belief that only poor people eat fast food? Yes middle class people and even rich people do in fact eat fast food. I’m puzzled why this is supposed to be news or a ‘secret’.

  10. Johanna says:

    @Kai: Why not freeze your spaghetti sauce in bags the size of the portions you are going to use?

  11. lurker carl says:

    Go to a grocery store in a poor neighborhood, see what is on the shelves and what people are buying. They aren’t eating fast food but their choices aren’t much better. The cheapest foods are highly processed and loaded with undesirable ingredients – not to different from fast food as far as nutrition is concerned. Fresh meat, dairy and produce are much more expensive than packaged stuff.

    Most people I know eat fast food because they are too busy to prepare and eat meals at home. Both parents work and the kiddies have too many extracurricular activities for them to juggle in a limited timeframe.

    Soap squirting? Except for dishwashing liquid, everything else comes with a scoop or the lid for measuring. Weird.

  12. Kai says:

    I usually freeze sauce in 2 portion bags so it’s a meal for my husband and I or 2 meals for me.
    But I don’t like microwaving things unnecessarily. And I suppose I could heat it in hot water, but similar issue.
    I find power-defrosted food to be not as good.
    So if it’s some cut up meat or veggies that I can throw into a pan, it works well, but a block of sauce or similar, I want to give it time to defrost properly in the fridge.

    I usually keep a stock of seasoned cooked ground beef and marinated cooked chicken bits in the freezer so that I can come home and make a burrito/fajita in about ten minutes (with all the long work done).
    But if I’m going to actually plan meals, I need to do that the night before or morning of (not that I can’t be doing that).

  13. Brad Moore says:

    I admit we spend a little on Wendy’s, BK, and Mickey D’s. But we almost never purchase fries and drinks there. Rather, we pick it up and do drinks and chips at the house. And it’s all about convenience! When we “really eat out”, we surely don’t go to the three mentioned above!

    I recently wrote about free value meals for a year at Chic-Fil-A. You can’t beat free. Nothing like having a really busy day, not wanting to cook, and then EATING OUT FOR FREE! But you have to camp out the day before at a newly opening Chic-Fil-A.

  14. Julia says:

    You lost me on the soap bit, but I like all the facts about fast food. Very interesting.

    When I was trying to each healthier I tapered off my fast-food addiction to the point where I was only buying oatmeal from McDonald’s. Of course, I was buying it 2-3 times a week.

    So I bought a big box of quick oats, a big bag of protein powder, and a variety of dried fruit. The first weekend I made about 10 oatmeal packets that I then kept at work.

    I like the oatmeal at McDonald’s. But my version is healthier (i.e. less sugar) more filling (from the protein) and contains higher quality ingredients (the oats I bought are bigger and therefore less processed). It’s also more convenient, because I can prepare it when I get to work and skip a stop enroute. And it costs about half as much per serving (less if I use reusable containers instead of ziploc bags).

  15. Laundry Lady says:

    Not sure I would use Trent’s method but actually most detergent lids are designed in the hopes that you will over use soap (and then have to buy more). In many cases you can use as little as half the recommended amount. More detergent does not equal more clean. I wouldn’t go as far as Trent has, but I do use old Table Spoon measures to measure out my powered detergent into my HE washer, once I used some trial and error to figure out how much to use. The soap lasts longer, the clothes are just as clean and I buy detergent twice a year. (That includes clothing laundry for two adults and one toddler, plus cloth diapers washed three times a week.)

  16. chris says:

    Around here (SoCal) it is cheaper to eat tacos at Del Taco than to make them at home.

  17. MattJ says:

    The point is that convenience is often the driving factor for people when they make spending choices.

    Seems likely.

    They will spend more money and sacrifice other factors such as healthiness in order to maximize convenience.

    Healthiness is sacrificed for taste, just like people do at home, and has almost nothing to do with convenience. If all people were after was convenience, then there would be many successful fast food chains that delivered convenient & healthy food.

    I’m not saying that there are no healthy fast food restaurants, I’m saying that the reason the vast majority of fast-food places offer unhealthy food is because that is what people want. To the extent that people want healthier choices, fast food places have started to provide them, without sacrificing convenience, which has next-to-nothing to do with healthfullness.

  18. kristine says:

    Hubby and I have a weekly ritual of stopping for 2 taco frescos each on grocery shopping day. We do not have to cook or clean from lunch- it’s an incentive to get out the door, and we never shop hungry!

    We get water to go with it- healthier and cheaper. Our weekly “mini-date” costs us 4 bucks, and we look forward to it!

    I have at least one very long day/week, a combo of work, extra work, and errands stacked in one day to save gas. On those days, I get a whopper junior with no mayo, and water. It’s a 2 buck lunch, and the whopper junior sans mayo is the healthiest item on the BK menu. No mayo cuts out 200 calories! It’s a treat.

    Where I live, sushi is the fast food of choice, but that costs 10 bucks for two people. We get that several times/year.

  19. kevin says:

    “I often like to use premeasured soap for washing dishes and laundry. It’s actually really convenient to do this. All you need is a squirt bottle that emits a significant volume per squirt. Then, just figure out how many squirts you need for a load using the actual measurements recommended on the package.”

    That settles it. This blog is a satire. It has to be.

  20. karyn says:

    Fast food is my budget downfall. We live 30 minutes from town and I just love that time when everyone is buckled in their car seats, quietly eating, and I arrive home with all of our stomachs full and we can just move on with the next “to-do”. No, it’s certainly not healthier. Yes, I’m working on changing it.

  21. Jen says:

    a squirter helps out with that problem…that’s what she said…

  22. Wes says:

    Most fast food has gotten so dang expensive that when my wife and I want a meal for convenience, we go to the family-owned gyro place up the street. Usually faster than fast food, and always fresher, and bigger portions. With tip, it’s a bit cheaper than two combo meals at McDonalds. Good deal.

  23. Riki says:

    I have a terrible time with supper. I get home from work late (7:00 or so) and I’m usually starving. I don’t generally get fast food but there are times when I’m tempted . . . believe me, I don’t want to cook when I get home. I use pre-frozen, individually portioned hot meals for lunches at work but for supper I often end up having toast or a sandwich. It’s not great.

    A tip that will change your life: dip a Big Mac in the McDonald’s Sweet and Sour sauce. Yum!

  24. Amber says:

    Fast food should be a rare occasion, once a month tops. If you need more convenience, you are not managing your time or health appropriately. It happens to everyone. When you see yourself falling into a pattern like fast food on a weekly basis it should be a wake-up call that something in your life isn’t working.

  25. Jules says:

    Wow, Amber, judge much?

    I think people are mixing up “fast food” and “convenience food”. While both tend to be cheap and processed, I tend to think of “convenience food” as something you’d find to eat at a Rite-Aid or CVS–you know, those $1 almost-date-expired-giant-cans of soup, or candy bars. Those little “indulgences”, in other words, that add up all too quickly. “Fast food”, a la McDonald’s, is actually REALLY expensive, unless you’re eating off of the dollar menu.

  26. Shelley says:

    I last ate at McDonalds in Newcastle when doing some evening Christmas shopping. It was an experience I want to long remember. I waited in a queue for 15 minutes, surrounded by crowds. My Quarter Pounder with Cheese medium meal was apparently a ‘special order’, as I waited another 10 minutes after paying for my food. I just managed to find a stool at a long, dirty table, surrounded by mums, children, prams and the leavings of previous eaters. I’d been given a ‘to go’ bag instead of a tray, even though I’d not been asked if it was ‘eat in’ or ‘go’. I was seated in front of the drafy doorway, not that I could see any place I’d put my coat if I took it off, so I sat wrapped up in coat and scarf. I ate quickly to be out of there as soon as possible. I love the food, but couldn’t enjoy it; I gave myself indigestion. I’m not complaining – McDonald’s is what it is and I knew this before entering. There aren’t many other choices on the high street in Newcastle in the evening and I was in a hurry. It was, however one of the most horrible meals I’ve ever had. I hope I remember to eat before going out next time, or to take something with me.

    As for convenience foods at home, that’s what I call ‘leftovers’.

  27. Brett says:

    Great post about fast food. I watched a documentary that tried to paint the fast food industry as targeting poor (often migrant) workers; and even subtly implied that their poor health was entirely to blame on the burgers and fries. The whole thing was a croc and its nice to see some honest studies done to debunk it.

    (And for the record, I dont own or have any stakes in the Fast Food industry!)

  28. Carmie says:

    I think the trick is to have a variety of foods in your home that are convenient (and quick) for you to make.

    For instance, last night I had dinner made and plated in 15 minutes. Place some water on to boil, whip up a quick peanut sauce, cook some rice noodles, mix together, viola! From start to finish, 15 minutes.

    Now, I don’t eat noodles with peanut sauce every night, but when I’m tired and starving, it’s a meal I enjoy and something I can cook in very little time. Without being tempted by fast food.

    I have a handful of these “fast” meals in my repertoire and they make coming home when you’ve had a crappy day much less stressful.

  29. MattJ says:

    #24 Amber:

    meh. Monday night I went straight from work to a scuba class that went from 6pm until shortly after 9pm. Then I went home and cooked something convenient.

    Last night I left work at 5:30 and grabbed fast food on my way to participate in training for a cave rescue organization I volunteer for. That went from 6pm until 8:30. On my way home I stopped off at one of my dance partners’ houses to work on a performance we’re doing from 8:45-9:30 or so, and home.

    Tonight after work I will rush home to prepare a dish for a potluck Christmas party for a caving club I belong to, and then go to the party where I will put a meal together out of what I and other people have brought.

    Tomorrow night I’ll go from work immediately to the climbing gym and rock climb from 5:30-7:00, then home to get cleaned up, and pick up my gf to take her to a salsa dance social that goes from 8-10. I may find time to heat up some leftovers, but I won’t feel bad if I instead grab fast food again on my way to the dance.

    It’s Christmas season, but even during normal times, that’s about what my schedule looks like. (for instance, if I wasn’t in scuba class on Monday, I would have been at the rock gym, and if I wasn’t going to a Christmas party tonight, I would be joining my gf to help her teach her dance class, and then stay on after to practice with her on our own material) Perhaps I could manage my time better – but which hobby to abandon? If my hobbies were board games (no offense, Trent!) or poker night or computer games, then there might be some more obvious health downsides due to the combination of a sedentary lifestyle and eating habits that aren’t the greatest.

    Your absolutism looks a little silly from where I’m standing, is all I’m saying. Everyone is different.

  30. Roberta says:

    #14 Julia – why not just eat your oatmeal at home before you go to work? You seem to be making extra work for yourself.

    When I was single I cooked at home for myself because I enjoyed it. When I got married we cooked together when we got home from work, working around business travel, graduate school and our fulltime jobs. Once we had kids I cooked ahead on weekends – that’s how I got through almost three years of single parenting our three kids when our jobs kept us apart. We’ve also actively expected kids to cook with us, despite the messes and extra time it takes. They see it’s a priority for us to eat together as a family,and are taking valuable self-sufficiency skills with them as they grow up and leave our home.

    My (single) older sister complained that eating out all the time got very expensive, and when I suggested she cook at home more, I got the same reasons I see here. My question to her was how much television did she watch? She could tell me all about her favorite shows but didn’t have time to cook? It’s a question of priorities.

    Even with kids in different lessons and activities after school, or night school, or alternating shifts, it is possible to plan ahead for those days. After football practice or a late work night or dance lessons, it’s easy enough to warm up a plate for the latecomer, or keep stuff warm in the slowcooker. Grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit are a perfectly acceptable dinner and take less than 10 minutes to put on the table. Homemade soup in the freezer in a ceramic mug defrosts and heats up in the microwave in the time it takes you to hang up your coat, fill a glass with water and look at your mail. Scrambled eggs and toast take less time than that. My husband and kids still tease me about one Friday night during the single parent era when he came home for the weekend and asked what we had for supper and they said Cheerios and oranges. Nothing wrong with that, and a lot healthier than the burger and fries he ate on the trip home.
    If you intend to eat, you have to plan for it, shop for it, and maybe do some advance prep for it. I don’t believe it’s all that difficult.

  31. valleycat1 says:

    Last night after the The Big Bang reruns I ran a test & found I save 1 second per wash load since I use a freehanded dollop of detergent instead of pouring it into the measuring cup first.

  32. PF says:

    @Karyn (#20)

    We live far from town too, so when we take the kids (2yo &4yo) to do errands, I always factor in Burger King. I don’t feel bad about it all. My kids are never the ones screaming and melting down in the store. Why? Because they’re full of hash browns. LOL! This is maybe every other month. Even if it was once a week, I say no harm done. Everything is in context.

    Like others, mystified by the soap thing. As I’ve said before, it’s time for some guest writers on this blog.

  33. Evita says:

    #30 Roberta, Julia probably eats at work because she is not hungry enough to breakfast at home. Like so many people…. (I used to eat my toast & PB on the train before I started working out in the morning and build my appetite).
    I like your supper suggestions. Sometimes, when I am alone and starving, I have a bol of musli!

  34. Jane says:

    No one has mentioned the playgrounds at certain fast food places, but that is definitely a draw for me, since I have two kids under the age of four. In the winter it is particularly hard to find places indoors where your kids can play. We have an expensive membership to the local kid’s museum, but that’s a big event that takes at least 1 1/2 hours. Sometimes I just need a quick 45 minute outing to keep the kids from killing each other (and me killing them!). McDonalds is perfect for that and much cheaper than other play areas. I buy one kid’s meal, 3 cookies, and a soda for me. For less than $5 we get a toy for them to play with, about an hour of playing, and a little time for me to read a magazine while they play. That’s pretty good for $5. Yes, I know I’m probably dooming my kids to a life of obesity and bad food (sarcasm), but you do what you have to to get through the day.

    If more healthy places would provide a playground, I would consider going there.

  35. Matt says:

    While I certainly agree at-home fresh food preparation is best for your health and budget, I can also relate to the quoted article and many of the comments here: convenience and saving time are paramount to modern life. The success of fast food chains support this, but I think also the success of electrical gadgets as well. (Smartphones offer no unique capabilities except doing ordinary stuff “right now”.)

    I have a somewhat cynical view of this all, in that the “the system” is somewhat self-perpetuating. Are there any decent jobs out there that provide health insurance, pay a decent wage, AND require at most a 40-hour/week commitment? From my perspective, you need to put in 50 or 60 hour weeks to have the insurance and decent wage. Add work time to sleep time, and most of us are left with precious little family or even hobby time. So we buy convenience foods and goods so we can take back a little time for ourselves, but keep working to pay for it all.

    I get up at 500am to exercise, and I’m out the door to work by 630am. I don’t get home from work until 700pm. Then I get 30 minutes to eat dinner, about 30–45 minutes to play with my daughter and put her to bed, and about the same time with my wife. I’m miserable on less than seven hours of sleep, so I need to be in bed by 945pm at the latest. I work like this so my wife doesn’t have to, and can stay home with our daughter and make home made meals. But if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the job I do, where we would find time for cooking at home?

    I’ve seen lots of “10 minute meal” ideas, here on TSD and everywhere else… but I’ve *never* seen anyone include the “real total” preparation time. That is, getting out pots and pans, pre-heating the oven, cleaning the cookware and kitchen, and doing dishes (or even loading the dishwasher). I’d say that on average, dealing with cooking utensils and cleanup adds 10 minutes to any home made meal. When you get fast food, you buy, eat, and toss the wrappers. Even better if you have convenience foods delivered to your house. Bad for your health and the environment, but IMO tastes great and saves a ton of time. But on the other hand, I feel like it’s a sorry world we live in where we have so little non-work/sleep time that 10 minutes is a big deal.

  36. jim says:

    Matt, “Are there any decent jobs out there that provide health insurance, pay a decent wage, AND require at most a 40-hour/week commitment? ”

    Yes. Look harder.

  37. Other Jonathan says:

    I second Jim’s comment. Matt, there are tons of jobs that provide health insurance, a decent wage, and a 40-hour/week commitment.

  38. A Sumner says:

    “I’m not saying that there are no healthy fast food restaurants, I’m saying that the reason the vast majority of fast-food places offer unhealthy food is because that is what people want.”

    Thank you! As a 9 year veteran of fast food, I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve been asked what the healthiest thing on the menu is. People want the biggest or the cheapest. There are usually healthier options, and a lot of people try for them, but by the time you put three packets of blue cheese dressing on your grilled chicken salad to make it a satisfying meal, you might as well have gotten a quarter pound bacon cheeseburger. It has less fat and calories. I wish I was exaggerating about that, or the fact that people do it.

    By the way, why the heck does McDonald’s have such a reputation for being cheap? Dollar menu aside, when compared apples to apples to other fast food, it’s the most expensive, at least where I am.

  39. Terri Sue says:

    i can’t remember the last time i ate fast food. my husband and i eat out maybe once every three months. it is quite easy to make do without eating out.

  40. jim says:

    A Sumner, I don’t know if Mcdonalds has a reputation for being cheap relative to other fast food places. But McD probably one of the first names that come to mind when many of us think of fast food, so maybe thats why they get cited as an example more often.

  41. Chad says:

    That $28 dollar meal could easily be reduced to $12 if they just bought from the dollar menu. Replace the Big Macs with McDoubles and you’ll save $5 on that meal alone.

    If you want to argue that ‘buying fast food isnt cheap’ and then order the most expensive thing on the menu to try to convince us… you’re point is invalid. Buy the cheapest thing on the menu, share the soda and shop for value and fast food can be both affordable and convenient.

  42. Maggie says:

    Another reason for people ‘choosing’ fast food so often is that it’s mostly all there is. For example, along the interstates in my part of the country, the vast majority of exits that have food have McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, or Taco Bell. Occasionally there is also a Cracker Barrel or a diner, but it’s hard to find real, healthy food when we’re on a long trip. Similarly, in my neighborhood at home the choices are mainly fast food, on the one hand, or very expensive restaurant (the kind that we go to once a year or less, only for the big occasions). Almost nothing is available that would seem likely for a family out-to-dinner break from cooking.

  43. valleycat1 says:

    Yes, #42 – and, if your job only allows a 30 minute lunch break & for whatever reason you’re eating out, it’s going to have to be fast food of some sort.

    And, Matt, I have a decent 40-hour a week job with virtually no overtime, with great benefits that pays above average in our area. But the better pay doesn’t come in the first few years; you’ve got to put in your time to work your way up the salary schedule.

  44. kristine says:

    The leaving at 6:30 and getting home at 7 is a typical “40 hours of work” week for most commuters. 20 min to train, 5-10 minutes to park/walk to train, 45=50 min ride, then 20 minutes to walk from the train to office. Just sounds like he actually gets out of the office door at 5:30, not 5. If you leave at 5 on the dot, most places I have ever worked view it negatively. Being gone from 6:30am -7pm is a normal 9-5 schedule for millions.

  45. MattJ says:

    #44 Kristine

    Most commuters, where? Here in flyover country, commutes don’t involve trains very often, which cuts a lot of what you’re talking about out. My commute is 15 minutes of driving to work, and 15 minutes back home. I live nine miles from my office, and the only way I could live significantly closer would be to join the army and live on base.

    Nationwide estimates of average commute time are around 25 minutes in each direction.

  46. MattJ says:

    #42 Maggie:

    Another reason for people ‘choosing’ fast food so often is that it’s mostly all there is.

    In your formulation, people choose fast food because no healthful alternatives are available.

    In my formulation, no healthful alternatives are available because people prefer fast food.

    Which of us is correct? I can only offer you this: There is such a thing as healthy fast food. My town has a fast food joint that offers a variety of creative and healthful foods, with many sandwiches offered on bread that’s made fresh daily by another business, right in the same building. Healthful fast food places are not enormously (or even moderately) successful for lots of reasons, including

    1) Health nuts and foodies turn their noses up at the concept of fast food.

    2) Non health nuts prefer to pay for something tasty, and healthful food just isn’t as tasty as less healthful foods.

    The healthful fast food place I mentioned early has very limited hours, by the way. Not open at all Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, usually closed by 6pm, and never open before noon. They just don’t draw enough customers to stay open longer.

    There’s no conspiracy against healthful foods. I promise you, just as soon as enough people want healthful fast foods enough to make them into popular menu items, you’ll find them showing up at the fast food places that already exist.

  47. AnnJo says:

    Part of limiting the damage of fast food is deciding why exactly you go. When I realized that the reason I went to McD’s every month or so was because I was craving some of their salty, salty fries, I realized I didn’t have to order a whole meal, but just a small order of fries and some water. Both the calorie count and the ding to my cash went way down, without lessening the pleasure from my little treat at all.

  48. Lilly says:

    I can’t believe no one has explained why Trent uses a spray bottle to measure out his liquid laundry detergent. Anyone who’s read his blog long enough knows he MAKES his own liquid laundry detergent. Hence, there is no handy, convenient, little measuring cap lid.

  49. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: “Which of us is correct?”

    I’d say you both are. If fast food is all there is, that’s what people will demand, because that’s all they know. But if other options are available, (some) people will try them and appreciate them, and they’ll build up more of a following. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle either way

    For example, the restaurant that you mention sounds like it serves food that I would like. But with its limited hours, I would probably never go there (if it were in my town), so I’d never tell my friends about it, and they might never go there, and so on. If they could afford to stay open for longer in the first place, they’d have more customers, and could afford to stay open for even longer.

    I don’t think there’s a “conspiracy against healthful foods.” But I don’t think that “People prefer unhealthful food to healthful food” is some kind of immutable fact about the universe either.

  50. Johanna says:

    (I shamelessly stole this idea from Paul Krugman, by the way. Google “Supply, demand, and English food” for his explanation of it.)

  51. MattJ says:

    #49 Johanna:

    If fast food is all there is…

    It isn’t. Fast food is popular amongst people who can afford more healthful food, people who often eat more healthful food, and people who have the time to prepare their own healthful food.

    2010 USA is not gastronomically equivalent, or even similar, to Victorian London. We are not ignorant of healthful food: it is plentiful and cheaply available.

    People are happy with the price, taste, and convenience of typical fast food, and not because there’s nothing else. Personally, when I eat fast food, I’m generally making a convenience trade-off, because I can afford a more healthful meal, but I don’t have time to wait for a proper restaurant to take the time to make them for me, and I don’t always have the time to do so myself. Other people may make a similar decision based on price.

    There are healthy menu items offered at most fast-food places. These are not popular menu items, and if they were, then the fast food places would expand their healthy menu choices to try to capture the market. They know how to make money.

    Tonight I will prepare a meal at home that will be superior to fast food in terms of price and healthfulness, nearly equal to fast food in terms of convenience, (but only because I will be at home – my house is not always a convenient dinner option) but in no way as tasty. I can see the logic in someone spending more money to gain a little convenience and more than a little flavor while sacrificing healthfulness.

    For a superb example of the last, consider all the people who purchase a soda with their Taco Bell meal instead of getting the (free!) water.

  52. Kate says:

    I stopped eating fast food after reading “Fast Food Nation” and haven’t ever looked back. I have found that by the time I count driving and standing in line, I am much better off fixing a quick meal at home, even with the cleanup afterwards. I brown bag my lunch every day and it is cheap, cheap, cheap.
    Kudos to #48 for taking time to think before posting to explain why Trent uses a squeeze bottle to measure out detergent. That said, I agree that the amount of detergent can be cut in half and still come up with clean clothes. Add some borax and it can be cut even further. Same with hair products and dish detergent.

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