Burger King and ‘Healthy’ Fast Food

As a teenager, and especially as a college student, I don’t think I’m alone in having a one-track mind that travels directly to food. Whether I’m cramming for midterms, hanging out late at night, waiting to go home or waking up late for class, food is constantly in the back of my mind — or at the forefront.

Living in an apartment this year has increased that ever-present craving, and University of California tuition increases aren’t doing much to encourage me to invest in sit-down meals too often. And the idea of cooking? It gets really old, really fast. Fast food is an indulgence I’m OK with every now and then, because it’s quick, convenient and inexpensive. Simply put, it’s cheap.

Consequently, it’s interesting that certain fast food joints such as Burger King, according to USA Today, are trying to move in the direction of healthier menus, but their angle is purely capitalist. The attempt to appear more nutritious comes from a desire to stay in competition with other fast food restaurants rather than a sincere concern for the dietary needs of American consumers.

In fact, Burger King is going as far as eliminate the signature “King” from their ads and commercials in an effort to move away from the kid-friendly perception of Burger King and towards a more mature, organic presentation.

But let’s face it: No matter how you present fast food or how many greens you show it has on a commercial, fast food is processed and generally not as good for you as a home-cooked meal at the end of the day.

The way I see it, the entire premise of fast food is built around the idea of needing to buy something quickly and cheaply because you don’t have time to do otherwise, not because you are looking for your daily recommended serving of vegetables. Fast food tastes good, and it is addictive and alluring and strategically doesn’t quite fill you up until you’ve had more than enough of your share. It can be a reward; it can be a source of guilt. No matter how you paint it, however, it is not a source of nutrition.

Burger King and affiliates might as well stick to the promotion of cheap prices, because that is half of the appeal of fast food. In fact, I think it is in better conscience to shamelessly promote dollar menus and fast production over fresh-but-not-really menu items that take away some of the guilt but not that many calories.

Fast food restaurants can do what they need to in order to market and sell their products, but consumers are the ones that need to take responsibility for their own health.

We need to be smart and acknowledge that there is a difference between a Burger King breakfast and an apple. The self-control and consciousness of the person doing the eating is the only thing that does any good for one’s health and body.

When I was younger, fast food was the best possible treat I could imagine. I wanted it more often that I should have, and I was reminded of it constantly by the ads on TV, the freeway, malls and even at school.

Now, as an independent adolescent, I still do enjoy the occasional bag of fries and chicken strips, but I’ve learned that it’s not always the best option. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to use my own brain and recognize that boastings of nutrition might not always be as accurate as I would like them to be and that fast food is good for a few dollars spent on a quick fix after a night in the library, but it’s not going to be good for my arteries, no matter how they try to justify it.

Karam Johal is a second-year women’s studies major. She can be reached johalk@uci.edu.