Trader Joe’s: My Response to America’s Fast Food Syndrome

The other day, I was reading, The American Fast Food Syndrome, on Civil Eats. The article touches on how over the past 60 years, Americans have become so attached to processed fast food that many feel drive thru meals with burgers, fries and sodas represent what “real” Americans eat.

I wasn’t on this planet 60 years ago, so I decided to ask my Mom what food was like back then. My mom told me about how milk was delivered to the front door, directly from the dairy. Grandma bought seafood at the fish market and meat from the butcher. These were separate places; stand alone stores, not sections in the Walmart Supercenter. In the summer, my grandparents would drive out to the country and get fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets. My grandma would take the ripe peaches and strawberries from the market and make preserves. And when my grandparents didn’t feel like driving, they would just go out to their little garden in the backyard. My grandparents also enjoyed hunting and fishing, bringing home their catch for dinner.

Grandma & Grandpa and their catch

This is the way it was 60 years ago and my grandparents weren’t country folk either, my grandmother was from Washington, DC and my grandfather was from Wilmington, DE. So with my Mom being brought up in this environment, how did fast food become a part of my diet?

When I was a child, my parents were vegetarians. My mom cooked all our meals, but as I got older things changed. My parents divorced, we moved in with grandma to help take care of her, Mom worked late, I had extra curricular activities, and the next thing you know, we were in the drive thru.

While I agree with Kristin Wartman’s assertion that “most Americans lack the knowledge that industrial food is a recent development,” I also think the way family structures have changed over the last 60 years, has greatly contributed to our Fast Food Culture. Sixty years ago, few women worked outside of the home. Dad’s usually bought home the bacon and Mom’s cooked it up. Fast-forward to 2011 and it now takes both parents working to afford bacon. If there is only one parent at home, it might mean they work 2 jobs to cover the family expenses. Between work and all the other responsibilities that fill our day, the drive thru becomes really easy.

When I went back to school, my schedule and finances changed drastically. The drive thru by campus became very convenient when I needed a quick, affordable meal between class and work. The problem is, I soon realized instead of indulging in the occasional Double Double I was becoming a victim of the Fast Food Syndrome. I love to cook and think I’m pretty good at it, but I found that after a long day at work and school I was just too tired. I found my fix at Trader Joe’s, as it became my go to destination for convenient, affordable, stress free meals with natural and/or organic ingredients.

Here is a rundown of a few of my favorites meals ala Trader Joe’s. Many contain natural and/or organic ingredients, are priced competitively, and make putting meals on the table easy.

Trader Joe's Greek Style Honey Yogurt

Breakfast For a quick, healthy breakfast on-the-go, try Trader Joe’s Greek Style Honey Yogurt. I prefer Greek yogurt because it has a thicker consistency than regular yogurt. It’s rBST free and contains probiotics, which can help improve digestion and strengthen the immune system. Add some fresh fruit and granola and you have a quick, healthy, well-rounded delicious breakfast with little to no fuss.

Trader Joe's selection of sliced meats and cheese

Lunch For lunch, the grab and go salads at Traders Joe’s are a great quick lunch option or you can make a sandwich with their selection of pre-packaged deli meats. Most of the deli-meats at Trader Joe’s come from animals that are vegetarian fed. Trader Joe’s deli meats also tend to be priced cheaper than deli meats at the grocery store. As a snack, try Trader Joe’s Organic Popcorn with Olive Oil. The flavor takes me back to when popcorn was popped on the stove, not in a microwave. It’s also low in fat and high in fiber.

I'm addicted to this stuff!

Assortment of Trader Joe's pre-packaged meats

Dinner It would be great if we all came home and prepared a home cooked meal made with all organic, locally sourced ingredients, but in lieu of that, Trader Joe’s has some really great quick meal options that can keep you out of the drive thru. I really like Trader Joe’s pre-packaged meats. They are pre-portioned and seasoned so all you need to do is open the package and throw them on the grill or in the oven. The Pollo Asado (roasted chicken) is lower in fat, sodium and cholesterol than some of the other Trader Joe’s pre-packed meats and it’s sliced thin so it cooks up in minutes. Another benefit to Trader Joe’s pre-packaged meats are that they’re refrigerated, not frozen, so you can cook them up right away. Steam some veggies and add a side of rice and you have a quick, drive thru free, no fuss dinner.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make putting meals on your table a little easier so you can spend a little more time at home with your family and a little less time in the drive thru.

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Hello Fast Food, We’re Estranged No Longer

About 5 years ago I swore off fast food, it was the day I rented Super Size Me to be exact. One of the special features on the DVD really grossed me out. It compared McDonald’s food, versus “real” hamburgers and french fries when left out to let nature take its course. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say the McDonald’s food went through some very unnatural changes, to say the least. That was all I needed to say goodbye to fast food, at least until I moved to Las Vegas.

On trips here in the past, I’d seen the blinking In-N-Out Burger lights from across the Strip, but I had sworn off fast food so I never even thought about trying one. That was until one of my friends from back East, who had moved out this way, convinced me that In-N-Out Burger was different from anything we had at home. So I broke my nearly 5-year renunciation of fast food and had my first In-N-Out Burger.

The first day I entered In-N-Out Burger, I was shocked that there weren’t any heat lamps or microwaves and someone was in the back actually cutting french fries from whole potatoes. And then I bit into my burger and fell even more in love with this place. The pickles were crunchy like in the pickle commercials, the lettuce was crisp and cool, the tomatoes juicy, the cheese gooey like real melted cheese should be, and the buns were plump and glistening like they were just pulled out of the oven. As much as I enjoyed my burger, I felt somewhat slighted that those on the western half of the country had kept this secret from the rest of us.

I still consider it fast food, but with “Quality you can taste”. I don’t think they could have picked a better slogan. I’ve even caught on to their “secret” menu now. That will be one burger, animal style with fries.

In-N-Out Burger

Various locations throughout the Valley

<$5/person

 In-N-Out Burger (West Side) on Urbanspoon

In-N-Out Burger on Foodio54