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The Rise and Fall of Fast Food

j
jhopp217 Dec 15, 2010 11:27 AM

I'm 40 years old and it seems to me that fast food has dropped in quality so dramatically over the years. Remember when you'd see the commercial for Burger King or McDonald's and the burgers looked so pretty? Then you'd go and open that cardboard box and it would look just like the commercial. Nowadays, you open the wrapper and it's a dehydrated burger with barely any toppings. If there are toppings they are hidden under the bun. The burgers barely make the egdes and those too have lost their luster. I never remember the grey burger as a child....now they all are.

Here are, IMO, the five chains that have fallen the furthest (in order).

1. McDonald's - the burgers are awful, the fries are like salt licks and I won't even mention nuggets.
2. Wendy's - everyone knows that when Dave Thomas died, the chain went downhill.
3. Subway - now it was never good, but compared to what it was before Jared-mania it was great
4. Taco Bell - it used to be somewhat edible...now it's cat food in a tortilla.
5. Pizza Hut - don't believe the add campaign...it's worse than it ever was.

I think the only chain from my childhood that has come even close to maintaining it's level of decency is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

  1. mucho gordo Dec 15, 2010 12:10 PM

    I don't think that what you get will ever look like what you see in their 'retouched' pictures. I never had any great expectations from any fast food place. I do agree that Wendy's has gone downhill and KFC is ok.
    Is it possible that your tastes have changed or matured since what you remember from childhood?

    2 Replies
    1. re: mucho gordo
      j
      jhopp217 Dec 15, 2010 12:28 PM

      The buds definitely have. I can not stomach a Big Mac anymore. it's nauseating.

      1. re: jhopp217
        c
        Chowrin Dec 15, 2010 01:55 PM

        Big macs have the egg sauce on them, right?
        Only one place I've found does that damn sauce right... Irwin Pa.

    2. p
      pemma Dec 15, 2010 12:12 PM

      I don't remember the actual food ever looking like the commercials. My rule for fast food has always been, "Never look under the bun."

      1. f
        ferret Dec 15, 2010 12:20 PM

        I'm guessing it's a combination of nostalgia and memory loss. If anything the ingredients have improved over the years (e.g. McNuggets are now white meat only), but there's no question that tastes change as you get older. Suggesting that fast food "used to be better" leads me to suspect that you weren't putting all that much thought into food as a 10-year-old (and neither did I).

        15 Replies
        1. re: ferret
          j
          jhopp217 Dec 15, 2010 12:29 PM

          On the contrary. I knew it was crap. I ate gourmet type meals every night for dinner. A Whopper or something similar was once a week treat. I never once thought it compared to a homemade burger, but the novelty was pretty good. I still prefer a Whopper now and again to a real burger.

          1. re: ferret
            Mr Taster Dec 15, 2010 12:37 PM

            jhopp217, I have a couple of issues with your post.

            1) In a non-McDonald's context, "all white meat chicken" is rarely a promise of something flavorful and delicious. White meat is generally dry (when improperly cooked, which it often is) and flavorless. I really don't understand America's fascination with white chicken meat. A well cooked thigh (hell, even a poorly cooked thigh!) is so much more juicy and flavorful.

            2) Even if McDonald's promise of "all white meat" McNuggets is true, and that this convinces America they're ingesting something of higher quality, then we're talking about *mechanically separated white meat*. I'd say once the white meat scraps are extruded through this process, "all white meat" is more of a marketing tool than any realistic approximation of the quality of the food. I mean, take a look at the artle below. Wouldn't you agree that even if this stuff is "all white meat" that it really doesn't matter anymore?

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10...

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster
              k
              kmcarr Dec 15, 2010 01:45 PM

              This myth has been refuted multiple times on Chowhound and elsewhere. From the Snopes.com article:

              "Although McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are typically offered as an example of a popular MSP-based food, since 2003 that product has been made with all white meat rather than MSP."

              http://www.snopes.com/food/prepare/ms...

              Even prior to 2003 the McNuggets did not contain Mechanically Separated Poultry, they were a 50/50 mix of dark and white meat. Yes, of course they contain binders and preservatives, but they are basically chunks of meat bound together and portioned into bite size pieces. Nothing at all like the pink goo.

              The myth appears to have been started by movie Super Size Me which incorrectly stated that the McNuggets were made from MSP.

              1. re: kmcarr
                Mr Taster Dec 15, 2010 02:42 PM

                OK, let's assume that McDonald's is telling the truth that they do not use the MSP process to make their McNuggets, and that they truly are "made with all white meat".

                Do you think they're making them with ground chicken like you can purchase at your local poulterer?

                Do you think they're cutting up chicken breasts with cookie cutters into fun shapes?

                Or do you think they're extruding white meat chicken into a mechanically processed paste to form into fun McNugget shapes?

                Perhaps McD's is not explicitly engaging in the MSP process of mechanically stripping scraps of meat from chicken breast bone, but do you think the final product that makes up a McNugget is really that different from the paste in that photo? I think it's doubtful.

                It's much more likely that McDonalds is engaging in a PR campaign to make their foods seem safer and more wholesome. "Made with all white meat" and "No MSP" conjures up images of wholesome food, not meat paste formed into fun nugget shapes. And I'm sure that their lawyers are following the letter of the law in the claims that they make. They make claims that come right up to the edge of truthfulness, and then our own imaginations fill in the blanks for the McDonald's corporation. We're selling the stuff to ourselves.

                Anyway, I do find the debunking of the McNuggets/MSP claim to be splitting hairs. And mind you, I'm not anti-hot dogs or anti-sausages. However, I do find it insulting when a company attaches claims of wholesomeness to products with such obviously dubious origins.

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster
                  mucho gordo Dec 15, 2010 03:19 PM

                  IMHO what differentiates the 'paste' from nuggets is the nuggets have the texture of actual chicken chunks.

                  1. re: Mr Taster
                    f
                    ferret Dec 15, 2010 08:03 PM

                    I don't get why you find it difficult to believe that McDonald's is being forthright about their ingredients. If you look at their website a portion of McNuggets weighs in at less than 2.5 ounces. Not impossible to believe that they can sell 2.5 ounce of white meat chicken as a portion and turn a very tidy profit.

                    1. re: Mr Taster
                      k
                      kmcarr Dec 16, 2010 07:25 AM

                      "OK, let's assume that McDonald's is telling the truth that they do not use the MSP process to make their McNuggets, and that they truly are "made with all white meat"

                      No need to assume, it's stated clearly on the ingredient list. By law, if they used MSP in the McNuggets they would be required to list it on the ingredient list. Also by law if they state that they use only white meat chicken this simply means that the chicken used in the product does not contain any dark meat.
                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                      "Do you think they're making them with ground chicken like you can purchase at your local poulterer?"

                      Since I don't live in Elizabethan England I don't have a local poulterer. ;-). But it is likely that the packaged ground chicken from large national producers (e.g. Tyson's or Perdue) are similar in source to the McNuggets.
                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                      "Do you think they're cutting up chicken breasts with cookie cutters into fun shapes? "

                      No, I don't, and I never made any such claim. It is most likely that scraps and trim are used which are minced to even size and then formed into the nugget shape. This is "full product utilization" but still only involves meat, either trim left over from preparing portioned cuts or scraped off the carcass. This is not the same as MSP where the entire carcass is shoved through a press, the bones are ground and the meat portion extruded through a sieve.

                  2. re: Mr Taster
                    j
                    jhopp217 Dec 16, 2010 09:16 AM

                    Mr. Taster,

                    Ferret said that, not I

                  3. re: ferret
                    Davwud Dec 17, 2010 03:29 AM

                    How exactly is "White meat only" an improvement?? IMHO the single best piece of meat on poultry is the thigh and it's aint white meat.

                    DT

                    1. re: Davwud
                      j
                      jhopp217 Dec 17, 2010 07:24 AM

                      The single best piece of meat on poultry is the Pope's Nose!

                      1. re: Davwud
                        f
                        ferret Dec 17, 2010 07:42 AM

                        It's a market perception (they aren't selling to kids, they're selling to moms and they're mostly selling to moms who want to pretend that they're feeding their kids a good alternative to home prepared meals) and their attempt to compete with the "chicken tenders" that KFC and others offer.

                        1. re: ferret
                          j
                          jhopp217 Dec 17, 2010 07:44 AM

                          You're definitely right about that. They shape them like feet for the kids, but the "white meat" is a sell to moms and dads who are too lazy to bread a damn cutlet.

                          1. re: ferret
                            KaimukiMan Dec 17, 2010 11:13 AM

                            i know of someone who wouldn't serve any of the dark meat from the thanksgiving turkey until the meat had been removed from the bird and cooked for an extra 20 minutes or so. It was moist, slightly pink, and therefore unfit for human consumption. People who eat only "white meat" aren't comfortable with and/or don't like the appearance of dark meat poultry. Maybe its not cooked, maybe its spoiled, maybe its bruised, maybe.... etc.

                            (and yes, that person believes poultry should be dried out if it is cooked properly, and doesn't know why people like to eat it)

                          2. re: Davwud
                            Mr Taster Dec 17, 2010 09:06 AM

                            Precisely my point...
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7536...

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster
                              f
                              ferret Dec 17, 2010 09:36 AM

                              Your point is that it's somehow detrimental though, which it really isn't. Nobody's fooling themselves when they eat fast food - it's a compromise based on convenience. So offering an incremental increase in quality - while ultimately not turning "mediocre" into "spectacular" - shouldn't be viewed with cynicism.

                        2. c
                          christy1122 Dec 15, 2010 12:22 PM

                          I remember years and years ago when Wendy's hambergers would hang over the edge of the bun. That was my favorite part to eat first. To me, Wendy's is the chain that has changed so dramatically for the worse.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: christy1122
                            j
                            jhopp217 Dec 15, 2010 12:31 PM

                            wendy's used to be close to restaurant level. The moment Dave Thomas died they changed everything and it became well below sub par food. I still have a friend who believes the chili is the best food in the world. We obviously disagree on more than Wendy's

                            1. re: jhopp217
                              c
                              christy1122 Dec 15, 2010 12:40 PM

                              Funny thing is I do like the Chili but I will not go there anymore because the burgers are so disappointing...

                            2. re: christy1122
                              mucho gordo Dec 15, 2010 12:53 PM

                              That's exactly the way I remember the burgers. They were juicier then, too.

                            3. buenosds Dec 15, 2010 02:25 PM

                              Everything tastes cruddy now because of food nazi's looting the good way to cook things...with fat!!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: buenosds
                                j
                                jhopp217 Dec 16, 2010 09:17 AM

                                This is very true

                              2. KaimukiMan Dec 15, 2010 02:32 PM

                                ". . . can it be
                                that it was all so simple then
                                or has time rewritten every line . . ."

                                Love is not the only thing the memory messes with as we get older.

                                One year my cousins got this hot dog maker where you stuck the ends of the dogs on the skewers and it cooked them. they were great we ate pack after pack, as only young teen's can eat. A decade later somebody found it in the back of a cupboard and we went and bought a couple of packs of hot dogs. The dogs were unevenly cooked, dried out at the ends, almost raw in the middle. Not only were they not special, they weren't even good.

                                I'm not saying fast food has gotten better over the years, but most of it hasn't changed all that much. The former 18cent hamburger, now a dollar, is pretty much what it always was.

                                1. y
                                  yfunk3 Dec 15, 2010 05:44 PM

                                  Incidentally, the first thing that popped into my mind when I read the OP was that every single Filet o'Fish I've had in the past five years (not many, but I'm more likely to buy that for lunch whenever I do wander into a McD's) has been picture perfect.

                                  The bun is flawless and shiny, the fish filet is perfectly fried and not greasy or marred in any way, just the right amount of sauce spilling over the sides of the filet but not out of the bun, that perfect half slice of cheese exactly in the middle.

                                  I don't bother with McD's burgers, but I know the last Big Mac I ate about a year or so ago looked like it was thrown against a wall before they put it in the box!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: yfunk3
                                    southernitalian Dec 16, 2010 07:43 AM

                                    I agree, the F o F is as good as it ever was.

                                    1. re: southernitalian
                                      f
                                      ferret Dec 16, 2010 08:04 AM

                                      And of all the McDonald's products, the Filet o Fish is the one that has changed the most in that it went from the original cod to the current pollock and/or hoki.

                                    2. re: yfunk3
                                      j
                                      jhopp217 Dec 16, 2010 09:18 AM

                                      In my life, I've never tried one

                                    3. BiscuitBoy Dec 16, 2010 12:19 PM

                                      I know exactly what you mean...You've now become a big-boy (or girl) and have lost your taste for such things. No loss, really, don't you agree?

                                      1. Davwud Dec 17, 2010 03:35 AM

                                        I would absolutely love to go back in time and compare food items from today and those from yesteryear. I think you may find small differences (like the cooking oil) but on the whole, things haven't changed, we have. There will of course be some exceptions. Smaller chains that have exploded like Tim Horton's here in Canada is a great example. It WAS excellent. It's now just a great money making giant.

                                        DT
                                        DT

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Davwud
                                          MGZ Dec 17, 2010 07:47 AM

                                          This is, perhaps, a broader discussion better suited for a different thread, but the food has changed in the past several decades. The way animals are raised has changed and this has changed tastes. Pork is the most obvious example as pigs were bred to be leaner. Then you have "farmed" fish . . .

                                          The fats used to fry in have certainly changed time and again. Lard, saturated oils, hydrogenated oils, blends, etc.

                                          Chains, in particular, change recipes, preparations, techniques, according to their R&D. I mean, Wendy's now has new "natural" fries.

                                          1. re: Davwud
                                            e
                                            ediblover Dec 17, 2010 11:41 AM

                                            I second this. I see it as eaters becoming more sophisticated and changing preferences than actual change in the fast food.

                                            When someone bashes the Big Mac, I think, "Okay. What was the point?" it's fast food that was made with ultra thin patties and the star of the burger is the sauce - The outcome was inevitable. Still, I think a place like McDonald's has become better (for the most part) over the years. They've just learned over the years. The angus burgers are respectable (even though my fav, the mushroom and swiss, needs to have a 90% reduction in the industrial-strength sauce it has), and is at least better than what they replaced (forgot the name of the previous "adult" menu options). Overall, the options are much larger than they used to be. It wasn't too long ago when there were only 4 value meals. These days there are 10+ offerings.

                                            On the subject of MSP, I have no idea why people look down on this and yet have no issue eating things like pork feet, beef cheeks and offal in general. It's, "using all that we can from the animal" and isn't that something to be proud of?

                                          2. Bob W Dec 17, 2010 11:39 AM

                                            Interestingly, I would agree that KFC has come the closest to maintaining its level of decency, but that's because I have always thought that it sucked. 8>D

                                            Popeye's blows KFC out of the water, and if you can find a Roy Rogers', their chicken does too.

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